Results tagged ‘ Kyle Farnsworth ’

No Pressure, Rays Just Need to Win

This Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankees final 6-game battle royale needs no hype, and definitely needs no extra drama. It is the classic tale of lower (payroll) class rising up against the established norm. A meager collection of gutsy veterans and energized rookies banging their heads with Major League Baseball’s anointed ones who’s own city treats them like royalty.

It is the tale of the player who still drives the car he bought with his MLB Draft signing bonus against the one’s who could buy a new auto for everyone in the clubhouse and still have money to valet each car. One is a team steeped in baseball lore with legends of greatness, longevity and feats of power unknown to the other squad.

Yankees versus Rays has all that connective lore and more, much more. The pinstripe now have the Rays initial franchise Manager acting as their Pitching Coach, while the Rays have the Yankees long time staple as their Senior Advisor. Interesting enough, so many thought current Yankee skipper Joe Girardi was going to be the Rays Manager after Lou Pineilla until the cerebral Merlot Joe won the gig.

There is bad blood that stems as far back as Spring 2008, with the aggressor of that day Rays INF Elliot Johnson on the field this series, and Franklin Cervelli again out with an injury, but not due to a 2011 plate collision with Johnson. Out in the Yankees Bullpen the Rays 2010 closer is being used as a set-up man while former Yankee RP Kyle Farnsworth is biting at the bit to get back into his closer’s saddle.

Both of these teams used to train in St. Petersburg, Florida in the Spring, with some saying departed Yankee greats still haunt the old ballfields. Yankees even still call Tampa Bay their Spring home, nestled behind the blue-hued fences off Dale Mabry and within view of an NFL stadium.

These teams are so much alike, but so different at the same notion. The Rays have been able to use their Save-a-Lot budget tactics to bring 2 American League East title to their dome catwalks in 3 seasons. The Yankees are the only other team over the last 4 years to equal the Rays AL East haul, and that is if the New York squad can hold off the ram-rod Rays in their final 6-game showdowns in 2011.

Before last night’s loss, their was fodder sinking and flowing around the web that if the Rays went 10-0, they would command the AL East title for the third time in four seasons, besting the high dollar Boston Red Sox and Yankees with a payroll that is less than their bench players make…combined. Maybe there is something to that “Moneyball” shenanigans.

Most have come into this series with the pure thought that the Rays will have to duplicate their “Fenway magic” in the replica Yankee Stadium if they are to fully send the Red Sox Nation into a tailspin, even before their upcoming 3-game weekend slate with these same Pinstripes. More importantly, this Yankee club would like to see nothing better than to see the Red Sox and their Nation try and justify out this recent plunder into the deep recesses of failure.

But the Rays are not going into this Yankee series without reservations. Their offense needs to crank itself up a notch, particularly with left-handed hitter aiming for the Rightfield short porch. Rays DH Johnny Damon needs to revisit a few of his Pinstripe past moments of pushing the ball into the stands, possibly aiding in the Rays taking 3 out of 4.

Even if the Rays play perfect ball both from their defense to their starting pitching, mistakes and lapses in judgment even at the plate can not be tolerated. Rays 2B/RF Ben Zobrist has to come into the nightcap game with vision of his newborn daughter dancing in his head, and a goal of planting a few souvenirs into the famed outfield stands.

Doesn’t matter who is on the hill to start, the Rays have the hurlers to keep the series interesting, the question is which Rays offense will show up…the anemic Baltimore crew who looked like they had food poisoning during their 3-game debacle or the swatting squad that sent Red Sox Nation scurrying onto Yakey Way talking to themselves about their darking fate.

The Rays have nothing to lose, and should play the Yankees with abandon knowing their fate lies firmly within their own hands, The Yankees do not have that luxury. Defeats will bring about worry and doubt heading into the final stretch, which would favor their adversary. Consider the fact that the Yankees have to play both Tampa Bay and Boston over that 10 game stretch, and the pressure cooker is gaining steam for the Yankees.

The possibilities of securing back-to-back series wins is firmly planted within the minds of the Rays, and the Bombers will do everything short of urban warfare to secure and safely conceal their quest of another AL East crown. Emotions will be sky high on both sides of the field as the Yankees still have a lingering hole in their souls after losing the AL East title on their last grasp in 2010.

If the Rays play the way they did in their 4 games in Boston and take the game to the Yankees, even during their day/night double-dose, this Rays team might have to all go have dinner at the Cracker Barrel a few blocks from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. For if this Rays team does the same to the Yankees that they just did to the Red Sox, when the Rays land late Thursday evening maybe Maddon should buy the whole team “meatloaf with a side of gravy” upon their return. I can smell it already. 

I Have Great Empathy for Relievers

I want everyone in the Rays Republic to think about something for a moment, then decide for yourself if you could handle this same zany job description day in, and day out.

You start off by sitting and watching a baseball game unfold in front of you while sitting in one of the best seats in the house, down in the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen. You are not stretched out at all, possibly having thrown the night before and have a bit of a soreness to your body. Suddenly the Bullpen phone rings.

Someone points to you and the mound and you suddenly have to escalate your velocity from an initial soft, loosing throw to full bore heat in less than 20-25 pitches before you are whisked into the emotional swirling dervish of the game, possibly thrust head-first into an inferno hoping initially in your mind you do not get burned.

One wrong placement, one slight variance from the norm and you are standing there waiting for another ball from the Home Plate Umpire. That is the Topsy-turvy always unnerving world of relief pitching. I consider it one of the worst job in baseball. In no other sport can you go as quickly from hero-to-zero faster than being an Major League Baseball reliever. No other position on a baseball team mentally asks you to omit the previous day’s events and start a-fresh immediately with confidence and swagger.

Because relievers do not get extended outings, their ERA ‘s tend to balloon faster than Kobayashi’s stomach on the 4th of July. Their pitches are subject to Talk Radio fodder even if the previous pitcher left the bases loaded with no outs, it is that “reliever’s fault” someone hit a “Texas Leaguer” into the outfield. He inherits the trouble and his pitches are analyzed by everyone no matter if it brings a strike or a Home Run

Sitting on that Bullpen bench is the ultimate emotional and mental roller coaster which has to be re-programmed nightly, forgetting the previous game’s events and finding a new individual focal point for yourself, bringing a sense of renewed clarity and vigor for that next contest. No where else is Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra of “thinking about a game for 30 minutes then forget it” have more intense daily mental rotational pull than the Bullpen.

