Results tagged ‘ Kevin Kennedy ’

Rays Hungry in Win in Oakland

 

              Rays 8,     Athletics 2


Ben Margot / AP

Dr. Devilrays and Mr. Ray

The beginning to the 2009 season began another chapter last night as the  Tampa Bay Rays evened their road record in 2009 to 5-5 with a wild shootout in O-town. Now in the past, a game like this would not be possible with the dominance the last few years of the Oakland A’s pitching staffs. But this is not the same pitching staff your older brother was salivating over in his Fantasy Draft. It has come on a few seasons of wheeling and dealing as the A’s are going through a self-imposed rebuilding of their staff. But in this game, even the Barry Zito’s or even the Dan Haren’s might have been hard pressed to keep this Rays team under their thumbs.

In their usual Dr. D-Ray and Mr Ray fashion the Rays took control of the game from the onset and did not let up the entire contest. This is the type of game we hoped and prayed for during their 2-5 home stand last week. They did have a few minor base running mishaps, but the overall ability of the offense to take control of a struggling pitcher was a thing to be seen with your eyes. The team did what you are suppose to do when a pitcher is having control and command issues. they sat waiting on their prized pitch and drove it endlessly into the California skies to post their seventh victory of the year. 

The fact that Mother Nature was also working in the Rays favor to begin the game was not lost on just the players. Rays Television Commentator Todd Kalas was quick to alert the fans at home to the 31-40 mph winds that were swirling in and around the stadium at game time. This just added to the Rays offense as they  went on in the contest. But considering they were facing  Oakland rookie Trevor Cahill today, the 21-year old, who was drafted by the A’s in the 2006 Player Draft, got his first look at Tampa Bay in his career. In his fourth start of the year, Cahill might have wished he had missed it after the Rays took an early 1-0 lead after B J Upton scored on a Carl Crawford RBI-double to start the game.

To put the Rays offense emergence into perspective, they put their lead-off man on base in five of the nine innings tonight, and in three of those innings, the lead-off man scored for the Rays. Gabe Gross and Carlos Pena lead-off two of those innings with solo home runs to pace the Rays offense tonight.  In all, the Rays hit 4 doubles and 3 homers against the A’s, and only Upton and Pat Burrell did not have hits in the Rays 13-hit explosion. This is the type of Rays confidence that was so familiar with them in 2008. The Rays were hitting the long balls, but also concentrating on extending rallies tonight.

In their first inning, they strung together three straight base runners to put early pressure on Cahill. Then in their  5-run third inning, they got two early base runners before Pena hit a 3-run shot over 388 feet for his first homer of the night.  After Burrell hit a fly ball to Mark Ellis for an easy out at second base, they again strung together  5 straight base runners before Crawford hit a sharp fly to Matt holliday in left field for the final out. But by that time they had exposed the young right-hander and paced to a 7-0 lead.  In the fifth, the Rays again tired to mount an extended rally, with Akinora Iwamura getting a lead-off single into the gap in right-center field, then Jason Bartlett hitting a ball to Eric Chavez at third base that he beat for an infield single.  But Upton hit into a 6-4-3 double play to prematurely take the Rally down.

From that inning on, the Rays only extended one inning to multipule base runners. In the eighth inning, both Burrell and Gabe Gross got walked by A’s reliever Maichael Wuertz, but were stranded on base after a Dioner Navarro fly out to center field ended the inning. At that point it was 8-0, with the Rays in control of the contest. For the night, the Rays got 13 hits, 8 of them off the Oakland starter and also  gathered  8 total walks on the night.  The Rays did leave 7 runners in scoring position, which is still the Achillie’s heel of this team. If not for the A’s starter getting into early trouble tonight, the Rays only sustained two rallies all night long after Cahill left the game, and both of those were off of reliever Dan Giese, who Oakland got on waivers after the New york Yankees released him.


Ben Margot/ AP

El Presidente Issues a Statement

Carlos Pena has been the vocal leader of this Rays team now for several years. He is one of the first people to speak up for the Players Only meeting the other day in Seattle, that lead to a Rays victory, and tonight he let his lumber do the talking. It is great to see a Raya slugger let his bat do the talking in this contest. But Pena has always been someone who will “walk the walk, and talk the talk.” It is one of the reason the Rays took a chance on him several years ago and signed him to a Minor League contract. He did nothing more than surprise and rise this team by hitting the daylights out of the ball and make his love for this young team know.

The Rays made their committment to him by signing him to a multi-year contract, and since that day, he done more and more to take and portray a leadership role on and off the turf for the Rays. Tonight he took two pitches and made his statement in this game.  In the third inning, he took a letter high ball and deposited it deep into center field to send the Rays in front 5-0 at the time.  Then  in the the sixth inning off Giese, he took a 3-1 pitch and drilled it into the first row into right field, about 333 feet from home to provide the last run of the game for the Rays. His two homers tonight puts him into the American League HR catbird seat with one more than Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox.

His 4 RBI’s tonight also puts him at 21 for the year, which also puts him currently  2 RBI’s ahead of Nick Markakis of the Orioles for the American League lead. Pena went 2 for 5 in the game, and moved his average up to .254 tonight. For the Rays to be successful in 2009, they need their big hitter to remain consistent and producing.  In their 1
0 loses this season, Pena is a combined 7 for 36, or a .194 average with 13 strikeouts. He has a total of 21 strikeouts so far in 2009, which is good enough for second in the American League. But the Rays seem to feed off his energy, and his success has been key to the team rebounding and rebuilding their oen confidence this season. El Presidente is a leader, and the young Rays seem to play better and with more consitent nature when their leader is setting the example on the field and at the plate.

