Results tagged ‘ Lance Cormier ’

Rays Bullpen Undergoing Extensive “Renovations”

 

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 Mike Carlson/AP

Just when I thought I could feel a tad secure about the Tampa Bay Rays unstable Bullpen situation, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has to drop another bombshell on the already scarred Rays Republic. With the recent revelations that even Rays stalwart reliever Grant Balfour is shunning the Rays arbitration offer, the team has quickly seem it Bullpen’s health go from unstable to critical.

With a upcoming contract tender decision today concerning Rays long reliever Lance Cormier and Rays jack-of-all-trade Andy Sonnanstine, there was bound to be another interesting twist or two before the Rays began to effectively rebuild their Bullpen and possibly contend again in 2011. But the bomb that came out of Friedman’s mouth yesterday during his pre-Winter meeting press junket might have delivered a death blow to the Rays post season aspirations for 2011.

I instantly felt like Daniel-san from “The Karate Kid” with a hearty leg sweep taking me out and sending me to the canvas. Suddenly the foundation I thought was flimsy but fixable, might just be undergoing a major overhauling. Maybe I invested too much into hoping, praying, thinking that Rays southpaw reliever J P Howell could somehow be that impending shining light we would need in the Spring of 2011 to blaze a Bullpen path.

Instantly, that foundation, that hope of some stability was swept clean, at least for the first few months of the 2011 Major League Baseball decision. Friedman had very encouraging words about Howell’s rehabilitation program since his 2010 shoulder surgery, but the only words echoing through my mind again and again was the possibility he would not be available until May or June. With just those few words it seems that a total transition of the Rays Bullpen was underway, and would Sonnanstine and Cormier be spared from the purge?

In reality, the Rays Bullpen went quickly from a slight rebuilding mode to a full blown reconstruction mode even if Sonnanstine and Cormier are brought back for 2011. Howell was thought to be some of the glue that might bond this unit tighter with his hugely optimistic attitude and energy. But with Friedman’s announcement of a possible road bump in his rehabilitation process, Howell quickly goes from a veteran cog of the Rays Bullpen 2011 machine, to an in-season inserted piece.

Suddenly the instability of the Rays Bullpen reminds me of those moving grass patches in the Florida Everglades that on the surface look like solid ground until you walk on them, then you fall through into the murky water below. Even with young arms like southpaw reliever Jake McGee and righthander Mike Ekstrom possibly returning for another Rays extended gig, Friedman made it clear that McGee would have to prove himself this Spring or possible start the season with the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

With the Rays possibly carrying 12-13 pitchers going into the 2011 season, suddenly only the starting five of James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann seems to be on any form of solid ground for now. But we have a long way to the Rays first reporting date of February 13th and anything can happen. If the Rays do consider carrying 12 pitchers’, that would mean that 7 new faces could possibly enter the Rays Spring Training complex in Port Charlotte, Florida on that date. I hope the team is stocking up on ” Hi! My Name is….” tags.
 
 

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Such a major re-configuration to the Rays late inning staff could take them immediately out of the thought process of contending during 2011 and might have damage their post season aspirations for several years. Suddenly the once solid and reliable Rays Bullpen unit is a shadow of its former self. And with the Rays farm system a bit discombobulated after 21 minor league free agents were not offered an olive branch by the parent club, more change is expected.

Going into the Winter meeting in Orlando, Florida the Rays might be going on an extended window shopping journey to see just what affordable options lie within their price range in the free agent and trade routes in regard to relief help. It could easily be considered that any trade even on the back burners would have to have at least one farm hand or MLB ready reliever to even be considered. With the Rays closer, leftie specialist and 3 key set-up pitchers possibly having played their last game wearing the Rays unis, the team might be in definite stealth “buying” mode.

It is a long way to February 13th, and the Rays could possibly entertain a multi-year offer with Balfour, or possibly have the chance to sign Wheeler to a lower salary figure than his declines $ 4 million option and retain some form of reasonable back end stability to the Rays Bullpen. Tendering 2011 contracts to Sonnanstine and Cormier could alleviate a bit of the Rays relief flux, but would only be a band-aid on the seeping wound.

With a limited payroll the Rays will have to effectively find a legitimate closer, a few set-up men and possibly a left-hand specialist. Even with the influx within the Rays Bullpen, McGee and Ekstrom will have to prove themselves to even be considered in the Rays overall relief equation this Spring. What was once a steady and reliable relief unit has quickly turned itself sideways and could be at its weakest point since Rays Manager Joe Maddon took the Rays reigns.
 
 
 

Rays Bullpen is On the Clock

 

 

As I look up at the big clock on the kitchen wall, I can see the second hand moving fast and it instantly reminds me that the Tampa Bay Rays only have a few more days to actively pursue their Free Agents without any outside interference. The clock seems to be ticking faster by the moment during these first five days after the World Series before the Rays Free Agents officially become fodder for the rest of the Major League General Managers and scouts.


