Results tagged ‘ Kurt Birkins ’

Checking in on some Ex-Rays this Spring

 

 

 
 
 
I mentioned in a blog a few months ago that they Tampa Bay Rays had changed a bit when 10 members of the 2008 American League Pennant winning team either left via trade or were not resigned by the team. Well, I was sitting here today and was wondering what might have happened with those guys after they left the team in the off season. Well after doing a bit of research, I can tell you pretty much what they have been up to with their posted statistics as of last night ( March 20th). 
 
 
 
Some of the guys have fallen off the total Major League Baseball radar, but a few are having the type of spring that the Rays envisioned them having when they were with the club.  I guess the best one to start with is the one player who left via a trade this off season that was greeted by some with cheers and other with the true ability of filling one of the team’s biggest holes with a future budding star. When the trade first went down, I was not totally with it, because I envision a breakout year for this pitcher once he gains some control and confidence on the mound. But with his team tying 14 wins in 2008, I was expecting a little more out of him this spring.

 


 

 
Edwin Jackson is currently in the hunt for a spot on the Detroit Tigers starting rotation. I think he has a good shot to make the final 25-man roster even if he is not a starter this year. His ability to start and relieve make him an enticing pitching piece to the Tiger puzzle. If the Tigers can not agree upon a closer, you might even see him taking a few turns late in the game on the mound to further make the Tiger’s mouths water. But this spring, he has posted a 0-2 record in his 3 starts. He has thrown for 9 innings and given up 4 hits and 7 runs. The worst part is he has surrendered 3 home runs this spring, which was his downfall last season.  He has not gained total control in his pitch command yet evident by his 6 walks and 8 strikeouts. 



 
 
Cliff Floyd was again as free agent after the Rays declined his option on November 3, 2008. At the time, Floyd was considering the same surgery as  B J Upton, but decided to rehab his injury instead. That might have been a great idea as the former Rays Designated Hitter is hitting a robust .381 this spring with a .667 Slugging percentage. He is also still seeing the ball well at the plate getting 4 walks this spring. The only downfall is that he has been mostly DHing with the San Diego Padres, and during the regular season he will either have to play in the field, or be just a bench player for the team most of the year. His 2 doubles show he still has some ability left in his old legs, but it is his power ( 1 HR, 5 RBI’s) that will get him a chance with the Padres. 
 

 
Eric Hinske was one of the Rays major finds in 2008. He was signed for a simple $ 1 million dollar contract and only hit like he was making over 3.5 million. Even in his limited at bats, he made them count for the Rays and was always a constant positive influence in the clubhouse.  But the Rays did not try and resign him and he moved onto the Pittsburgh Pirates who were seeking outfielders. This spring, on Feb 26th, Hinske suffered a left ribcage contusion after smacking into the wall at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. Until recently he has been held out by the Pirates as a precaution, but is now starting to get at bats and time in the outfield. His average is not “Hinske-like”, as he is only 1-7 right now, but his .400 On-Base Percentage shows that he still has a great eye at the plate and will be an asset to the Pirates in 2009.
 
 

 
Gary Glover was the kind of reliever that you either loved or hated with the Rays. He had an up and down love affair with the fans, and his pitching with the team never hit a consistent point. But after being released by the Rays, he cleared waivers, but refused a assignment to Triple-A and became a free agent on August 2, 2008. He signed this off season with the Washington Nationals and is currently throwing some great ball for the squad.  Glover is currently holding a 0-1 record with a 1.80 ERA in his 4 appearances for the Nationals this spring. In his 5 innings he has only given up 4 hits and a solo run. He has seemed to gain a bit more control as he has only 2 walks and 5 strikeouts in those 5 innings. 
 
 

 
Al Reyes and Kurt Birkins are two relievers for the Rays that currently do not have any ties with a single Major League Team. Reyes was designated for assignment by the Rays and was not claimed, but he refused an assignment to Triple-A and was released as a free agent on August 18, 2008.  He did sign with the New York Mets organization and did have a small part in the New York Mets minor league system before he was released on September 18, 2008 by the parent club. He has not been invited or appeared for any club so far this spring. Birkins was released by the Rays on August 29, 2008. He did not get picked up by another club that season and is currently not on a Major League Baseball roster.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli
 
did not have his 2009 option picked up by the Rays on April 1, 2008. The Ray decided to not exercise the option because of his growing health concerns with his fatigue syndrome illness. But Baldelli made huge physical and medical advancements and finally joined the Rays roster in September in Seattle. He performed amazingly for the team in the final month of the season and was a pivotal player during thei
r first playoff run. But the team decided to not pursue Baldelli and he signed with his hometown Boston Red Sox instead. Baldelli is being viewed as a fourth outfielder and occasional DH for the Red Sox. He has been used in 8 games this spring, and had gotten 24 at bats, which produced 5 hits, and 2 doubles and 4 RBI’s for his new Red Sox team. It is still a bit unnerving to see him in the Boston red jersey after his entire career as a Ray.
 