 

Ben Margot / AP

Kazmir Adjusts Mid-game for Great Start

Rays starter Scott Kazmir did not start the game in great fashion he again seemed to be a bit off the mark, but adjusted correctly and posted one of the most impressive night of the year for him. He did not use his fastball to set-up hitters, but used a greatly improving slider and change-up to keep them guessing at the plate. When the game first started, you would not have thought he was going to go 6 innings and thrown only 96 pitches in the game.  But coming into this game, he has always been extremely good against the A’s. He was a combined 6-2 against them with a 2.70 ERa in 11 starts.

During tonight’s first two innings, you did not see the dominating Kazmir stuff, but it was showing itself throughout those innings and gaining momentum. Kazmir did not start out the night in impressive fashion as he walked lead-off man Ryan Sweeney with four pitches. He neded up throwing 22 pitches just in that first inning. In the second inning, he surrendered  a quick single to Jack cust to lead-off the inning and then walked Kurt Suzuki before taking control of the inning and sending the next 3 hitters down in order to strand both men on base. In that inning he threw 26 pitches. It looked like another early night for Kazmir.

Then in the third inning he again gave up a lead-off walk to Sweeney, his second of the night. At this point, Kazmir has given the lead-off hitter a chance in all three innings. But then he ended up getting Orlando Caberra to hit into a double play to erase Sweeney after a difficult 10-pitch at bat. At this point it seemed that Kazmir regained his command and ended up striking out Nomar Garciaparra to end the inning after 21 pitches. Up to this point, Kazmir had thrown 72 pitches in the contest and was heading for another early night.

But between the innings he discovered his small mechanical error and then took the mound in the fourth inning and went right after the A’s hitters. He only threw 7 pitches in that inning, getting Matt Holliday, Cust and Suzuki in order for his first 1-2-3 inning.  In the fifth inning, he again took control and sent the A’s down 1-2-3 for the second inning, but this time threw only 15 pitches. He was beginnig to take full control of the game. In his last inning, the sixth, he again got the A’s down in order 1-2-3 to put an exclamation point on his night. In that inning, he had retired 11 straight hitters and did his last inning on 6 total pitches. For the night he had given up only two hits, and had held the A’s hitless from the second inning on tonight.


Ben Margot / AP


Gross Doesn’t Waste Opportunity

Gabe Gross did not get an opportunity in the last few games to contribute anything to the Rays. He had not been in the field since the Rays 4-2 loss to open the series in Seattle at on Tuesday night. and in that contest, he only came on to pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler in the ninth inning and popped out in that appearance. His .130 average was cause for concern among the Rays faithful. People had been calling for Ben Zobrist to get more time since the left-handed Gross was struggling at the plate. But tonight he got a start against the A’s right-hander and did not waste his chances. He not only made a mark at the plate, but made sure the Rays did not forget what he brings to the table as a defensive expert.


In the bottom of the first inning when Holliday hit a hard ball to right field and Sweeney tagged up at third base to try the arm of Gross, he quickly got his feet set before the ball reached him and threw a missile to Dioner Navarro in front of the plate for an easy tag-out and to end the A’s rally and inning. But he did not let the momentum end there. He then was the lad-off hitter in the top of the second inning and blasted a 0-2 pitch into deep center field for his first home run of the year.  Gross rode the energy to again in the third innig when he hit a double to the left-center field wall to start another Rays rally after Pena’s three-run shot. 

He ended up crossing the plate in that inning to then put the Rays up 6-0 at the time. He again got on base in the fourth inning on a  5-pitch walk to put two men on base for the Rays. He did not get an opportunity to put anymore runs up for the Rays in that inning, but his offensive struggles seemed to be behind him. After a hard hit ball to center field for an out in the sixth inning, he again got on base in the eighth inning after a 5-pitch walk by A’s reliever Michael Wuertz.  That was his last time on base for the game, but his 2-3 performance had made his average take a positive turn to end up at .192 for the night.

Some people have commented it seems like I do not like Gross. It is not that at all here. It is the fact I know the team is struggling right now, and when you are in a hole, you go with your best horses. At that time Zobrist was the hot bat, and also deserves some playing time considering his early season successes at the plate and in the field. Both guys have a single outfield assist this year, but Gabe Kapler is leading the Rays with two so far in 2009. I like the way Gross played in 2008. Maybe I got spoiled by his banner year and he is showing his more stable hitting average. No matter what, I think the Rays should ride the hot bats this year in right field. If that means Zobrist and Gross get the bulk of the turns, then so be it.

        

www.tradewinds
resort.com

 

Rays Watch Parties with Rich Herrera

Coming up in the next few days will be two Rays watch parties, with Rays Radio pre game and post game announcer Rich Herrera hosting the events in two great local locations. Both of these locales are not foreign to Rays fans as they have already hosted past events and will again be awash in the Rays blue and white and loud with the cheers and excitement of the Rays Revolution members.

The first will be held on Sunday, April 26th at the Tradewinds Resort on beautiful St. Petersburg Beach, Florida.  The resort is a key spot on the Gulf of Mexico and fans are invited to come out early and enjoy the beach and the resort before the Rays afternoon contest against the Oakland A’s. Your usual Rays host,Rich Herrera will be broadcasting the pre- and post game shows live and on location starting at 3:30 p.m., with the first pitch at 4:05 p.m.