Talk about stress. A reliever is usually not granted a 3 or even 5 run lead on most nights when he hit the pitching rubber. He is more apt to be glaring down a pair of runners in scoring position with a single out than have the luxury to pin-point three nice breaking balls, then take a comfy seat on the dugout bench.

People wonder why relievers have more meltdowns than field players, consider that a game usually hinges on their skills and when the bad things happen, they can not hide, they are bare to the catcalls and fodder of the fans as they walk to the dugout either after a pitching change or in the middle of an inning. It doesn’t carry the glamor or the prestige of being a starter, the reliever is the “housekeepers of baseball”, coming on to clean up a mess more than to accent a great pitching performance.

It almost seems like if you were an MLB reliever you would have a sports psychologist on your speed dial, possibly on-call 24/7 to vent, speak or exorcise the potential nightly hazards of a meltdown of epic proportions, or the annihilation of an opponent with a 9-pitch half inning. Relief pitching is where extreme opposites in game action tend attract. Every action has a reaction, even some that are not pleasant.

Think about this for a moment, as you walk, strut or sprint in from the Bullpen, every eye in the stadium is on you trying to dictate on an insane celestial plane if game day magic or horror awaits the masses during your performance. In one throw, one swing, one moment stamped in time, you can go from the penthouse to the basement, and then you have to throw another pitch.

Maybe that is why I never try and purposely throw relievers “under the bus” when something bad happens. Considering most of the time they are summoned because a bad thing is about to happen, how can you thrust all that guilt and judgment for an impending loss upon a pitcher who is just trying to produce an easy way out, get the perfect pitch to ruin a rally, who’s every pitch can potentially swing the momentum back and forth like a pendulum towards his squad and away from their adversary.

Relievers do seem to hold the balance of a game in the palm of their hand. One false move can change the course of a game,can provide a key moment of clarity for either side, and leave at least one person shaking their head in disbelief. Maybe that is why I vent, release but never blame or condemn a reliever.

Some have mocked this breed of pitcher for his zany actions, bi-polar like transformations from being so friendly and sweet before a game and then turn into a classic son-of-a-boitch when he needs to pull from his dark side on the mound. Acting like another person, possibly even cursing at the ball like former Rays RP Grant Balfour is his unique way to cope with the impending doom or glory.

For it is an extreme slippery slope from great outing to implosion, and as a reliever stands on that mound, he is alone. That is why I do not speak in anger ever to theses guys, not for fear of backlash, but because I know they do a job more difficult than hitting a round sphere going almost 100 mph. Take a special breed of player to let a game wash off their backs like a duck.

Maybe that is why I like relievers, maybe that is why I hold them in high esteem even when thing go terribly South for they are their own sculptors of the flotsam and jetsam surrounding this game. Without relievers this game would take on such a different dimension. That and they chew the best bubble gum. 

Do We Need to Worry About Farnsworth?

Some have blurted out the notion lately that the Tampa Bay Rays will exercise Kyle Farnsworth’s club option at the end of the season without delay. For some reason, I am smelling a bit of lingering Troy Percival aroma right now on someone’s shoes. Sure Farnsworth has a really “Rays friendly” $ 3.3 million dollar salary for 2012, but if his elbow flares up and he needs any surgery or down time, it could be a huge kink in the Rays late inning armor.

On Saturday night, from the moment Farnsworth got up to begin throwing in the Rays Bullpen, his mannerisms and delivery just seemed a bit off from my seat right behind the Rays Bullpen mound. His pitches before he entered the game in the top of the ninth inning just didn’t seem to have their usual crisp bite to them. His new found friend, the cutter, simply seemed to a bit flat, almost hovering in the zone a little too long.

Of course I am not a Pitching Coach, but if I saw a cutter that was not spinning crispy and not starting to dive bomb out of the zone for the corner, I would be wetting my lips that I was about to have a good plate appearance. Sure Farnsworth threw 14 of his 22 pitches for strikes last night, but two of them unfortunately struck spectators gloves in the Rightfield stands. This is not the usual intimidating Farnsworth, this is more like a wounded deceptive Percival.

In a span of 6 pitches, the Rays went from leading 5-3 to seeing the Red Sox tie the game 5-all. Farnsworth only productive out of his appearance came courtesy of his first batter Boston SS Marco Scutaro who hit a grounder to Farnsworth, who completed a simple 1-3 put out before the fireworks began. After that first out, Boston’s explosion quickly turned into a possible Rays implosion. And this is not the first time this week the Rays Republic has seen Farnsworth look more unsure of his stuff right now than his usual intimidating himself.

I am not trying to insulting Farnsworth right now with the Percival reference, but the way Farnsworth is throwing the ball is eerily reminiscent of the same thing activities that preceded Percival’s two Rays injuries that ultimately turned out to be lingering injuries that Percival was hiding from the team.

You only have to go back in time to 4 days ago (September 7th) in a closely contested game against the Texas Rangers to see there is a weird pattern starting to develop within Farnsworth’s late inning success that is beginning to become a bit concerning to me, especially with this Rays squad starting to breathe life back into their post season goal.

During that September 7th contest, Farnsworth gave aup a monster shot to Rangers INF Ian Kinsler and that homer helped Farnsworth record only his second blown save since a road contest back in Kansas City back on July 23, 2011. Suddenly Farnsworth has materialized into someone less reliable, less dependable than the guy who’s 2.00 ERA was ranked # 1 among American League closers before Saturday night’s 2 Red Sox rocket shots destroyed his chance for save # 24. Uncharacteristically Farnsworth as of late has looked more like“Wild Thing” than “Sure Thing”.