 

Trever Miller was another player who had his option declined by the Rays on November 3, 2008. But Miller, being a lefty specialist did not hang out long on the unemployed list as the St Louis Cardinals came fast to sign him to a two-year contract. But with their hunt for a closer for 2009, he might be a few reps trying to close out games in the late innings this spring and during the beginning of the year for the Cardinals. So far this spring he has appeared in 8 games and has an 0-1 record. He has posted a 3.86 ERA and given up 8 hits and 3 runs in 7 innings of work. He has hit 2 batters and also gotten 6 strikeouts in his limited pitching performances this spring. He will be a valued member of the Cardinal Bullpen when they leave Florida and head north this April.
 

 
                         

 

Jonny Gomes
has been called many thing when he was with the Rays. He has been an inspirational figure, a feared man at the plate, and a great guy to have in your clubhouse. but the Rays decided to non-tender Gomes on December 12, 2008. Gomes is now fighting for a outfield position with the Cincinnati Reds, and is making quite an impression on Reds Manager Dusty Baker. He is considered to be fighting with Chris Dickerson for the left field spot in the regular lineup. Gomes had made quite a case for himself this spring hitting  for a .286 average, with a .679 Slugging Percentage.  He has appeared in 17 games and gotten only 28 at bats, but has produced 8 hits, 2 doubles to go along with 3 homers and 10 RBI’s for the Reds. I can not see the Reds going north without Gomes this April. He has the ability and the confidence to again be a daily member of a MLB squad.
 
 

 
Scott Dohmann was the last pick for the Rays Bullpen out of the mix in 2008. He beat out Grant Balfour, who was none to happy to begin the year in Triple-A. But Dohmann did not keep his consistent pitching and was finally jettisoned as the Rays put him on waivers on May 14, 2008. He did clear waivers and was sent to Durham, where he stayed the entire season throwing great ball for the Durham Bulls. But this past off season, he became one of four pitchers to sign contracts with the Japanese Baseball League. He ended up singing a one-year $ 650,000 guaranteed contract with the Hiroshima Carp.
 
 

Tim Boggart, who was the Rays Quality Assurance Coach also left the team this off season. In that post he sat basically in the Press Box and overlooked the Rays during the game and watched for subtle gestures or even player movements that might tip off the opposition to what the Rays had planned on the field or mound. This was the first time the Rays had instituted this type of position, basically acting as a internal scout during every game. In the off season he accepted a contract to take over the Third Base Coaching position with the divisional rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
 
 

So the Rays have changed a bit between the last game of the World Series in Philadelphia and today. But the spirit and the confidence in this team have grown from the signings of relief pitchers Jason Isringhausen and Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse. The Bullpen, which was one of the true Rays strengths in 2008 has been fortified with a bevy of better situational and late inning guys. The Rays took care of their right field needs by signing Gabe Gross and acquiring Matt Joyce from Detroit for Jackson. But the signing of Pat Burrell to replace Cliff Floyd might have been the biggest indicator of the Rays commitment to getting back and finishing the job in 2009. It is going to be a rough and tumble year, but the team seems set to again strive for excellence, even with a few pieces swapped out from their 2008 model.
 
 
 
 
 
Photo credits:   1) RRCollections
                            2) Associated Press ( S. Rakocic )
                            3) www.tbo.com.sports
                            4) www.sarasota.com
 
 

2008 Rays Team Photo……..No Where Else but Here

 

 

Finally I got my picture from theTampa Bay Rays today from the day that I took my  Team Photo with the 2008 American League Pennant winning Tampa Bay Rays.

 

All year long I had this weird feeling about this years team, but  not until the Rays Radio Pre-game host Rich Hererra started calling it a “Miracle Summer”  did it dawn on me how special it could become in 2008. It seemed different, but I could not place the vibe in the air at the time.

 

I have been wanting to work in the Rays clubhouse for about 3 years. I missed the fun and the charades that went along with being in a loose locker room. Some of my fondest moments happened in locker rooms on teams I played with in high school, college and beyond.  It is that feeling when you step into the room that this was your peaceful and energetic focuepoint. That this locker room was the beginnig of the whole sha-bang. There is truly nothing like the spirit and the bond  that pulls together by a team on a streak, or a winning season.

 

                                      

 

Sitting there watching them come out in Feb. 2008 at the St. Petersburg  Namoli complex for the first workout of the Spring, I had a gut feeling it was going to be one to remember. I yelled over to Chris Westmoreland, the Rays Clubhouse Manager and shook his hand and just chatted a bit about the upcoming year. The guys as they came out to the fresh mowed grass had a different air about them. Something felt different about this workout, and about 2008 in general.