Before and during the game, be sure to stop by and register for your chance to win an autographed baseball, tickets to a future Rays game, TradeWinds merchandise, and much more! The Rays  energetic Street Team will also be in attendance, passing out prizes and giveaways. So come on by the TradeWinds Island Resorts, soak up the sun, enjoy the beach, and watch your Rays on Sunday, April 26! The resort is located at: 5600 Gulf Boulevard, and you can get  more directions on their website www.tradewindsresort.com.

 


The second Rays Watch Party will be held in a location that Upper Pinellas County fans know well for their outstanding food and open dining areas. The Rays will again be holding another event at the Clearwater location of Smokey Bones located at 2693 Gulf-toBay Blvd in Clearwater, located in the north section of the Clearwater Mall complex. So if you are a extreme Rays fan like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”, or just a casual Rays fan who loves great BBQ ribs, we invite you to come watch the Rays play the Twins in Minnesota on Monday, April 27, from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill in Clearwater!

Come out and watch the game with fellow Rays fans and enjoy  great drink specials.  Rays Radio pre game and post game guru Rich Herrera will  again be live as the Rays play in the Metrodome. We hope to see you there, and GO RAYS!

Saturday Scattered Thoughts

**** Former Rays reliever Jason Hammel, who was traded just prior to the beginning of the 2009 season has been moved into the Colorado Rockies rotation. So far in 2009, Hammel has appeared in 3 games for a total of 6.2 innings with an 2.70 ERA and 5 strikeouts on the season.

The Rockies obtained Hammel thinking he could be effective as a starter or a reliever. Starts haven’t been available, so he’s made three relief appearances. All Colorado knows is that if he pitches the way he has in his last two outings, there is a place for him — possibly a prominent one.

**** Rays Commentator Brian Anderson has been a trip so far in the broadcast booth for this west coast road trip. Anderson who also doubles as the Rays Assistant Pitching coach has been a breath of fresh air in the booth in relation to the  finer pitching aspects of the game.  He has shown awesome insight and also techniques that a pitcher might use that have been missing since former Rays commentator Joe Magrane left for the MLB Network in the off season. 

Also a great aditon is the use of his own key phrase he like “cookie” to demonstrate a pitch that is just eaten up by the hitter. I was afraid the Rays commentary might be a bit dry and stale for the first season with Kevin Kennedy. But both Kennedy and Anderson have injected a different viewpoint into the every day workings of this team. Kennedy shows a perspective from the catching side of the game, while anderson is focusing on his expertise……..pitching. The Rays hit a blast with the occasional pairing of Anderson with award winning Dwayne Staats in the booth. I can hardly wait for Todd Kalas to get his turn in the booth and see what magic can happen.

**** I can imagine the grumbling and the grunts from the Rays as they entered the Visitor’s Clubhouse yesterday to no food choices in the clubhouse before the game. I could see Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland on the phone scrambling to get something, even a bag of pretzels into the clubhouse at that moment.  But even more entertaining in my mind would be the sight of the Rays getting back on the busses and maybe going ala minor league style to a local restaurant and having Westy and maybe Traveling Secretary Jeff Ziegler tossing bags of food up through the windows to the hungry Rays.

Maybe that was the motivation of the team in last night’s contest. They were hungry in more ways than one prior to the game. But you know that they did finally get some neded calories in their stomaches, but that would have been a sight of them trolling into maybe In-and-Out Burger with 35 chicken sandwiches and healthy wrap meals, with a small prize in the sack for their kids. Ahhhhhhhh, that would have made them cherish their old minor league roots.

  
 

Tampa Bay take First Series from Red Sox

 
 
                            Rays 4,  Red Sox 3

 

 
 
Strutting like a Proud Turkey
 

Okay, I am going to shout loud and proud tonight for the Tampa Bay Rays. I do not care if you like it or not, because we have sent the message that we are for real again in 2009, and we want to win the American League East again. This was the kind of game that the Rays used to lose all the time up in Boston. It was the type of contest where the Rays let the Red Sox get back into the game, then let something happen that took the game out of the Ray’s hands. But that was almost the case this afternoon in Boston, but the Rays instead bent, but did not break to win the first series between the two powerhouses in the AL East.

 


The game was not in the bag until Gabe Kapler, who came on and pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in the top of the ninth inning, took a long fly ball in the triangular area of center field for the final out of the game. Boston did not sit down and die in this game, but played like a lion waiting for their chance to snatch the win away from the Rays. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Boston Captain, Jason Varitek tried to get the rally going strong by hitting a solo shot into the Rays Bullpen in right field. The shot was almost brought back into the field-of-play for an out, but Ben Zobrist, who had just come on to play right field, could not pull the ball back from beyond the fence.


It was that close. Seriously, it was a few inches that separated the Red Sox getting back into the game, or the Rays taking it without a fight. Instead, Varitek awakened the Boston crowd with hid lead-off homer off Rays closer Troy Percival on a bad pitch down and in. Boston did not sit back after that blast. After two quick outs, David Ortiz walked to give the faithful some hope. That in itself was a major thing since Ortiz came into this game 1-12 ( 0.83 average) against Percival lifetime. So with a man on base, and the winning run at the plate with two outs, the hard hit ball by Kevin Youkilis  seemed to take forever to reach Kapler’s glove and end the rally.