There are more than a few players from the Rays current 5-days hold list who will probably never wear a Rays uniform again, including such highly valued names as 2010 All Stars Carl Crawford and closer Rafael Soriano. Two biggest names at their respective positions that should in all likelihood leave the Rays roster this Winter.

There are other who will also garner attention from all over the Majors after the 5-day grace period like former First Baseman and power option Carlos Pena, 2010 surprise RP Joaquin Benoit, plus relievers Grant Balfour and Randy Choate could harbor another home stadium in 2011.

But the Rays have five days, or a total of 120 hours to actively talk back and forth with their Free Agents before they are officially released to also have talks with the rest of the MLB mob. Five days really is not a long time to trade numbers back and forth and try to finalize a deal, but it is enough time for the Rays front office to make an impression on if they are actively seeking a return, or willing to watch their former players mosey on out to greener monetary pastures.

There were two more names thrown into the mix recently as the Rays decided to decline the team options on Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and utility player Willy Aybar. The move was considered a financial move to possibly save the club almost $ 2 million dollars by buying out the pair, then talking to them as a Free Agent (Wheeler), or a still arbitration eligible player (Aybar). Wheeler has expressed a desire to remain with the Rays for 2011, but it will have to be at a bit of a discount from his $ 4 million option.

 

Basically right now, the Rays Bullpen bench has been stripped almost bare with only Andy Sonnanstine, who is arbitration eligible for the first time this Winter the only player currently with any extended relief appearances. Sure there is still Mike Ekstrom and rookie southpaw Jake McGee who are still on the Rays 40-man roster, but beyond this trio, the rest of the Rays Bullpen is either heading towards the Free Agent market or already been released by the Rays (Lance Cormier). Right now the Bullpen is the biggest position of transition for the Rays this Winter.


Right now the Rays entire sixth through eighth inning options are within a few days of actively finding another pitching spot for 2011 unless the Rays decided to actively pursue any of them. In a perfect world I would love to see the Rays try and keep Benoit, Balfour, Choate and possibly Wheeler to bring some form of veteran stability to the Rays 2011 Bullpen. I would however personally hope that the Rays do not actively engage in discussion with reliever Chad Qualls who is also set to become a Free Agent soon.

Currently this drastic change within the back part of the Rays pitching game has to have more than a few fans sweating bullets, but there are loads of viable options that will soon be available to the Rays, but at a cost.

Every time you bring in a new pitcher to the Rays system there is always the possibility of them not adapting to the Rays pitching game plan and becoming a liability. That is why I am hoping the Rays at least think long and hard about the quartet of Benoit, Wheeler, Balfour and Choate before releasing them to the rest of the salivating masses in the MLB.


There is the underlying huge question mark concerning returning leftie J P Howell’s effectiveness, and the possibility that the Rays could decline him arbitration possibly this off season to set another storm into motion. Combined with Howell’s uncertainty plus the youth and inexperience of McGee, it might not be a huge leap to consider Choate as a viable option for 2011 at least until the two question marks are answered.

It might be unorthodox for the Rays to possibly carry three left-handers in their Bullpen, but would it be more of a disaster to count on the two question marks totally with only minor leaguer southpaw R J Swindle in the Rays system as a back-up plan.


 

The addition of retaining Balfour and Wheeler would give valuable experience and proven set-up power and abilities to a new Rays Bullpen. Balfour seemed to come into his mown after returning from the DL (thanks again Jim Hickey) in September to post some of his best outings of the season.
 
Balfour also seemed to have gained some extra velocity after his short mid-season rest. Of the two pitchers, Balfour might have the best Rays upside and could be the most fiscally affordable considering the Rays payroll downsizing to possibly between $ 40-60 million for 2011.


The Rays front office will have to scrape and save all over the place considering the team already have a projected payroll of about $ 15.45 million even before adding arbitration figures and considering Free Agent signings. The initial scraping of almost the entire Rays Bullpen will either be a blessing or a curse this Winter and a major discussion point by the Rays Republic until the Spring.

Can a team like the Rays that has already been considered a early favorite to head towards a post season run in 2011 sustain themselves if they purge and rebuild their Bullpen from within their farm system and the Free Agent route?

The next five days may hold a key to the Rays thinking, and their possibly plan of attack. Sure I would love to see Benoit possibly resign with the Rays and take on the closer’s role. Would be ecstatic to see Balfour and Choate become leftie-rightie bookends to extinguish scoring chances late in the game.


But the stark reality is that the Rays will be a team in late inning pitching transition this Winter. With a few left-handed question marks and only a handful of MLB experienced help currently on the Rays roster, this Winter the Rays Bullpen might be a total work in progress.

Hopefully the Rays front office will be sensible and find a nice balance between the old and new that will compliment the Rays starting rotation. This off season we might truly see just how good Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is with his crystal ball and a desk full of statistical reports and flowcharts. Somehow the Rays need to pull that mythical rabbit out of the hat this Winter.
 