The main conclusion you have to summarize is that Farnsworth might not be completely healed, or might be shunning off the intense pain factor in his right elbow to instead try and be a veteran presence and defensive stalwart because of the Rays fragile situation in the Bullpen. Farnsworth might be hiding a simple truth. He is hurt, but does not want to be a cause or reason for the Rays stumble even for a simple hiccup in their playoff chase.

But “taking one for the team” is a noble and respectful thing usually within baseball, but not a great attribute when you are counted on and you do not have your stuff at the A+ level Farnsworth possessed before his recent “late season vacation” due to elbow soreness. Considering Farnsworth has surrendered 1 Home Run allowed for every 63 batters faced (10-HR, 633-BF) since 2009, this latest plunge into the darkness has merit for Rays Republic worry.

Hopefully it is just another fluke blown save appearance, one that is now out of Farnsworth’s system, but the recent home blown save string has to begin to worry more than Farnsworth, it has to worry Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays Republic. If Farnsworth were to go down with an injury at this juncture in the post season run, it could cripple a vital cog in the Rays late inning machine.

I’m not trying to say the Rays need to investigate for themselves, do medical tests on Farnsworth’s elbow, maybe it is just simply time for the Rays to let someone else take the 9th inning reins for a few games. Let Farnsworth get himself has his glorious out pitch, the cutter, back into that defined groove that moves us so well after Rays victories.

I hope it is just simple fatigue or that his pitches right now are just missing their marks, but the only one who knows the truth is Farnsworth and Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach who came on in the 9th to go behind the plate. I have a feeling neither of them will be speaking about it anytime soon. But we need full disclosure right now, hurt or not, something is just not in sync right now with Farnsworth, and it needs to be fixed fast, or catching Boston will be the least of the Rays worries.

Jennings Serves Up Tater Dessert for 1,000 Rays Victory

From the moment the ball met the bat, you knew it sounded different. The magnitude of the event was not lost on the 11,190 Rays fans as Tropicana Field possibly erupted into a bellow of sound that rivaled a jet engine. Rays rookie Desmond Jennings not only gave the Rays a win with his 10th inning walk-off homer, he firmly planted that baby into the record books with authority.

It was the way Hollywood would have scripted this event. Futility in the 9th inning by a reliable closer, then one of the Rays youngest members thrusting his will and power to ultimately decide the game. A milestone moment like a 1,000th franchise career “W” had to have a plethora of dramatic effect. This moment seem to call for a climatic thunderous sound of wood meeting rawhide. Simply put, this moment needed that certain exclamation point.

Simply posting an easy victory with no dramatic effect has not been the Rays way this season at home. The Trop used to be a budding loss factory for any visiting teams used to venture into its hallowed hallways, defeats accumulated often in this dome of doom. In 2011, the cowbells and the Rays offense fell mute and useless as this team struggled to find another way to even win.

Today’s blast in the bottom of the 10th inning made a visual farewell to the pesky Rangers and hello to history. This walk-off was the 11th of it’s kind in 2011, equaling the previous Rays seasonal walk-off totals achieved in both the 2000 and 2008 seasons, and we still have 9 home contests left.

But this is becoming a bit of a routine thing for this young Rays squad that has now produced 6 walk-off victories in their last 20 home games. But this one was special. 1,000 of anything is a classic achievement and the way Jennings put his power on show to secure this once fledging franchise’s 1,000th win definitely merited not only a historic benchmark, but a purely “Hollywood” moment.

Spontaneous and climatic team meetings around Home Plate have become more of a norm lately during Rays home games, but this unrehearsed moment in time will be remembered by more than just those assembled within the Trop. During this “getaway” game karma moment.

Rays Republic members who might have begun to doubt this team, who might have lost a bit of the enthusiastic zeal this September will revel in the persistence of this young club to not lay down, not give up, not want to send the home crowd home with their heads down.

And during all of the Rays on field commotion, out in the Rightfield stands, a great display of good sportsmanship was evolving as the Rays players and fans celebrated. The Ranger fan who caught Jennings Home Run ball wanted to give it back to him and the team because of the importance of the 1,000 franchise win. I hope the fan got a chance to come to the Rays Clubhouse and give the ball either to Jennings or Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

On a day when Rays starter David Price joined teammate James Shields in the 200-strikeout club you knew something special was waiting in the wings. The moment was almost for naught as usually reliable Kyle Farnsworth served up a Home Run ball to Ian Kinsler in the top of the 9th inning to send this game into an extra frame.

Climatic as that blown save was, it was nothing compared to the first pitch seen by Jennings that ended up nestled in the palm of that Rangers fan. Some moments define a player, a team, a franchise. This 2011 Rays squad has been all about the meats and potatoes of the game all season long. Figured their 1,00th would not only be a walk-off, it would be a classic “meatloaf” victory served up with Jennings smashed taters…and a towel of Vanilla pudding especially for Jennings.  Yummmmm, makes me hungry just thinking about it.

 

 

Here are a few photos of the Rays keepsake given out to fans as they exited Tropicana Field to celebrate this tremendous milestone in Rays franchise history:

The August “Whack-A-Mole” Experience

I love the smell in the morning of the August Trade Waiver drama. It is simply surprising to see who get through this seasonal “Whack-A -Mole” fandango without a single waiver claim, and those who find themselves popped on the noggin being smacked back to the reality of possibly leaving their present squad.

It sometimes seem to work exactly like that classic kid’s arcade game. Every MLB team has their own mallet that they can either whack or smack their collective desired player (mole) square on the head and try and claim them. But the wild part is their present team can pull them back down into the safety of their own 25-man roster and back off the waiver wire with not a hint of their real intentions.

It is clear arcade gamesmanship at it best. The first action of a team posting it player upon the waiver wire is exactly like the mole poking his head out of the hole. Up for all 29 other MLB head honchos to see and possibly mangle for their own team. But here is where it gets really interesting, the team that posts the player has all the advantages, not the person manning the heavy mallet.

You would think it would be the opposite, but then you would be sorely wrong. Even thought it might be a nice therapeutic action to pop a veteran or budding MLB player on the head, he could without warning be pulled back, offered safety again without his claiming club getting a viable chance to claim their prize. Not even a slew of tickets would emerge from the machine, sometimes this game is all or nothing.