 

If this is going to be the type of games that we are going to see in this series this year. I think I am going to get some Pepto and aspirin for the home crowd. This is what baseball is all about. It had the excitement of a late rally, and the back-and -forth pitching by one of Boston’s best pitchers. This is the type of game that will be the talk of the water cooler in Tampa Bay and Boston tomorrow for different reasons. In Tampa Bay, they will be talking about the powerful display put on by the Rays in this game. But in Boston, they will be talking about Kapler’s play and the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was all over the plate early, allowing a lead-off homer, and also throwing 100 pitches in 5.1 innings.
 

It was a great game to watch for either teams fans. That is going to pay dividends for both teams during their next home stands featuring these two teams. We know that Boston will be sold out, but it will drive up the demand for tickets and also make the  people selling tickets a nice return. Even in Tampa Bay, where most Boston fans can take a plane ride and even buy tickets cheaper than getting into Fenway Park most nights, the ticket sellers will have a field day. But that is what playoff baseball felt like this past October, and hopefully when the Red Sox come to town the rest of the year, we can experience it over and over again.

 
 
            
 

Riggo to the Rescue

 
It was great to see Shawn Riggans get a start today against the Red Sox in the matinee. Anyone who knows me will not doubt know I am going to be happy to see him getting some time behind the plate. But I might not be the only one. During today’s FSN telecast, Rays analyst Kevin Kennedy, who is a former catcher, and a major league catching instructor, also talked glowingly about Riggans today. He made a point to show the way he would go down and block the ball correctly. That he was fundamentally sound, and also seemed to call a great game behind the dish.

 
Kennedy also noticed the great  confidence that Garza seemed to have in the back-up catcher, and that Garza had a winning record last year ( 5-2) when Riggans caught him. Not lost was the fact that Riggans was the catcher that caught Garza during his one-hitter against the Florida Marlins last season. The only blemish on that day was a home run to Hanley Ramirez.  During the game, with the center field camera focusing in on Riggans, you could see him give encouragement and calm Garza down after strikes were not called on a few close balls off the corners.

 
But that is why I like this kid. He had taken to this job after the Rays have thrown people at him to pressure him for the back-up spot in previous years. But this spring, the Rays did not bring in any one with a huge amount of experience because of their confidence in Riggans. That is the ultimate compliment to a back-up catcher. And Riggans did not disappoint the Rays today. He might have only gone 1-4 today, but his solo home run shot to right center field that went over the Red Sox Bullpen put them up 4-0 in the fourth inning.  Riggans, who has had his share of injuries the past few seasons is poised and confident this year. And with him and Dioner Navarro taking care of this pitching staff, the Rays know that they have the right guys behind the plate this season.

 
 

 
 
Rays do some funky shifting in the Infield
 

During last season, the Rays employed a few unusual plays during game designed to intimidate hitters by moving players to spot that show a huge spray pattern in a hitting chart. We saw the shift used against David Ortiz and other left-handed batters last year that looked like something out of an old fashioned managerial scrapbook. But Rays Manager Joe Maddon is a student of the game, and computer generated charts showing hitting patterns and also tendencies can be a useful weapon to beat opponents. Some times they work like a charm, other times they still sneak a hit through a hole somewhere in the defense.

 

Most people know the left-handed shift where first baseman Carlos Pena will play off the bag ( unless there is a runner on first) and Akinora Iwamura will play about 10 feet off the clay into shallow right field. Then you have shortstop Jason Bartlett either right behind the second base bag, or more towards the inside of the bag. All this time third baseman Evan Longoria is the man on an island in this formation. He usually lines up in the shortstop position, but sometime has to hug the bag because of some batter faking bunt attempts down the third base line. But then th
ere is the new formation we saw today.

 
 

It is a bit different, because before today it was foreign to see them also do a shift for right-handed batters. It was not used all game long, but they did employ it numerous times today, and it had mixed results.  Mostly the Rays used it against Dustin Pedroia and Jason Bay today to make them hit over the defense. Unlike the left-handed version, in this new variation you saw Pena more between first and second and not guarding the right field line. Iwamura basically played right behind second base, and the right side of the infield stayed at their positions.
 
 

Using this new formation today, the Rays seemed to be adjusting on the fly, but got Mike Lowell to hit a sharp liner to Iwamura behind second in the sixth inning that would have been a single to center if the shift was not used. Pedroia and Bay went 1-8 on the day, with Bay getting a single over Joyce’s head in center field into the triangle near the 420 sign in center field. It will be interesting to see this formation used again and again this year by the Rays. But like they always say, if it is not broke, don’t fix it. But in this case, if it shuts them down, keep doing it.

 

 

Evan Almighty to the Monster

 

I know it is crazy to think that Evan Longoria is going to keep hitting homers at this pace. I mean he has a few unusual streaks going on here. First off, this is the second game in a row where he has hit a double in his first at bat of the game. and both times they have been down the third base line into the corner.  Put that together with the fact he is hitting .429 so far this season, and you have a guy who is not showing any sophomore slump at this time. And that is great for the Rays. While Pat Burrell finally got his first hit of the season today, Longoria has been consistent at the plate so far for the Rays.