 

A few days earlier, the Rays had their annual Fan Fest at the Trop., and as ususal I was there bright and early and checking out all the auctions and the items up for sale around the stadium. One thing caught my eye. “A photo opportunity with the 2008 team during the Team Photo Day.”

 

I jumped at the opportunity to jot down my name and have a chance to be positioned in a keepsake between these great baseball players.  I went about my day and came back a few times before putting down my final bid and heading home for the day. I got a call the following Monday that I had won the auction and they would call me when the team had a opportunity to all get together and take the picture. That day turned out to be May 10, 2008.

 

 

I got out there around 3 pm on that day to get down to field level and get a  white Rays jersey and chat a with a few of the guys I knew before everyone got into place for the pictures. I took these pictures as we were getting set into position for the photo.  As the guys came out to the field, a few saw me sitting there and were laughing and wondering how I could of wrangled this opportunity. I had been the Pepsi rep for the team for several years and had worked around the clubhouse in the spring and during the year. Everyone who knew me knows how much this baseball team means to me personally. 

 

Chris Westmoreland and Dave Barr, the Rays  Strength and Conditioning guru came over and shook my hand before PR Direcotr Rick Vaugh started arranging everyone for  the photo. By that time the guys were all chatting amongst themselves and just enjoying the moment. But little did all we know just how special this photo would end up meaning not just to me, but to each and every one of the team on that stage.

 

 

I was a bit nervous before getting out there and getting into position. Not because of the guys around me, I knew enough of them to know that they are a great group of guys and would make this picture a true treasure for my collection.  I had seen alot of these guys come up as rookies ans now they were taking on verteran leadership roles for the first time and truly leading this club by example.

 

But what I truly found amazing was a few facts surrounding the picture that if you did not know the team well, or the players, you might miss the subtle differences in the picture.

 

 

So I had a few minutes to just take in all the surrounding before getting into the photo and saw some of these funny situations:

 

1) Usually in a team photo you try and put the tall trees in the back row or above the height-challenged members of your roster. In the back row today were Rays’ back-up catcher, Shawn Riggans and Reliever Al Reyes. Both are over 6 feet, but seem a bit short compared to the height of  Reliever Gary Glover on their left and Outfielder Rocco Baldelli on their right. So becuase of this height ripple, it looked like a wave going across the front row and rolling up and down.

 

                    

 

2)  One of my favorites, Rocco Baldelli was in this picture on May 10th with a full on Grizzly Adams look-alike beard. The beard was a wild look for Rocco. But since he was the disabled list at this time, he used it as his own measure of coping with his situation. Little did wqe know at the time to what extent Rocco would play in this teams playoff push.

 

3) If you notice the two groups on the left and right of the players, you have the Clubhouse crew to the left, and the teams’ trainers and physical staff to rhe right. And among the characters to the right is Kevin Barr. He is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the team, and refused to wear the  dark carolina blue polo tops that the rest of the staff wore that day. He stands out real good in his white top and black long pants, while the medical staff wore their dark blue tops and tan shorts.

 

Kevin is not a fan of the University of North Carolina, and it would be a personal insult to wear those colors.  Kevin, I understand, you could never get me to ever wear any FSU colors even on a threat of death. You sometime have to make a moral decision on things. He stands out real good in his white top and black long pants, while the medical staff wore their dark blue tops and tan shorts in the picture,

 

4) in the  official Team Photo, but not with the team much longer after the photo were: Rays reliever Kurt Birken and Elliot Johnson.

 

 

So then it is my time to get situated in the photo somewhere in the middle of everyone. You can definitely tell where I am in the picture, because I did something that intially looked a bit dumb at the time, but it makes it easier to find me because of it.

I have heard in the final picture that I am making into a 11X16 photo with a lettering spelling out “2008 American League Champions”  I will look the same as everyone else.

What I did was cross my hands in front of me instead of behind me in the picture. Yes, that is me right behind Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who was laughing that I  must have paid someone off  to get that close to him. But he knows me from the “Maddons’ Maniac” group and we have chatted many times in rightfield during BP.

 

They decided to put me between Akinora Iwamura and Willy Aybar for the photo. Great choice considering we are all three about 5 10-ish and would make a better height blend for the photo. To get into that spot I had to cross over the feet of Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria and Gabe Gross. The chairs in front of the risers were right on the shins of the guys in the second row and it was a tight space to get in there for the picture.

 

As I was passing by them, my Bullpen buddies Scott Cursi and Bobby Ramos were giving me a bad time as to not step on their toes since the guys had to play that night.

 

As if to curse me, I then stepped on Evan Longoria’s right big toe. I did not hurt him, but went gentle into position for the photo. Skip, the team photo guy then took about 3 picture before I pulled myself out of the picture for the official team photo in the media guide.