 

My Personal Top 10 Rays Photo Memories of 2010

 

 

I was reading an photography article before the beginning of the 2010 Major League Baseball season, and a quote from the esteemed photographer Ansel Adams just popped out at me. ” There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer“. And immediately after seeing this quote it dawned on me to try and catch a few extra essences of the game of baseball in 2010 that hopefully other will enjoy.

Yesterday’s post included my second 10 favorite moments and photos of the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 campaign. Today I will include in this post my Top 10 selection which I think had a direct impact on me, and hopefully a few of the Rays Republic. I am a true photography novice, but I guess this quote by famous photographer John Berger says it best for me today :

All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. In this- as in other ways- they are the opposite of paintings. Painting record what the painter remembers. Because each of us forget different things, a photo more than a painting may change its meaning according to who is looking at it“.

Below are the Top 10 photos I have taken with my little Fuji camera that I think tells a great storyline to what has transpired through my lens this season. Rays/ Hess Express Saturday Night Concert photos are not included in this top 10 list, or they might have dominated the listing. These are moments caught in my lens that made historical significance to me and the Rays 2010 season. I hope you can see the vision within them today.

 

Photo # 10 was taken recently at the Rays welcome home celebration at the St.Petersburg/Clearwater Airport following the Rays clinch of the 2010 American League East title. The reason this young guy caught my eye and not the small boy near him sporting the Rayhawk is that this is the Rays future sitting on his Father’s shoulders. This is the expression and the excitement the next generation will need to have for this team to be here after 2027.


 

Photo# 9 was one of the photos taken from my Zorilla Gorilla photo segment in which I buried one of the furry creatures in the white sands in Fort Desoto Park, just at the Southernmost point of Pinellas County. I really wanted to get the sea oats in the background along with that sparkling white sands that permeate this region that was chosen one of the World’s Best beaches several years ago.


It was also a secondary way for me to show some friends in other parts of the country that the B P oil spill had not reached this region. The event crippled this region’s usually robust tourist season, and the effects of that will be felt for another two years or more before it rebounds. But then again, the media forgot to tell you that when arguing about empty seats in the Trop.

 

Photo# 8 was taken during the Rays InterLeague schedule when the Florida Marlins came up and played against the Rays in Tropicana Field. All season long on Sundays, the Rays mascot Raymond brought his three mini Raymond’s onto the field with him before the Rays games.


On this date, he also invited Billy the Marlin and his half pint also onto the field as they strolled around before the game and greeted and entertained the Rays and Marlins fans. Was a great way for the Rays to accent the family vibe of the Sunday Family Days, and the Rays got great support and played to an average of 25,990+ Rays fans during the team’s 13 Sunday matinees.

 

Photo # 7 is a recent picture taken on the night the Rays clinched their second postseason bid in three seasons. Rays pitcher David Price, who also got the victory on that night was coming down the line greeting fans after a small champagne bath from his teammates in the clubhouse.

What was so special about this photo is that both Price and Evan Longoria were side-by-side as they made their way down the Rightfield sidelines, and this was moments after it was officially announced that the duo was giving away 20,000 FREE seats for the next night’s contest against the Baltimore Orioles.


 
Photo # 6 was taken during the Rays home opener against the Baltimore Orioles in which the fans got a pair of Rays Manager Joe Maddon glasses. The Rays Bullpen took it a step further and each member of the Bullpen had a pair of these Maddon giveaway glasses on their face during the National Anthem, and most kept the glasses on or near them most of the night. Was waiting for someone (possibly Randy Choate) to actually wear the glasses onto the mound, but maybe that was just my wishful thinking.

 

Photo # 5 was another example taken from my Zorilla Gorilla sampling and was set on the beach just beyond the huge 3-story waterslide at the Tradewinds Resort and Spa on St. Pete. Beach, Florida. Sure I had to muster up a pail and shovel and do some manual labor, but it was a great way to get some extra Sun, plus get a free day out at one of the best resorts in the region that also were great Rays boosters.

Tradwinds was also the sight of more than a half dozen great outdoors Rays Watch parties that were emceed by Rays Radio host Rich Herrera. Combined with the great sunshine and beautiful scenery, the oversized blow-up television screen provided great Rays away game presentations along with some great prizes and Watch Party events.

 

Photo # 4 was taken during the Rays home opener against the Orioles when the Rays used more than a few different levels of pyrotechnics to salute and introduce the Rays starting line-up for their first home contest. Got to admit, even down in the right field corner, after a few moments you could feel the heat pushing to you from the field, but it must have looked simply amazing on television.


 

Photo # 3 was taken of Rays reliever Lance Cormier and his young son who got a chance to throw off the Rays Bullpen mound following a Rays Sunday afternoon contest. Cormier worked out on the mound and in the field with his young son for about 20 minutes before both of them casually walked to the Rays clubhouse.