 
 

But it might be his other streak that people want to talk about in Tampa Bay. Not the fact that he has made awesome defensive plays so far this year. Stealing a few hits off the lines so far in the Boston series and turning them into easy outs. He did get beat fully on the lead-off bunt single down the third base line by Jacoby Ellsbury today, but he rebounded by taking a ball headed for extra bases by Pedroia in the ninth inning for the second out. No people want to talk about his second  home run in as many days into the Green Monster. Today’s slam went into the third row of the Monster seats, and he almost had another in an earlier inning, but the ball curved foul into the Upper Deck seats to the left of the Monster. Longoria is making people believe he is the real thing. Another good indicator that he is seeing ball well is the fact that he missed hitting for the cycle today by not getting a triple.  If Longoria was not seeing the ball the size of beach balls right now, the Rays might have been in a bit of trouble in this series.

 
 Today’s Rays Ramblings
 

I am curious on this new Rays promotion I was hearing on the radio last night.  It was announced that if the Rays score during the fourth inning of a game, a local eyeglass company Innovision will give 10 kids eyeglasses and examinations. How cool is that! Seriously, in this time when a lot of parents can not afford the medical insurance for kids, eye insurance and benefits might not be the first thing on their minds. So it is an great idea for this kind of promotion to take some of the worry and financial burden off some Tampa Bay families.

 
 

I also found it quite amusing last night during the game to catch a glimpse of the Red Sox scoreboard that kept track of pitches for the respective pitchers from both teams. It was kind of funny to see that when Scott Kazmir left the mound on Tuesday night, that he had thrown 445 pitches according to the board.  I am not genius, but to thrown that many pitches might take at least 3 1/2 games for a normal pitcher. I know it seems like when Kazmir pitches, he is throwing a huge number, but last night he seems to be finding that control that missed him a few times in 2008.

 
 

Not lost is the fact that the Rays plated all four of their runs via the long ball today.  They started in the top of the second inning when Matt Joyce got his first hit of the season by sending a ball over the head of J D Drew and into the right field stands. Dice-K had left a 2-seam fastball high and towards the middle of the plate, and Joyce made him play for the missed location.  Then in the third inning, after Iwamura walked to lead-off the inning and stole second base, Longoria connected on his shot into the Green Monster for a 3-0 lead.  Then in the fourth inning, Shawn Riggans got his first hit of the year by blasting a ball into the Red Sox Bullpen to complete the Rays scoring for the day.

 
        
 

Is Garza the New Red Sox Killer?

 

I know that might sound a bit premature to use that kind of terminology concerning Matt Garza, but considering he has now won his last three starts against the Red Sox it might be becoming more hip. In 2008, the Red Sox hit .250 against him both at home and at Fenway Park. In those games he only gave up 13 runs. And that is only during the regular season. It doesn’t even include the 2008 American League Championship Series when he started two games and held the Red Sox to  a .170 average, with 8 hits and 1 run in those games.

 
That would show that he is beginning to take an active role in being a key figure in stopping the Re
d Sox for his team. It is not to say that he was without any problems today. He did get called for going to his mouth in the bottom of the first inning and it gave Pedroia a free “ball” in his at bat. But it did not come back to haunt him as Pedroia hit a fly ball to Joyce in center field for an easy out. But today he did get his third victory in a row against the Red Sox, while only allowing them to hit  .154 today.  In his 7.0 innings today, he gave up 4 hits and a solo run in the sixth inning. In that inning he gave up a lead-off double to the left-center field gap, then two batters later gave up the long double to Bay that scored Youkilis.

 

All in all, Garza is beginning to show the signs of what the Minnesota Twins envisioned from him when they drafted him from Fresno State. He is gaining more and more control  of his pitches and is beginning to let the game flow and not get too upset on the mound. When he was called for the infraction in the first inning, the old Garza would have argued with Home Plate Umpire  Jeff Nelson and might have been thrown from the game. But today he just had a frustrated look and let it slide off his back and struck out Ortiz next. The maturation process might not be complete on Garza, but he is showing a huge improvement on the guy we saw on the mound early in 2008.

Photo Credits: All today’s photos are from the Associated Press and taken by Michael Dwyer.

My Review of Kevin Kennedy’s Book

 

 

 

Okay, I went on our to the  Barnes and Noble bookstore in Tampa today for a 1 pm book signing by our MLBlogs.com Numero Uno lady, Lady Jane Heller. She was excited to see all the She-fans lined up waiting for to arrive, and I promised her while I was there, I would not write about her signing today. I will never steal the thunder from this smiling Yankee fan. Now there will occasions in the future where I will not promise anything, but today I took the noble approach and gave the visiting dignitary her rightful place at the top of our charts and hearts . But instead of doing a blog about her book and the signing, I am going to fulfill a promise I mad about a month ago about Kevin Kennedy’s book.
 

As you all might  know by now, Kennedy, the former Fox Sports baseball commentator is now employed by the Tampa Bay Rays to do the television broadcast color analyst position for most of the season. Kennedy still has some past obligation, like his XM/Sirrus radio show with Rob Dibble, and will not be able to do the entire slate of games this year. But while I was researching on him for my blog about the hiring, I noticed that he had written a book with Bill Gutman entitled, ” Twice Around the Bases.” Well it took me a little extra time to read it since I also try and keep current reading my ESPN, the magazine, Sports Illustrated and Maxim magazines every week when they arrive at the refrigerator box. So last night I decided to burn the entire tall candle and read the rest of the book so I could give you a Rays Renegade rendition or review of this book.
 