That is where the real gamesmanship comes into play. Sure you could smack the daylights out of a player like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields when his head pops out of the machine, but the Rays front office could be also baiting you for a Winter discussion and pull Shields back into the comfort of the Rays fold. Suddenly you are left holding the bloody mallet with all to see you covet Shields.

Most of the time this scenario is the end result. Teams place the heads of their viable commodities firmly in the game to see who wants to take a whack at acquiring them, or has more than a passing interest. Some like Rays OF/DH Johnny Damon got completely through the game without a single thump upon the noggin, but still there might be a hidden want for his services.

It is almost like a visual game where others see what you are craving, wanting to thump into submission and take back to your roster as a prize. Interesting enough, even if you land one hard and heavy upon the exposed head of Shield’s, the Rays can pull him back to safety and he is no longer an exposed asset for the rest of the MLB to smash and dash.

Shields is not the only Rays player to be pulled back into his team’s safe haven with at least one square hit to his cap region. The Rays Republic have even seen their closer Kyle Farnsworth get a firm planting upon his frontal lobe, but the Rays pulled him back to the comfort of the Bullpen. B J Upton has been the latest Ray to receive a compound headache and a possible plane ticket out of Tampa Bay.

The Rays can either discuss a trade possibility, or pull Upton back into the Rays confines safe until at least the Winter Hot Stove season. The Upton talks or balks will be interesting. It will showcase either that Upton is a viable part of the Rays current post season march, or Desmond Jennings or Sam Fuld have started to erase the “Upton factor” from the Rays game plan.

More intriguing is the firm possibility that Upton was claimed by an American League team that has a good relationship via the trade with Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and could facilitate an Upton move with a few healthy and young and budding MLB relief options in their present fold. Should be a few interesting days until either the Rays pull Upton back to the safe confines, or send him to possibly play with the seagulls nightly up at a vista on the Great Lakes.

During this waiver period the Rays will pop out many of the Rays rostered minions hoping to find the right suitor, trade situation and possibly a future piece of the Rays always unfolding puzzle. This is not a game about “likes” or “dislikes”, it is still about a game where the person with the most toys win. And to win in this business, some times you got to whack a few moles. 

Rays “Take It on the Run” Baby

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Got to tell you, the Fox Television
regional or nationwide audience got an emotional night mare of a game
today. The Fox Saturday afternoon contest was filled with a solo
blast to start the scoring, great base running by both squads and
even a few close calls on the injury front. In the end, the Tampa Bay
Rays with REO Speedwagon in the house just couldn’t fight that
feeling and again brought home another winning result in now typical
Rays walk-off fashion.


It is starting to becoming a trend in
2011 for this young Rays team to either have a game that makes you
feel giddy and confident by the 5th inning, or the other
extreme of producing heart palpitations until the final results are
in the books. Heck, even the extra inning affairs featuring this Rays
bunch is starting to show a definite Rays gravitation pull,
……and that is great for baseball.

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Right now there just seems to be
something for every baseball fan’s palate when the Rays take the
field. How can you not get excited when a Rays veteran starter James
Shields strolled to the hill and was not pinpoint accurate, but
racked up a turkey shoot load of K’s (12) before finally seeing his
day end with a bevy of Angels surrounding the bases.


We know there are those pessimistic MLB
brethren out in television -land who want to seeing a game get
plucked from a team by a consistent reliever who suddenly was have
one of those faulty moments so many others have experienced this
season.


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Or see the possibility of another
bandaged up player after the Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth began to
limp around the mound after going after a soft nibbler in front of
them. That is the moment some hold their breath, say a few choice
words to the heavens, then glue their eyes to the console. Farnsworth
has beaten the devil three times this season with the same
play….This time he was firmly within his grasp before he gave him
that ” death stare”.


Or maybe you wanted to see someone not
named Sam Fuld run full speed towards the Rays Bullpen area after a
foul ball and come up less than an inch short, but having a few new
raspberry gashes on his body as a reminder of the play. Got to tell
you, that is the fastest I have ever seen Matt Joyce go after a ball
in his time with the Rays.

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You saw another injury severe injury
scare after pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson got on base with an infield
hit in the bottom of the 9th inning in a tied up contest.
Fuld came to the plate and tried to bunt a Fernando Rodney fastball
but instead almost knocked all the logic and sense out of himself as
the ball hit the top plane of the bat and came back at his face
region knocking his helmet off and sending him to the clay surface.


Then there was the play of Joyce, who
is becoming another essential offensive weapon of the Rays blasting a
solo shot in the 5th inning off Angels starter Joel Pinero
to start the scoring. Joyce would again figure in the Rays numbers
game after stretching a single into a double to left to lead-off the
bottom of the 10th inning. Then moving over to Third Base
and scoring on a Wild Pitch by Rodney to secure the walk-off victory
in truly a Rays way of winning.

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Right now this team is playing
emotionally charged baseball with a high degree of explosive talent
and everyone taking their turns leading the charge. Fox must have
been bored in the first 5 innings of this contests as he fell into a
pitching duel, but after Joyce connected on his shot, the game began
to slowly takes it twists and turns.


Games like this can make new Rays fans
out of people in the Fox viewing areas around the country. It shows
that a team with young players, explosive talent and a sprig of luck
can be thrilling to watch.

When the Fox Television brass glance
over the localized Florida rating for this game, you can bet that the
numbers show a whole lot of other communities are watching the Rays
Republic…closely. And that makes for great television…..just ask
Charlie Sheen……or not.

Could “Well Rested” Be a Rays Bullpen Problem?

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Tonight’s
game kind of worries me a bit. The Rays have had two days now to rest
and relax within the confines of the Twin cities with a regularly
scheduled “day off” on Monday, and an early postponement of their
Tuesday clash due to rain and 38 degree weather in Minnesota.


The bottom of my worry stems from the
obvious fact that since their extra inning downfall on Friday night,
only Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth has seen any type of game action.
Even Farnsworth’s night was short, as he threw exactly 5 pitches to
seal his fifth save as a Ray.