It was a great reminder to me that so many of these guys are also fathers and husbands and made that special time for the kids and significant other, even on a “getaway” day like Sundays as they embarked on a road trip.


 

Photo # 2 before the game it was announced that the Rays would be wearing a selected blue-hued plaid BRayser for their upcoming road trip with each member of the team forking out $ 300 for their own personal piece of Rays fashion history. It was just another of the great bonding elements thought up by Rays Manager Joe Maddon as a way to unite and bond his team off the field.


Recently Sak’s Fifth Avenue’s location here in Tampa, Florida announced that Rays fans could also come and get a Brayser custom fitted for themselves for $ 300. Remarkable how plaid just seemed to flow within the Rays clubhouse and stands after the premier of this fashion statement by the Rays Bullpen as they all strolled out to the benches wearing their personal outfits before a Rays home game. Do not know if a Brayser is my style, but I am warming up to it more every day.

 

Photo # 1 is a top view of the Harley Davison motorcycle tank that was part of the awesome motorcycle given to Rays pitcher Matt Garza to commemorate his June 26,2010 No-Hitter against the Detroit Tigers. The motorcycle also had the signatures of everyone on the Rays roster that night, plus a great airbrush rendition of both the on field celebration and linescore from the Rays Jumbotron. The bike was simply amazing and will be on permanent display in Garza’s California home.


So this concludes my Top 10 Rays photos that I took of game events during 2010. It was a great season and I did take a bit of time to go through the thousands of photos I took this season to even get close to a Top 20 that I posted the last two days. There might have been better photos or even better events that could have illustrated the 2010, but these were the moments and the photos that stuck deep into my mind this season.

Rays Have Engine Troubles

 

 

Something last night just seemed off. There was this weird vibe in the air that brought you to an immediate sense of complacency. That for some reason it just wasn’t going to be enough no matter what happened, that the end result was already predestined even before Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price’s first pitch. Sure you can throw the obvious roadblock up that the thunderstorm bellowing it’s wind and rain outside Tropicana Field made an immediate impact when the lights dimmed inside But the reality is it just postponed the obvious for about 20-some minutes.


The Rays came out totally flat and produced only one run on a night when their young pitcher was going for a Rays franchise record 15th victory. It should have been a night where all cylinders were cranking loud and proud, but for some reason, the usual V-8 Rays engine was sputtering and gasping for even a base hit or a reason to stay positive. And that is not what happens to teams that want to play deep beyond the 162 game mark. Sure there was the late rally that has been a consistent trademark of the “Comeback Kids” Rays for a long time, but in the extra frames, that passion also seemed to be flushed like the rapid rain waters funneling outside the Trop.

With usual Rays component Ben Zobrist again in the Rays line-up. All night long the Rays seemed to be one click, one swing or even one second slower than they needed to be to best the Minnesota Twins. Even the difference of two inches to the west side of the leftfield foul post produced a moment that should have gave everyone within the Trop a sense of impending drama and heartbreak. But even as they fought with their engine down a cylinder, they evened the score at 1-all and gave it a fighting chance, but it was not enough. For the second time since their June 20th 13-inning contest in Baltimore, the Rays ended up on the wrong end of a extra inning affair.

Immediate blame was cast towards Rays reliever Lance Cormier, who was also the losing pitcher in that June 20th late inning loss, but Cormier was definitely pitching on fumes after throwing a 30-pitch side session for that night’s Rays contest. Those 30 pitches combined with his 3-inning total of 59 pitches pushed him to almost 90 pitches thrown by Cormier in less than 4 hours time…or a usual Rays starting pitcher’s pitch count before 2010. It almost seemed like the Rays Coaching staff was hoping and praying that Cormier could put his finger into every possible dyke leak after the 9th inning and plug them long enough for the Rays to fix their sputtering engine and take the game.

 
Mike Carlson/AP

Credit the Rays for their ninth inning rally to even play beyond the initial innings, but after that, the Rays machine just seemed to shut itself down for the night. Two former Durham Bulls helped the Rays get their tying run in the ninth inning as Evan Longoria doubled to lead-off the inning. Matt Joyce hit a screaming ball to right field that advanced Longoria to third base. Dan Johnson, who has been up as a offensive replacement while Carlos Pena’s injured foot ligament heals, singled to right to drive in his first Rays RBI of 2010. All done on the watch of newly acquired Twin’s closer Matt Capps, who lost his chance to save the game by allowing the Rays run on only five pitches.


Five pitches decided the night for the Rays. Five consecutive pitches brought the game into extra innings and set-up Cormier to again be the fall guy for a lack of Rays offense. At least in the June 20th contest it was a 11-10 loss and both teams had their offensive units in power mode, while last night it seemed termites had invaded the Rays bat rack for most of the game. Pity, because Price deserved a better result from his teammate last night. Price deserved his team to be on -point and hunting for bear to give the young pitcher a franchise first 15-game winner. It should have been a night of celebration into the wee hours, not still playing the same game until around midnight.