 
In the past couple of years,  new baseball fans people have become more and more obsessed with the statistics and the formulas of the game of baseball. There is a acknowledgment that the manager of a Major League Baseball franchise has a legitimate effect on the true outcome of the contest. Some still hold it tightly in their minds that the manager has very little input and connection with the ultimate result of the game. I disagree and feel that manager have a huge amount of information and scouting now to influence a game’s outcome.  So I began reading Kevin Kennedy’s book, Twice Around the Bases: The Thinking Fan’s Look Inside Baseball,  hoping I would finally find the insight and the knowledge I was looking for to finally come to an intelligent decision on this matter.

              
 
This book was about 260-odd pages.  I  was really excited when I picked up the book knowing the managerial success and the turmoil he had endured both in the Texas Ranger organization and during his short stint with the Boston Red Sox.
 
I was looking forward to the random stories of making his way up from the Winter Leagues to finally winning title with both American League clubs. I really thought there would be insightful personal stories about managerial decisions and conflicts made while sitting on the bench and having to make player decision at the end of Spring Training. I did like the first section of the book, but it did ramble and slowly move, which almost led me to put it down after 100 pages. It went forward and back in his plight to get his manager skills honed and spit-polished before he finally got the reins of the downtrodden team in Texas.
 
I got the idea about half way through the book that Gutman  had some trouble actually piecing together this book, but you can tell that 98 percent of what came out of Kennedy’s mouth made it to the page without editing a lot of copy. I did not enjoy some parts of it, but I might have been expecting more from it because of the high profile image of Kennedy.  Some pieces of the book fell from its format, and Gutman tried his best to put them into some easy flowing stream, but it got stuck on the rocks.

 

The book is split into two huge parts of his career. The first half of the book relies totally on  Kennedy’s  Los Angeles Dodger minor league coaching experiences, and finally concludes with his years in Fenway Park with the Red Sox.  It digs only just below the surface in his time down in the Caribbean Winter Leagues. I do have a thought here for Kennedy. There is not a great behind-the-scenes novel written on the true experiences in those Winter League environments. If you could channel more information and your personal experiences to show more insight into the real problems down in those ” finders” leagues, you might have another book   that would finally piece together the type of politics and goings on behind the doors in those leagues. 
 
 

You can tell you were not letting us know everything that might have been going on in that part of the world. But to really dig into that baseball sub-culture now would be a best seller waiting to happen. With American readers now looking south after the latest exploits in the Washington Nationals system, this area of baseball is ripe for some one to pick it off the vine. If I had the connections Kennedy has in baseball and in that region of the world, I would be all over writing about the conditions and ramifications of this yearly MLB-subsidized league. Just a thought Kevin, now that you have a steady job with the Rays, you even have a subject in your own locker room who went through this hostile “buscones” atmosphere in Willy Aybar.
 

Okay, I am sorry I got on a tangent,but I will bring that idea up to Kennedy the next time I see him outside of the Rays broadcast booth. I do like the way he did portray the differences in the game played there and here in the States. I mean where else can you find armed guards with guns on the dugouts and the gambling bookies sometimes  controlling the game played inside the fences.  Kennedy wrote of a personal experience where a local team almost rioted after a pitcher was removed for m a 14-strikeout appearance because of the local betting line on the starting pitcher getting 15 strikeouts that day. It gave the opinion that even in a fair play game like baseball, a criminal element can creep in and take control of a situation on the diamond, even when people are looking out for it. 
 

Another great story on how a stadium lost its electrical power the moment the game became official and the home side was in the lead in the contest. It seems from the stories that these bookies and gamblers have the ultimate say in the results of the game, even with everyone else playing on the up-and-up.  This region of the world might be the last frontier of baseball in its purest forms, but also the greed and corruption that can come without total authority was evident by Kennedy’s recollections throughout the first half of the novel.
 

Then he turns his attention to his first MLB gig in Montreal with the Expos,  and also talks about his stories while holding managerial jobs with the Rangers and Red Sox. He gets into his philosophy of the growing politics of managers jobs. In this section he also takes a shot at how awful the Red Sox were run in the 90s. That his eventual hiring by the Red Sox might be considered a bit forced because then Boston G M Dan Duquette played  hard-nosed politics with the GM of the Rangers during the strike season to finally get Kennedy for his team. Kennedy replaced Butch Hobson and went on to secure the American League East title for the Red Sox, but they did not fare well in the playoffs going down to the Cleveland Indians in their first action that season.
 

He felt that  Duquette proceeded to blow the team up and make a ton of moves without consulting him. He conveyed the idea that he was never in the loop in regards to player personnel decisions, and had to accept what the Boston front office dished out to him.  The team then sucked the following year but Duquette decided to make Kennedy the scapegoat for the Red Sox floundering. That in turn gave Duquette the perfect reasoning to fire him.  Kennedy was outspoken about the “good ol’ boy” network that was king at that time in the entire baseball hierarchy. He showed his frustrations that the old school of thought was being taught to the rising stars in the managerial ranks.  There was a rehashing of past prejudices and mis-guided information that confused everyone in baseball. Young baseball leaders in the front offices and dugouts kept the traditions and the mannerisms of the older generations of managers and baseball men. The cycle began to repeat itself in a very vicious circle.
 