 

I did not get in that photo, but I do have a wall photo that is as orignal as the guys in the picture. We might never have a team like this in Tampa Bay again. Not because of talent or event ability, but the personalities from the Coaching staff up to our closer was one of the best I have ever seen on a field.

 

This team not only were impressive on the field, they were even more impressive as to how they reacted to each other off the field.  This photo might have cost me a bit in money, but the experience was priceless.

 

And I know it took some time to get this photo finally up and posted, but Tricia Johnson, who works in the Community Relations department for the Rays did a great job hunting down the photo and getting it to me. She tried to get it to me by e-mail, snail mail, and finally we just put it on a disc and I came and got it after the World Series. I love the photo and the memory will be one that will be told over barstools for a long long time.

 

It is a memory not only of spending time with a team of champions, but watching friends mingle as they took a photo that would be priceless in the annuals of our team’s history.

 

 

 

Mental Errors Cost Rays

 

Rays 5, Twins 6

 

*************************************************************************************************************************************

Trivia fact for the Night:

Eddie Matthews is the only person to play for a franchise in three cities: Boston, Milwalkee,and Atlanta

************************************************************************************************************************************* 

 

                      

 

                                     The Good,The Bad,and The Ugly

 

                 Jonny Gomes upends Twins second baseman Brendan Harris on a stolen base attempt, but Harris hangs on to make the out.

 

                                           The Good

 

Top “Good” honors go to the Rays offense tonight who  produced 10 hits  tonight off  Twins pitchers. Leading the charge tonight with Homeruns were: Carl Crawford(2), Shawn Riggans(2),and Eric Hinske(3).

 

Honorable Mentions for the Night:

* The Rays also activiated lefty  Kurt Birkins from the DL. Birkins came in to pitch in the 6th inning and retired the first four batters he saw on 9 pitches.

 

** B J Upton hit a single to center that score Carl Crawford to help the Rays regain the lead 3-2 in the Top of the 5th inning. Upton’s hit helped him raise his average to .304 for the season.

*** Carl Crawford also hit a double  in the game and raised his average to .239.  Crawford also scored two runs and had an RBI himself tonight.

 

                                                    The Bad

 

Dan Wheeler did not deserve the loss tonight to the Twins. Mental mistakes or shortcomings by Rays outfielders made the difference in the game tonight. In the bottom of the 8th inning, Delmon Young singles to center. Former Ray, Brendan Harris is the next to bat.

 

Brendan lifted a ball to the rightfield fouline that should have been caught by Hinske. Hinske can not sprint to the ball, and  it drops in for a single that advanced Delmon to third base. Twins third baseman Mark Lamb then hit a sacrifice fly to left that Crawford caught in foul territory,  Delmon then tagged up and scored to regain the lead 6-5 for the Twins.

 

If Crawford had let that foul ball drop to the turf, Delmon would not have been able to advance to score the winning run. Of course this is all hindsight because we do not know what type of out /hit Mark Lamb might have produced after that swing.

 

For that reason alone, the two critical defensive lapses, Dan Wheeler,  should not have had to take a loss in this contest..

 

                                         The Ugly

 

I have three minor “Uglies” to mention tonight.

 

*** Jason Bartlett again produced an error on the throw to first against Delmon Young in the bottom of the 5th inning. The reason this is big, Delmon recieved two RBI’s when Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau scored to up the score to 5-3 Twins. 

 

Worst yet, there were 2 outs at the time. A good throw to Carlos Pena would have ended the inning with the score still 3-3. By the Way, Bartlett improved his average to .196 for the year.

 

** Carlos Pena went 0-3 tonight and saw his average sink to .185. In a year where we are seeing hitters like Boston’s David Ortiz and the Yankees Robinson Cano, the hitting of Pena is staggering to this potential offense. 

 

I know Carlos is seeing alot more off-speed and breaking balls because of his quick Home Run start, but the guy is a professional and the adjustments need to be made now before they get to his mind.

 

*  Defensive lapses have cost us a few games this season. Tonight’s contest is not exception to that rule. Two outfield mental errors gave way to the winning run for the Twins.

 

Another throwing error, Bartlett’s third of the season led to the Twins taking the lead in the 5th inning.  Ben Zobrist must be kicking himslef for his injury right now, because he would be the starting shortstop on my squad without a doubt right now.

 

Former Rays Player of the Night:

 

When the Rays traded lefty pitcher Mark Hendrickson to the L A Dodgers, they might have thought they would not see the tall guy for a while. Hendrickson caught on with the cross state rival, the Florida Marlins and improved his record to 3-1 for the year. Mark worked 5.1 inning tonight with 6 hits and 3 runs.

 

ALERT: At the time of my blog, Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton was 4-7 with 2 RBI’s in their game with the Toronto Blue Jays, but since that game went  into extra innings (14) , I took the big guy from the fish for my nightly former Rays guy.

 

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