This is not the stuff that makes a championship team. A champion fights until the last out with gusto and bravado of no tomorrow. Losses like this come back to haunt a team in the end by not mustering the stamina to sustain a offensive attack. The Rays offense went 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position. Last night the Rays totally forgot their mantra of “Get The Man In”, instead it turned into making the opposition’s pitcher look like the All Star, not Price. And that will not work over the next two months . Losing games you are suppose to win is not enough now. This series the Rays had the Twins by the throat and never administered that chokehold needed by a champion.

 
Mike Carlson/AP

The instruments are in the Rays toolbox to fine tune this team and get this Rays team motor purring like a fierce cat right away. And a 8-2 home stand with one game to play would make most teams happy as a clam, but most teams are not trying to fight toe-to-toe with the New York Yankees right now. The Rays need to again gain that mojo, that swagger, that “Rays Way” of thinking that propelled them to 67 wins before tonight. The Rays have now conjured up three consecutive winning seasons, and the sky is still the limit for 2010 to exceed all previous Rays teams, if they again fight to the last out.

Hopefully this Rays team is not seeking an excuse or a person to take responsibility for last night’s loss. The real explanation for this defeat can be seen in every mirror inside every Tampa Bay locker.

This Rays team as a whole has to take this loss equally on their own chins and get up again in less than 12 hours and fight, or be left behind in the carnage. The sputtering Rays offensive machine doesn’t need an overhaul, doesn’t need a modification, it only needs to have all eight cylinders cranking away with the same objectives, goals and emotions. Otherwise, this season could quickly be headed to an early end and an unfortunate trip to the junk pile.
 

New Tampa Bay Tradition Forming


 

I am someone who believes a lot in solid and confidence building game day traditions. It must have materialized in my mindset during my sports days. But all through my adult life, I have also had my own little traditions or superstitious Rays game day moments.

I still twill my Rays cap after the daily singing of the “National Anthem” ( even at home), and throw a post-game salute to Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi as he leaves the bench area. Been doing both of these Rays game day actions for years, and for some reason I do not want to test patience of the Baseball Gods.


It was really great to see that the Rays Bullpen members also began to establish another great Rays tradition or superstition during this recent home stand. I am not talking about the daily landscaping of David Price’s bobblehead on the Rightfield wall by Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine. I am talking about the new inclusion of a Rays “T B ” logo symbol in the back of the Rays Bullpen mound.

 

For the past few days, different members of the Rays crew in the Bullpen have been experimenting with the shape of the Rays ” T B ” symbol and finally last night, Rays reliever Lance Cormier brought out an actual instrument to help bring perfect uniformity and consistency to the daily design. By having someone simply manufacture an outline of the “T B ” symbol in plywood, the Rays Bullpen can now reproduce the “T B” with a constant flair and consistent design daily.


The new wooden frame will provide a accurate sense of uniformity to the symbol every game, plus I would not be surprised if we see the same symbol materialize soon on the Rays actual pitching mound. Rays Ground Guru Dan Moeller was over at the Rays Bullpen mound following Thursday night’s contest taking a few digital shots of the Rays Bullpen’s artistic endeavors. Other Major League Baseball teams imprint their team’s logos into soft clay surrounding the back ends of the pitching mound, and soon maybe the Rays be the next team to also use this great visual symbol to their advantage.

 

It is just another great example of the Rays establishing another Rays tradition by possibly using the symbol for all home games in their pitching mound preparation, both on the field, and in the Bullpen. But I suspect that the “T B ” symbol is far from being perfected yet. Last night, Cormier added a little water to the clay surface to bring out a darker tone to the clay and emphasize the “T B ” symbol in a darker tone to off set the reddish-brown color of the clay.


It did tend to pop out a bit more, but I suspect they might do a bit of experimentation. There could be a small dab of rosin or maybe even chalk added to the design to bring out a more robust and instantly recognizable symbol on the pitching mounds. Symbolism on our sports fields have been around for a long time. And with other MLB teams also expanding the envelope of including their own team’s logo impressions on their field surfaces, it is reasonable to think the Rays might be the next to tackle this manner on their own pitching surfaces.

 

Symbolism has long been used in the past to denote pride, courage and ownership. Soon, with the inclusion of this same ” T B “symbol on the Rays mounds, the Rays can take another step in showing their dominance and intensity on their home grounds too.

 

 

Rays are a AL/NL Hybrid Squad

 


 1080theFan.com
 

During the Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankee game last night Rays Television Announcer Dewayne Staats made sure to mention that the Rays have basically played like a “National League style team” this year. And with the Rays sporting the best record (30-11) in both Leagues right now, being a little like the “Senior Circuit” might not be a bad thing heading into the first round of games against a National League foe on their terms.