 

The second half of the book starts off with a hodge-podge  collection of his personal views and scouting reports on the past, present and future stars of baseball. He takes his ramblings and forces them into 4 chapters where he debates and decides for himself who the best at their positions at this current juncture in baseball’s history. He divides them into position players, best pitchers, best hitters, best all-around players, and then shows his personal choices for best games he’s ever seen.  There’s an awful lot of back chatter and wishy-washy talk about “confidence” and “swagger” and an awful lot of  condemnation of players he has never seen personally play the game.
 
 

 I do agree with Kennedy on one subject noted in the second half of the book. Kennedy is a huge proponent of a running game. It is well versed by SABRE members and statistics collectors who find this part of the game simply over rated. But Kennedy gets on his soapbox and makes a very valid point, that statistics won’t show you if a pitcher makes a bad pitch because he rushes the ball to the plate to prevent a steal. Also voiced loud and clear in the book is the fact that stats won’t show if the shortstop is moving to cover second and leaves a hole for a base hit or a hit that splits first and second because the first baseman is holding a runner

 



                            

 

The only raw statistics most people see on the running game, stolen bases vs. caught stealing, doesn’t really tell the whole story of being “aggressive on the base paths.” Could there be something to that? I think the jury is still out on that subject, but the tendency is to lean more towards the side of aggressive actions. the following was taken from the book to help illustrate his point on the running game.  Kennedy took over the Rangers in 1993. In 1992, the team was 74-88 with 81 stolen bases, 44 caught stealing (64% success rate), a team line of .250/.318/.393, and 682 runs scored in 162 games. Kennedy took over the same player personnel and went 86-76 with 113 stolen bases, 67 caught stealing (63%, indicates much more movement along the bases at about the same success rate), a team line of .267/.326/.431 , and 835 runs scored in 162 games.
 

Can you point to the fact that the opposing pitchers were rushing their throws to the plate, and that the Rangers got additional hits in the game because of this simple action. Or did it tend to pull either the second baseman or shortstop out of their position and create holes for grounders and liners to go through to increase the hit totals?  I think we can say “Yes” to these ideas based on the game statistics and the results of his teams. Could the 150 extra runs be from moving more guys into scoring position?  I would think by having the runners already in motion when the batter hits would increase their chances of scoring or even getting into scoring position for the additional runs.
 
 
One of the reasons that people tend to call moving on the base paths “running yourselves out of an inning” is because it’s usually practiced by some of the new aggressive base savvy managers. Ozzie Guillen of the  Chicago White Sox would be a prime example. Kennedy makes the argument that with proper studying of pitcher’s tendency, via a complete scouting report, that teams can predict  very accurately what a pitcher throws on each count, and how long it takes them to get to the ball to the plate. An intelligent  manager can control a running game that  can disrupt a defense and creates  pure chaos in the infield. Kennedy shows some of the ways a manager can take control of a game by stealing signs, positioning the defense, and studying player defensive tendencies. 

 A top notch manager today has to be both statistician and psychologist over the course of a 162 game season. Kennedy gives us a decent look at various types of signs… even telling us different ways that guys communicate on the field. For instance, a second baseman leaning on his left foot instead of a right foot can be a sign of who’s moving to cover second. All told, the book  seemed to be written in a very fast paced manner. Maybe the book editor was calling for their pages before the beginning of the baseball season, and they hap-hazardly pushed the pages of the second half of the book. The first half of the book was a great selection of interesting stories about the game of baseball both in the minor and major league level.
 But in the second section, it seemed more like they just ran through the gambit of baseball websites and collected statistics and ran their personal observations quick and furious to get the book done in time.   It had the pacing of a rambling mess in the second half. The  second half section on managing the game was excellent, but his “best” player notations could have been deleted and the book would have been more enjoyable. It is not the best book written by a former MLB manager about the sport. There are dozens of better written and more concise books by managers that can be quoted before this one. But his adventures in the Caribbean would make an entire book worthwhile if he dove into the subject. It was a great attempt at a first book by Kennedy. If he does do a second book, hopefully he will learn from the sins of his first stab at literary works. Hey Kevin……………Think Caribbean Winter Leagues.

Photos credits today go to: www.reddawg32@Flickr.com, wwworbitcast.com, www.grandstandsports.com.

 

Kevin Kennedy Announced as the Rays New Broadcast Analyst

 

 

 
 
I was upstairs on the third floor in the Rays executive offices a few days ago and over heard a conversation that was going on between a few people about Kevin Kennedy. Now I knew that the Fox Baseball broadcaster had been contacted by the team in the past about their job opening, but I did not  know he was considering the position until I read it in another blog ( www.raysindex.com ) two days later. Where was my journalistic instincts that day. 
 

I could have broke a great story, or at least posted the same day as everyone else. But for some reason I did not think he was going to be on the broadcast team. I was under the mindset that he might be a guest during Fan Fest like Buck Martinez and would shed some great light on baseball today.  I was told on Saturday at Fan Fest that they tried hard to get him there for the Florida Sports Network ( FSN ) autograph signing to surprise the Rays faithful with the announcement. Not tell me that would not have psyched you out to go up to the table to see colorful Dwayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy sitting with Todd Kalas singing away like madmen.
 


So even if I am upset with myself for accidentally falling into a story, I am excited that we have a high caliber replacement like Kennedy for Joe Magrane. I was sorry to see Magrane go to the MLB Network. Not so much that I would miss his tall sense of humor and inside jokes during the broadcast, but I liked his analogies during the game. He had a special bond with these players having played at this level and had his own success on the mound.  I recently saw a review of the American League East, and Magrane looked troubled to have to chat about his former team. He will be great at MLB Network, and I truly wish him the best.