The last time another Rays reliever was
on the hill was Friday night as 6 ‘ 8″ Adam Russell threw a
mis-guided pitch to Blue Jays jack-of-all-trades John McDonald that
he deposited 368 feet from the Home Plate dish into the Left Field
Rogers Centre stands for a walk-off victory.


That means it has been almost five
days, which is usually an entire run through the Rays rotation since
someone besides Farnsworth has taken the hill with positive results.
Sure you wanted Russell, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz and Cesar Ramos to
just dwell on that performance for 30-minutes and follow the Maddon
mantra of depositing it in the trash.


But 5 days can make a bad performance
ferment, become a bit gamey and possibly get you thinking when you
should be just hurling the ball. I always go back to “Bull Durham
when “Crash Davis tells Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoose to “not
think, it only hurts the ballclub”.


Hopefully Rays Pitching Coach Jim
Hickey had a few uplifting positive conversations with his Friday
night foursome to get their mind clear, controlled and ready for
tonight. It is easy to get binded up in the obscure and negative when
you do not have ample time to just “throw out” that performance
by tossing a confident side session/Bullpen session.


Five days is a long time for anyone,
even a starter to sit on those pine benches and watch a game without
feeling like a vital piece of thew whole machine. That is the
roughest thing about being in the Bullpen, days on end without any
action, then all of a sudden you get jammed, tested and thrust into
tight situations.


The Rays and Twins have a scheduled
day/night doubleheader tomorrow that could come down to the arms
sitting down the Third Base line. Hopefully Farnsworth and his motley
crew down in the Bullpen can get some chances tonight to stretch out,
provide some positive momentum heading into that critical 2-game set.


Best case scenario for the Rays would
be Farnsworth getting a chance to duplicate former Rays closer Rafael
Soriano’s days/night experience from 2010 during a Rays/Red Sox
double-dipper by getting 2 save opportunities and providing another
chapter of positive results for this same unit that many doubted
would ever be competitive in 2011.


The aspect of a rain-out can sometimes
help a ballclub, to heal, provide more in-depth research and
development heading into a series, and sometimes it can expose a
problem you hope would heals itself. Very soon we will see if the
Rays Bullpen let the Friday night walk-off wash off its back like
water, or retained it like a bad memory. Got a feeling I worried
about nothing….hopefully.





Andrew Friedman: Reloading the Rays, Not Rebuilding.

 

TBO.com/Unknown Photog

I really do not know how Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman keeps doing it. For a long span of this off season it was almost as if the Rays entire front office staff closed their doors until almost January.

It was if the Rays staff wanted to sit there lurking as the MLB Free Agent market set its ceilings and cellars for positional and pitching. Then like a top of the food chain predator, Friedman awoke from his Rip Van Winkle slumber and proceeded to hand pick his replacement fruit from the still bountiful MLB player trees.

Evan as other free agents started getting plucked with vigor from the tree by other teams in haste, Friedman acted more like a customer in the produce aisle thumping the exterior of players like a ripe melon. His first move of the off season Friedman went out and signed promising ex-Nationals right-hand reliever Joel Peralta on December 17,2010 to help fill the first piece of the Rays Bullpen overhaul.

In his now classic under a cloak of secrecy Rays style, Friedman was also concluding one trade deal with the San Diego Padres to ship one of his big ticket arbitration eligible Jason Bartlett on the same day as the Peralta singing. Still lurking in the darkness was a thunderous trade of Rays starter Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs on January 8, 2011. Friedman made out like a bandit on both trades bringing back a bountiful treasure trove of both MLB quality players, plus some high caliber prospects that will help reload the Rays farm system for the next Rays reload.

The trades of his two highest dollar arbitration eligible players helped Friedman free up just over $ 10 million to pursue some big fish for other Rays glaring holes in their Bullpen, plus a big bat to protect Evan Longoria in the Rays line-up. But the Tampa Bay sun was shining bright on Friedman as two of his other arbitration eligible players Centerfielder B J Upton and reliever Andy Sonnanstine both signed one year contracts freeing up Friedman from any possible arbitration hearing duty this Spring.

Just as you thought Friedman might take a deep breath and relax for a brief moment, Friedman went out and got his intimidating back-end of the Bullpen reliever in RHP Kyle Farnsworth on January 15. Friedman then possibly made a few decoy moves in signing complimentary pieces RHP Dirk Hayhurst and 2B Daniel Mayora to minor league deals with a Spring Training Invites.

Then in Friedman style, just when you thought that the MLB cupboard was starting to become mighty bare, Friedman signs Tampa Bay native and defensive First Baseman Casey Kotchman to a minor league deal. The Kotchman deal might have been another Friedman diversion as his next deal had some around the MLB wondering if the Rays were in fact rebuilding or just simply reloading.

One day after Kotchman signed, the Rays announce their biggest off season signing of the season, a duo signing of Lf/DH Manny Ramirez and LF/DH Johnny Damon to one year contracts that are very team friendly. Ramirez and Damon’s combined salaries will cost the Rays around $ 7.25 million (not including Damon’s attendance incentives), which still is only $ 1.75 million LESS than the Rays paid Pat Burrell for his services through mid-May 2010.

If you even include Farnsworth’s $ 3 million base salary (not including games finished incentives), the three signings will sneak just under the projected off season arbitration figures of traded players Bartlett and Garza ( $ 10.5 million). Only Friedman could trade away two important cogs of the Rays roster and get so much back in return, plus prospects who will help keep the Rays payroll in check for a long time.

TBT.com/unknown Photog

But that is the magic of Friedman. Somehow he can come into a do-or-die cost-cutting scenario with only a bale of wheat or hay and come out in the end spinning a strand of thin gold into a tight ball. You have to seriously wonder just how savvy and creative Friedman was as an investment banker if he can do all of this with a significantly reduced Rays payroll (proposed ceiling between $40-50 million).

Pull up the Rays 40-man roster going into Spring Training, including their under the radar Spring Training Invites. On February 15, 2011 when Rays pitchers and catchers begin their first 2011 workouts, it will be just over 60 days since Friedman’s first signing of Peralta. Just think about the level of talent already assembled, and we still have over 10 days for Friedman to still daze and confuse us before that first workout.