And with that, the Rays will be totally comfortable playing by the National League standards since they have been playing that style of baseball since the first week in April. The Rays have been masters at executing and perfecting the sacrifice bunt, squeeze bunt and even the suicide squeeze, which have been National League staples among the N L squad’s offensive arsenal.

But what was once considered a N L advantage with the American League teams sending their pitcher’s into the batter’s box for the first time this season, the Rays might have some special surprises awaiting their N L foes.


Sure heading into Houston we will first see Rays starter Matt Garza hit the mound to start the 14th season of Interleague play . And even with the Rays entering this season’s Interleague schedule with a less than .500 record All Time (99-115), they have been a combined 43-29 since Rays Manager Joe Maddon , which is the sixth best record in the Interleague play format since 2006. And over the past two years, only the Minnesota Twins (26-10) own a better Interleague record than the Rays (26-11) coming into their series against the Astros.

But just because this is usually the first time they send their bevy of pitcher’s to the plate, the Rays over the last two years have batted a Major League best .295 in Interleague play and their pitching staff has held their opponents to a .236 average, also best in the Major League. And even during their 2009 campaign into Interleague play, the Rays posted a 13-5 record last season which was beat only by the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim (14-4).

But playing in unfamiliar parks have been a bit of thorn in the Rays sides as they hold a 44-63 record in the National League ballparks, but they have begun to reverse that trend as they have gone 11-7 over the past two seasons in their strange surroundings.


But heading into the confines of Minute Maid Park with its train that moves throughout the outfield during Home Runs, and their unique Centerfield incline with their majestic flagpole in the center, this will only be the second time the Rays have ever wandered into the Astros home turf. But back in 2003, their last visit to Houston, the Rays did not leave with a great bit of Texas hospitality as the Astros swept them during contests from June6-8, 2003. And only one Rays player still remains on their roster from that 2003 squad, and Houston just happens to be his hometown (Carl Crawford).

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But the two teams did meet during 2008 from June 20-22,2008 as the Astros took two out of three from the Rays with former Astros Brandon Backe beating the Rays in their “throwback jerseys on that Sunday contest. Surprisingly, all three of those game were one run contests that season. But there will be quite a few Rays who will have a crowd or two on hand during this road series as Rays starter Jeff Niemann, who will start the Sunday finale, Crawford, Rays set-up man Dan Wheeler, and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey all have Houston roots. But the real treat might just be in how the Rays pitching staff does at the plate during this series.


The Rays pitching staff have been taking their turns in the Batting Cages over the last several weeks with several Rays pitchers showing they might just come out and surprise a few of us during the N L-slate of the Interleague this season. And starting with tonight’s starter Matt Garza, who is a career 0-8 at the plate, but has been showing increased ease and poise at the plate in recent B P sessions with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton.

And Garza has a bit of revenge on his mind as this will be his second start against Houston lifetime. But his last outing on June 20,2008 when he opposed Astros ace Roy Oswalt did not go well as he lost the decision 4-3. But Garza also brings in a nice 3-2 mark All Time in Interleague play with a special one-hitter in 2008 against the Florida Marlins.


And with no Designated Hitter in N L parks, the Rays might be at a distinctive disadvantage seeing that only 5 other members of the entire Rays pitching staff after Garza even have a Batting Average. We could possibly see Lance Cormier ( 5-46 .109 2 RBI ), Dan Wheeler ( 1-7 .143 ) make at least one plate appearance this series. But Rays Saturday starter leftie David Price owns a 1-3 .333 batting average, and last night’s starter James Shields could get a go at the plate in the middle innings if Maddon wants to save his bench players for a late inning rally. Shield sports a 5-22 .227 average with 1 RBI. But the pride and joy of the Rays pitching staff hitters might be their “secret weapon” Rays long man Andy Sonnanstine who is a career 7-21 or .333 with 2 RBI.

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But most Rays fans might remember his May 17,2009 clutch performance when a line-up card snafu had Sonnanstine batting in the 3-hole after a mix-up on the initial lineup card given to the Home Plate Umpire before that contest. For some odd reason, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria was suppose to be the game’s DH, but was listed on the lineup card as a second Rays Third Baseman and was disqualified from the lineup. Sonnanstine responded with a 1-3 day with a RBI double.


And with Sonnanstines first step into the batter’s box, he became the first AL pitcher to be in the lineup in an AL ballpark since Chicago White Sox pitcher Ken Brett stepped in the box on September 23, 1976 against the Minnesota Twins. On that date, Sonnanstine also became the first Rays pitcher to ever head to the Batter’s box in an AL home game, plus was the first Rays pitcher to ever bat at Tropicana Field.  