 
 

                             

 
Kennedy will be the color analyst for most of the Rays broadcasts in 2009, but he will have to leave the booth from time to time to take care of prior commitments with Fox Sports and will also  still do his daily XM radio talk show with Rob Dibble on  XM Satellite Radio channel 175.  Un known to some fans is the fact that Kennedy has been nominated twice for Emmys for his work at Fox Sports.  So with his new position, Kennedy also has some past commitments and in his absence in the booth, the Rays will have a familiar voice to fans stand in for him. During the 2008 season when Magrane was out of town in New York City for the Olympic baseball telecasts, former Cleveland Indians color commentator Brian Anderson would take off his Rays uniform and strap on his suit to help take over for him.  Pregame and post-game host Todd Kalas will also slide up into the commentators chair on select broadcasts in 2009.
 

 
So let’s get to know a little bit more about the guy who will be up in the Rays booth this year with Staats. Kevin Kennedy did play organized professional baseball, but was limited to the minor leagues as a catcher in the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers organizations.   He began his trek into coaching with stints in  the Caribbean Winter League before finally getting position in the minor leagues. In 1983 he began his coaching career as a catching instructor in the Los Angeles Dodger organization and in 1984, he began his first full season coaching in the Pioneer League with the Great Falls Dodgers.  He stayed with that franchise until 1986, and he appeared in the conference finals twice in the last two years, winning the championship in 1985.  In 1987, he moved up to the Bakersfield Dodgers in the California League and  78-65 record for the season. 
 

 
Kennedy then got his first taste of life in Texas when he went in 1986 to the San Antonio Missions in the Texas League and lead them to a 73-60 record. The team ended up in second place in the conference and lost in the first round of the playoffs that year.  From 1989-1991, Kennedy again stayed put in the  Pacific coast League as he took over as manager of the Albuquerque Dukes. He finished the regular season all three years in first place, but only won in the PCL’s playoff championship in 1990.  That season  the team posted a 92-51 record, which became his best minor league managerial records.
 

 
             
 

Kennedy finally made it onto a major league squad as a coach with the Montreal Expos in 1992. He  was hired by Tommy Runnels , but ended up coaching  under Felip Alou after Runnels was let go by the franchise. He only stayed in Montreal for one year before getting his big break in 1993 when he was hired by the Texas Ranger to take over as manager of the team. His squad posted a 86-76 record for the year and placed second in the American League West division. But the best was yet to come as in 1994 when he won his first divisional title.  Kennedy is still the only manager to ever win a division title with a sub-.500 record. When the 1994 strike put a premature end to the season, the Rangers were standing atop the four-team AL Western Division, with a record of 52-62. They had finished ten games over .500 in 1993, and their record in the strike-shortened season was considered a serious disappointment, leading to Kennedy’s dismissal. 
 

 
But Kennedy did not have to wait long for another opportunity to manage in the major leagues. He was hired by Butch Hobson to coach for the Boston Red Sox and was the Red Sox managements choice to succeed Hobson in 1995. Kennedy pushed the Red Sox to a 86-58 record in 144 games, and they won the American League East title that season.  But in 1996, the Red Sox struggled and posted only a 85-77 record in 162 games. The  overall team record and his teams being swept in the playoffs by the Cleveland Indians was viewed as a travesty and Kennedy was replaced by Jimy Williams in the off season.

 


 

              
 
 

Kennedy then went on to work at ESPN in 1998, where he spent two years as an analyst on their national Wednesday Night Baseball game telecast, and on ESPN Radio’s Sunday Night Baseball games.  After leaving ESPN, Kennedy began work with Fox Sports Net as an analyst for the ” National Sports Report “, providing commentary and in-depth features. In recent years, Kennedy has been on the Fox Saturday pregame show with Jeannes Zelasko.   I also did not know that Kennedy was co-author of a baseball book entitled, ” Twice Around the Bases”. I am going to have to hit Amazon.com in the next few days and see if I can find a good copy of the book to read, and then get Kennedy to autogrpah. Maybe I might even review the book in a blog sometimes during an off-day during the season.

Within the last two months it has been learned that Fox will terminate the pre-game show featuring both hosts and that might have opened the door for the Rays opportunity for Kennedy. MLB on Fox has not decided on their 2009 direction, but they will now have to stay the course without Kennedy on board the ship. I think this hiring is an excellent decision by the Tampa Bay Rays. They get a guy who is respected for his baseball knowledge as an ex-manager, and as a network show co-host for several seasons. Kennedy was also very pro-Rays during the 2008 season and will bring great insight into the managerial and network side of sports for the viewers.  He will also be a great speaker for the Rays in civic events and will be a firm foundation for the broadcast team in 2009.

He comes on board with Staats who has now done over 4,400 broadcasts in his career, and is always a finalist for the Hall of Fame’s Frick award.  Kevin Kennedy might not have been my first choice to fill that position, but I also did not even know that he was available at the time. People like Bobby Valentine were mentioned for the job, but Kennedy bring with him the clout and the prestige that the Rays need to push their image nationally in the coming years. Again the Tampa Bay Rays front office get kudos for their smart decision and quick grasp to get Kennedy into the Rays fold.

photo credits for today’s blog include Reddawg32on Flicker.com, http://www.orbitcast.com, http://www.grandstandsports.com.

 

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