Not since that first Rays blunder under Friedman’s watch when the Rays tried to sneak Josh Hamilton through the Rule 5 Draft, has Friedman toughened up and taken a firm stand that he will never be surprised like that again. Deal for deal, salary for salary, I truly think Friedman might have gotten the most money back on his entire player investments since taking the Rays reins.

Besides the tarnish of the Burrell debacle, there is nothing but shine to Friedman’s trade and Free Agent moves. Since his emergence on the MLB scene, Friedman has been simply golden. Gifted with a crack Scouting Department, piles and piles of correlated data and visuals, plus an eye for talent, Friedman has made the Rays a role model for team competing on a shoestring budget.

But do not be surprised if in the next 10 days, before February 15th if Friedman doesn’t pull another off-the-cuff deal that seemed to come out of nowhere. But then again, that is okay, Friedman is not rebuilding the Rays, he is just helping them reload

Farnsworth Brings Intimidation Back to the Rays Game

 

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StPeteTimes.com (unknown Photographer)

Sometimes I think in pretty abstract ideals and put together some really “out there” suggestions that might take most people a bottle of Mezcal to comprehend or embrace my sometimes obscure reference points. And I am fine with that. I mean, I am a lifetime Pepper for gosh sakes (Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too!). Last night I was in one of those usual states of odd combinational thinking while watching the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning (they won 3-0) take on the potent Washington Capitals squad.

While sitting at the game bundled up in my pre-2008 Rays Winter outerwear jacket, I began a quick cold climate aided thought process emerging wondering why Major League Baseball team’s have never selected or signed a player just for his physical intimidation factor?

Sure there have been guys like former MLB players Ty Cobb and LHP Randy Johnson that have made more than a few of their MLB peers quake when they hit the rubber, or was getting a sizable lead off First Base. This type of intimidation is a primal human instinct and sometimes needed to have success at this level. I am talking about a singular player who can be labeled as an “enforcer”, a guy who will take no backtalk and will prove his measure and means with his fists if needed.

The reason I bring this idea even up is that in their recent past, the Rays have had two distinctive mano-on-mano moments (during 2008) where just this type of rugged barbaric presence was not only needed, but could have quelled the on-field bravado in advance knowing this one lone figure could emerge from the dugout or Bullpen to go headhunting.

We all remember the Cobb-style thigh spiking of Rays Second Baseman Akinora Iwamura by then Yankees First Baseman Shelly Duncan back in the Spring of 2008 after Rays INF Elliot Johnson plowed into Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and sent him to the hospital and the DL. During that Rays moment, the immediate enforcer role was taken on by Rightfielder Jonny Gomes. He was a student and admirer of the professional wrestling circuit, and Gomes took his run-in role seriously tackling Duncan from behind as both benches and Bullpens cleared.

Then again on June 5, 2008, during a Rays versus Red Sox game in Fenway Park, Boston outfielder Coco Crisp took exception after a pitch from Rays starter James Shields plopped him and charged the mound. Again it was Gomes who got there after a missed haymaker punch was thrown by Shields at Crisp, but the boxing savvy Crisp ducked the punch before Gomes again took him down like a linebacker to the green grass.

But with Gomes leaving the Rays fold and doing his thing now with the Cincinnati Reds, the on-field antics and bench clearing brawls over the last two years have resembled line dances like the Hustle or the Electric Slide more than standing up for your teammates. The 2009 tussle between the Rays and Cleveland after Indians catcher insulted Rays Manager Joe Maddon seemed more choreographed than spur of the moment. Something seemed to be missing in this Rays clubhouse. Something intimidating seemed to have packed its bags and wandered away, and was not to be refilled by another soul.

Who knows, maybe that past Rays intimidation factor instantly returned yesterday when the Rays signed RHP Kyle Farnsworth to a two year contract. Maybe a little more physical heart and intimidation was in order since it clearly has been missing since Gome’s departure. Can Farnsworth’s intimidating presence firmly prove fruitful to the Rays psychological bag of tricks

This entire realm of pugilistic or barbaric thinking was escalated by a ESPN,The Magazine poll that asked MLB players who was the one man you would not like to see clench his fight and head your direction in a bench-clearing incident? Farnsworth was the clear winner in the poll, and that could definitely play into the Rays advantage in the late innings of a game. Farnsworth could be utilized in the 8th inning set-up role vacated by departed Dan Wheeler, or possibly be posted up as a Rays closer to cement and increase the intimidating pulse.

Farnsworth threw around 94.5 mph in his tours in Kansas City and Atlanta in 2010,and there is no sign of him slowing down any time soon. But his overall 27 saves in 12 seasons might point more towards him taking Wheeler’s spot and letting Joel Peralta man the closer role. Still, the image of the “Rick Vaughn” look-a-like with his wide rimmed glasses perched on his face adds to his character on the mound. This will be Farnsworth’s 6th team in 12 seasons, but could easily escalate into a career defining moment as Farnsworth will be looked upon to provide a veteran stalwart point to help maintain and stabilize a evolving Rays Bullpen mix.

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RSBS.mlblogs.com

Most people might not know that the ray is actually closely related to the shark family, but they only have their lone barbed stinger as their source of self defense. Being the human counterparts of this fierce combative familia, possibly the Rays have finally solidified a member into their fold who can teach some of the other Rays more timid relievers or starters a thing or two about on the mound intimidation and how to use that wisdom to their advantage on the hill.

In 2010 the only person feared on the Rays roster might have been Rays starter Matt Garza, and his facial hair might have provided most of that notion. With Garza gone to the Windy City, the Rays might have picked someone they feared in the past to become an ally to their team and provide a bit of his on-the-mound presence knowledge to help the Rays future.

At first I did not like this signing because of what Farnsworth had done to us in the past on the mound. On April 29, Farnsworth came on in the bottom of the 6th inning with his team down by 10 runs and threw 2 complete innings while striking out 4 of 8 Rays hitters in the Rays 11-1 blowout. It was the only time in 2010 he would face the Rays.