Because of that hitting success, Maddon used Sonnanstine again on May 23,2009 as a Pinch Hitter against the Florida Marlins at then Pro Player Stadium, he then again stepped into the box on June 21, 2009 against the New York Mets at Citi Field. During those appearances, Sonnanstine became only the second Rays pitcher following James Shields example from his June 28,2008 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Three Rivers Stadium. Sonnanstine also pinch ran on June 6, 2009 in a AL game against the New York Yankees and scored a run for the Rays.

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But after the aforementioned five Rays pitching “hitters”, the rest of the Rays Bullpen and starter have laid golden goose eggs to a tune of going 0-19 lifetime during Interleague play. Rays starters have combined for a 6-38 mark or a .157 average combined, but Wade Davis has never made an appearance yet in a Major League batter’s box.  The Rays Bullpen (including Wheeler, Cormier and Sonnanstine ) have gone 13 for 93 or a .140 Batting Average in Interleague play. Hopefully we will not have to see Rays relievers Randy Choate (0-5), Rafael Soriano (0-4), Grant Balfour (0-1) or Joaquin Benoit (0-9) make plate appearances during this series.

 
So they Rays, who have the basis of a National League squad down pat will come into their first series against a N L foe with a bit of confidence and a few tricks up their sleeves. But with that one extra hitter missing from the ninth spot in the Rays lineup, it is going to be really interesting to see how Maddon utilizes his troops and his pitching staff for spot duty at the plate.
And who knows, it could be the advent of the short game by putting down a well executed bunt or even a single through the hole that provides the difference in one of these three contests. But playing ” small ball” is the advent of the National League system. And even if they are considered a totally power-based American League team, they think like a National League squad, which could be dangerous for the Astros this weekend.
 

Another Skill Added to Sean Rodriguez’s MLB Resume`

 
 
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You always hear about a player’s character and their ability to do some interesting things when they are traded to you team, and before tonight I was buying most of the selling that the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays were saying about their “Zorilla-in-Training” Sean Rodriguez. During this year’s Spring Training he did everything but set out the buffet sterno’s and check in the daily Fed Ex packages. He proved to me that he was going to be on my closely watched list this entire season to see if he deserved such acclaim early in 2010.


But I have to tell you Rays Republic, right after Rays starting catcher Dioner Navarro got an early shower and unexpected snack time after serving up a few choice four-letter words while eagerly discussing the merits of a consistent strike zone with Home Plate Umpire Dan Bellino, seeing Rodriguez jog down to the Rays Bullpen, I knew the Rays had bagged a winner in the Scott Kazmir trade.

For as the Rays were adamantly searching for back-up catcher John Jaso, who was in the Rightfield bathroom region and was detained for a few minutes, Rodriguez almost looked like he was going to get some wild initiation time behind the plate during a Major League Baseball game. But it was kind of funny how Rodriguez initially came down to the Rays Bullpen with just a smile and no shin guards or even a chest protector, but within a short time and maybe a few favors in the future for Navarro, he came back out to the Bullpen area and began to stretch and go over some “crouch” exercises with Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos.

 
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And when Rays reliever Lance Cormier was getting warmed up to come into tonight’s game, it was Rodriguez who was situated behind the painted home plate dish on the Tropicana Field’s turf. With Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi by his left shoulder, Rodriguez did an excellent job getting Cormier ready for his outing tonight, and I was further intrigued by this guy who is doing everything and anything to get playing time this season for the Rays. I mean most people might not have known that he is the Rays third catcher option if something should happen to Navarro and Jaso in a contest, and I feel a bit more secure after watching that Bullpen warm up session.


Now that is not to mean I hope or wish to see him out there in anything but an emergency role, but it is a great feeling to see him eagerly get the equipment and take the responsibility head-on and force his way into the game situational scheme of things tonight as a precaution. I have heard from people in the Rays organization that it has been a good amount of time since Rodriguez had donned the catching gear, but I got to tell you, he looked more than capable as he threw the ball to Cormier and did not under or overthrow the ball once.

And some people might think this is a little thing, but sometimes those little things can build not only a player’s confidence in his abilities all over the field, but can transcend into his hitting as he begins to feel like a total member of this Rays team. We have seen Rodriguez this season playing Second Base, Centerfield as a late inning substitute in Chicago for B J Upton, and as a great pinch hitting option already in 2010. He is truly beginning to make people think that the Rays might have found another multifaceted asset that could play any of the eight field positions on the field for the Rays with ease and comfort.

 
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Rodriguez might never have to truly don the catcher’s gear and get behind the plate for real in 2010, but now I know I can trust the judgment of Rays Manager Joe Maddon if he was to position him behind the dish in a lop-sided game, or with a great lead. It might be the next step for Rodriguez’s maturation process to add another glove and equipment to his Major League Baseball resume`, and it would not surprise me in the least if he excelled at catching too.

I just want to say “Bravo” to Rodriguez and hope he knows that by showing that eagerness to learn and to thrust himself into the fire tonight he is gaining more and more of a place in my Rays subconscious as our next evolution of Ben Zobrist.