Intimidation plays a great psychological role in the game of baseball. At any moment a team or their players play coy mental games against their opponent both in the field and at the plate. This Farnsworth deal might be one of those signings that do not add up on paper, but in regards to what he can produce both mentally and physically for this rebuilding Rays team, Farnsworth has heavyweight potential…even before he clenches his fists.

 

 

Love Me Non-Tender Candidates 2008…Part One

 

 

 

After all the Post season celebration have muffled to a silent roar, we embark on a journey that no player wants to roam. That journey down the road of arbitration. Where the road is lined with pitfalls and traps, one of tendering offers or letting the players kneel by the wayside to gather themselves after being cast off by their clubs. It is a time to reflect and expose the best and worst of this time of year for baseball. It becomes the time when you really know what your team GM and your coaching staff think of you as a productive member of their franchise. And the journey starts now……………….

 

 On this date, Friday, December 12th, every team in the major leagues must decide to either tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, or set them free as more glut in the 2009 free agent market. And while in past years the non-tendered players weren’t considered to be difference-makers, the list could be more interesting this year.  There are several players on this list who either had bad situation on their teams or might have been fighting back from injuries in 2008.

 

Players who are “tendered” on Friday are considered signed for 2009 at a salary to be determined, not less than 80 percent of his salary the previous season, and both sides continue negotiating. If a deal cannot be struck, the team and the player will each file a proposed 2009 salary in early January. Those figures are exchanged on Jan. 19, and a date for a salary arbitration hearing is then set for Feb. 1-21. 

 

If the sides still cannot come to terms before the date of the hearing, a representative for the team and one for the player present a case before a panel of arbiters, which chooses one salary or the other.  On the other hand, if a player is not tendered a contract before Friday’s deadline, he becomes a free agent.

 

A nationwide economic downturn has affected how Major League Baseball teams are conducting business, and in an effort to cut corners, the number of non-tendered players could increase, based solely on the market’s projected rise in their salaries based on arbitration data and past results.. The same can be said for the quality of those players. Some of the guys being considered for non-tender have been great contributors to their teams in the past, but not during the 2008 season.

 

Past  players non-tendered include David Ortiz, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Franklin, David Eckstein, and Chad Durbin.  Usually at least a few useful guys are unearthed. I am going to submit a few names that are being considered to be non-tendered starting at midnight tonight. Some of these names might sign free agent contracts with their old teams, but usually if a player is released from that team, they tend to float to another organization instead of resign with their old clubs.

 

Coming into the deadline are a few names that might mean somehting to several Tampa Bay Rays fans. A few names from the past are being considered to be non-tendered tonight. One of them is currently on the Rays roster and might have been pre-destined for this list during the season with the acquiring of Gabe Gross during the season.

 

 

                          

 

 

Designated Hitter/ Right-fielder Jonny Gomes has been the emotional sparkplug of this Rays young team for several seasons. But in 2008, after some spotty play in the outfield, both in left-field and right-field. Posting a ugly .167 batting average during the season might not bode well for Gomes to even be considered a contract in 2009. But one of the great facts of arbitration is that Gomes made $ 1.25 million in 2008, and the arbitration might not even give him a substancial increase.

 

He might skate by and be offered a contract based on his loyalty and the teams’ need for at least some kind of right-handed bat in the rightfield corner. Situations could change in the next few months, but the Rays could “rent” Gomes for now and get a trade return on him later in the Spring if needed.

 

The Rays have other players who will be on the bubble on Friday, like right-fielder and left-handed bat, Gabe Gross. He might be the best cltch hitter the Rays had in 2008, but he also might be caught in the numbers games as the team just traded for the young and undercontract for 6 more years Matt Joyce. Both players have a defensive pedigree, and it all might come down to if the Rays think that Gross will win the spot and be worh the money to keep, or set Joyce up in right and let Gross go, hoping he remains to be put under a free agent contract at a reduced price.

 

This might be the tricky one for the Rays. Gross did everything asked of him in 2008. He also is a great clubhouse guy who is never in trouble and always helping the younger outfielders. His ceiling might be higher than Joyces’ right now after a banner year where he set career numbers in almost every offensive category. It was a year where he was used more, and saw more plate appearances than any other time in his career.  Gross might join Gomes on the free agent market where there is a glut right now for corner outfielders. If not for that trade during the Winter Meetings, Gross would have been offered a contract without question.

 

 

 

 

An ex-Rays who might be getting considerable consideration from his current team is the Houston Astro’s Brandon Backe. However, with the current state of the Astros’ rotation — they have little Major League-ready depth in their farm system and few backup options to protect themselves from injury and inconsistency — they may decide to hold on to the right-hander. And with a salary of only $ 800,000 for 2008, he might come in at a considerable discount compared to the free agents on the current starting pitching market.

 

Astros General Manager Ed Wade sounded like he’s willing to give Backe another look but at the same time noted the right-hander’s 2008 season was a disappointment and he’ll have to prove a few things in 2009.  But the Astros have very little pitching depth, and the three top prospects — Brad James, Sergio Perez and Bud Norris — likely won’t be ready for the big leagues come Opening Day. That alone may ensure Backe is tendered a contract on Friday.

 

 

                        

 

Another ex-Rays who has had to basically live out of his suitcase this past season is reliever Chad Gaudin. Two years ago it seemed that the Toronto Blue Jays were serious about the young pitcher and staked him a claim in their Bullpen. But during the off-season he was traded to the Oakland A’s where he started and relieved for the Athletics. He was then sent packing to the Chicago Cubs in the deal for Rick Harden as a key plug for the Cub’s Bullpen problems.

 

Since arriving in Chicago, Gaudin went 4-2, with a 4.26 ERA and got 27 strikeouts in 27.1 innings of work in 2008 for the Cubbies. Gaudin is known for his slider and his sinker, which both have above average movement to both sides of the plate. Also in his arsenal is a sinking change-up that can come in on left-handers. Gaudin might be a casualty of expectations in 2009, and might be non-tendered as rendered a free agent by the Cubs.

 

 

                       

 

 

Another possible casulty to the non-tender pile might be a National League pitcher who has been fighting to get into game shape for over a year after having 2 injuries in the past 2 seasons. Milwaukee Brewers’ starter Chris Capuano came to the team with high expectations. He was considered one of the top 5 pitchers in 2007 before a labrum injury forced him to have surgery on 10/11/2008.  Capuano rehabbed and was struggling to get into game shape when another injury hit him during 2008 Spring Training. This time a torn ligament in his left pitching elbow basically shelved him for the entire 2008 season. He was retroactively posted to the 15-day DL on March 27th.

 

 

He was twice transferred on the DL lists in 2008, going from the 15-day disabled list again on September 1st, then subsequently put back  on the 60-day DL on October 31, 2008.  Capuano’s case is complicated because he earned $3.75 million last season but did not pitch because of the injury. If the Brewers tender him a contract, they could not cut his salary by more than 20 percent, and it seems unlikely they would commit such an expense to a pitcher still rehabilitating.  If the Brewers in fact decide to non-tender Capuano, they would try to re-sign him to a new, less expensive contract for 2009. He’s eligible for free agency after next season.

 

 

There are other “big names” being considered during the non-tender phase of arbitration. A few might have seemed like promising rising stars in the MLB a few years ago, but might have had tough times and might be in consideration for being released by their clubs.  One of the most visible name on this list might be former 2003 Rookie of the Year winner Angel Berroa of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

 

           

 

Another name sure to be heard on Friday will be Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher Daniel Cabrera. The club has to decide whether to offer a contract to Cabrera. If Baltimore doesn’t, the hulking right-hander will become a free agent one year ahead of schedule. If the O’s do, they may wind up going to arbitration. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore’s president of baseball operations, said Thursday that he’s still trying to make a decision. Cabrera, although erratic, remains one of the most experienced starters in the Orioles’ organization .

 

Baltimore has just one starter penciled into next year’s rotation and is trying to add at least two veterans by trade or free agency this offseason. Jeremy Guthrie remains the only surefire member of the starting staff, and Baltimore must decide whether Cabrera is a replaceable asset or one that’s worth one last shot at trying to salvage his potential.  Cabrera has made at least 26 starts in each of the past five seasons, and he’s logged at least 140 innings in each of those campaigns. The 27-year-old started relatively strong in 2008, jumping out of the gates to a 6-5 record and a 4.33 ERA in the first half of the season. After the All-Star break, however, he was 2-5 with a 7.59 mark.

 

And still, the overall numbers represented an improvement on his previous season. Cabrera went 8-10 with a 5.25 ERA in 2008 and snapped a two-year streak of leading the league in walks. One year earlier, he went 9-18 with a 5.55 ERA.  I think the Birds will take a gamble on Cabrera for one more years and help place at least one more piece into the pitching puzzle for 2009. But I do think he will have a short leash in 2009 with the Orioles, and might be  a trade deadline casualty if he is again wild and uncontrolable next year. 

 

 

                      

 

Pittsburgh management has still not made a determination to whether or not they plan to offer a contract to right-handed reliever Denny Bautista before the midnight on Friday for teams to tender contracts to all arbitration-eligible players.  Bautista is the only one of the team’s eight arbitration-eligible players whose status is in question. The Pirates’ management team has had internal debates this week about whether or not to keep Bautista, though no resolution has yet been made.

 

The Pirates acquired Bautista late last June in a minor trade with the Tigers, and the control problems that Bautista had in Detroit and other previous stops resurfaced again with the Pirates. He allowed 28 earned runs and 28 walks in 41 1/3 innings of relief for Pittsburgh. He struck out 34.  Bautista earned $395,000 in 2008, just over the Major League minimum. He would be in line for a significant pay raise should he go through the arbitration process with the Pirates.

 

The Pirates will tender contracts to their seven arbitration-eligible players — Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke, John Grabow, Adam LaRoche, Paul Maholm, Nate McLouth and Tyler Yates. Of that group, Doumit, Duke, Maholm and McLouth are all arbitration eligible for the first time.

 

 

 

The Red Sox must tender 2009 contracts to all unsigned players on their 40-man roster by Friday at midnight ET. The only players this truly impacts are those eligible for arbitration. For the Red Sox, that list includes first baseman Kevin Youkilis, closer Jonathan Papelbon, backup catcher Kevin Cash and lefty specialist Javier Lopez.

 

Reliever Manny Delcarmen was seven days short of enough service time to qualify for arbitration, so the Red Sox can simply renew his contract in Spring Training. Cash is the most likely candidate to be non-tendered on Friday. The Red Sox’s catching situation is in a state of flux, as the team continues to negotiate with Jason Varitek and scour the market for trade possibilities.

 

Even if Varitek returns, the club might seek a young player with more offensive potential than Cash to be the backup. The Red Sox like Cash defensively, and he does a nice job of handling Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball. However, there’s a chance he simply doesn’t fit into the plans for 2009. Even if the Red Sox non-tender Cash, they are still free to negotiate with him or re-sign him at some point. The same goes for any non-tendered player.

 

 

                      

 

The Royals need to find some room on their 40-man roster and that could be accomplished on Friday, the deadline for clubs to offer contracts to players. When the Winter Meetings closed, the Royals had 39 players on the winter roster but had signed pitchers Doug Waechter and Horacio Ramirez. They’d also reached an agreement with pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, and when that contract is approved another body will be added.

 

Adding Waechter filled the roster and, by Friday, a spot will be needed for Ramirez. The Royals could designate a player for assignment or non-tender a player, in short, not offer him a contract. The only way a club can keep an unsigned player is to tender a contract. If a player is non-tendered, he goes off the roster and becomes a free agent. Then he can sign with any club, including the Royals.

 

 

One possible option for the Royals would be to non-tender pitcher Jairo Cuevas and sign him to a Minor League contract. Cuevas has been the subject of a tug-of-war between the Royals and the Braves, each team claiming him on waivers from each other in the last two months. One writer speculated that, in order to save money in an effort to sign shortstop Rafael Furcal, the Royals might non-tender such players as catcher John Buck and outfielder Mark Teahen who both figure to do well in salary arbitration.

 

 

 

 

 

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