But the funny thing is that within the next three or four years we might be talking about someone like Rays prospects currently Tim Beckham or even Matt Hall as the “next Rodriguez”…. And that is a great compliment, with or without catching gear in your locker.

 

Right Game…Wrong Spelling, Wrong Player..Sigh!

 

 
ScottAudette/Reuters

Some people have said that sometimes I can be a bit hard on the National Media. That I am trying to find the problems and the blemishes in their stories and then ripe them wide open from stem to stern by exposing their “problems” throughout the Internet. And to this I respond, “You bet I do!” But I am not trying to be a watchdog or even and advocate for the old school of journalistic integrity I studied in High School and College. I guess it is simple what I desire from the National and local media…..Just a little legwork into your facts, figures and even facial recognition on Tampa Bay Rays players would be greatly appreciated.
 
Take the initial photo description (see below) I found recently on Yahoo.com following last Sunday’s game against the New York Yankees. The first thing that stood out to me honestly is that there are two consecutive spelling errors in the photo explanation, and each concerns the same English word…”pitcher”. I know the agency providing the photographer might be Reuters, which has a more English-based as in the actual country, but here or there I suspect the word is actually spelled the same. I have no idea what a “pticher” is, and according to my handy little Merriam-Webster Dictionary there is no such word presently within the scope of the English language.

And some people will adamantly say I am being a bit overly picky since grammatical and spelling errors happen all the time, even in our own posts. And with that I will agree, but isn’t it a bit odd that it happened twice within the same paragraph and nobody noticed it….maybe until I posted this right now. So here it is for the entire world to chuckle and turn their heads side-to-side that a large Media agency like Reuters, and even Yahoo did not catch this spelling blemish before a little Rays blogger who seems to find these things online.

Sure, being unemployed has given me a plethora of available time to watch out and read numerous postings about the Rays from all over this big blue marble, and even more than enough time to gaze upon endless episodes of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” or catch up on every episode ever of “Scrubs” or “Grey’s Anatomy“. But the pure fact that these agencies pay their people good money and someone who is economically poor, but has some form of education gets to be greeted with obvious 3rd Grade spelling mishaps. And I do take pride in throwing these little tidbits out to everyone to see because it is an industry I consider my “Great White Buffalo”.

And if you are unaware of that phrase, it is basically saying it is the “one (job profession) I let get away”. It is the one regret I have found in my life career-wise that I would jump into a Hot Tub Time Machine and go back to the early 1980′s in less than a heartbeat to change and stay with it, sweat it out, and maybe had actually found a niche before my return in early 2008 to writing again on this Rays Renegade blog. But you know what really got me the most on this Yahoo posting by Reuters? Here is the actual photo description listed on Yahoo.com as of 12:15 today:
 
 

Tampa Bay Rays pticher Randy Choate wipes his …

 
Tampa Bay Rays pticher Randy Choate wipes his head after giving up a run to the New York Yankees during the sixth inning of their MLB American League baseball game in St. Petersburg, Florida April 11, 2010.

REUTERS/Scott Audette (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

The main thing that is eating at me was not the initial spelling error, or even the fact it happened a second time only four words into the photo explanation ….The thing that is eating me inside to a point of decay is the plain fact they did not get even the correct Rays player in the photo. The fact that the photo is suppose to have left-hander Randy Choate in the picture “wiping his head after giving up a run to the New York Yankees” is actually Rays right-hand reliever Lance Cormier.


Not only is their hair color and thickness a big error, which to me is a great big tell-tale sign, but Cormier is a right-handed pitcher, while Choate is a Left-handed reliever. Accuracy has always been one of my pet peeves in life. I understand making mistakes, omitting facts and even misquoting someone is one of the perils of reporting sports. But the actual photos of Major League Baseball players should at least get their rightful namesakes. Now I am not going to blame Scott Audette who supplied Reuters with the photo because he might have made a note of the correct pitcher and the brief description was added by a Copy Clerk or even a post photo Editor somewhere along the lines before it was posted to Yahoo.com here.
 
But in the instant oatmeal environment of the Internet with lightning fast speeds and accessibility, double-checks of even the simple things have to be done to keep from people like me posting your embarrassing mistakes. Maybe it is still that respect and drive I still have for Sports and writing that gets me to expose these hash marks against the National Media giants. I respect and admire so much of the job people do online, but I also hold these same people to a higher standard to get our players names right, their images correct, and most of all…..Show these professional  Rays athletes a level of respect they have earned with sweat, blood and determination..They deserve that…Boy, do they deserve that! 
 
 

Rays Pitching still has Question Marks

 
 
Www.TBO.com

The only thing right now keeping Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Wade Davis as a question mark entering the final weeks of the Spring is Davis himself. Davis could have made some movement towards silencing his critics, and possibly securing his fifth spot in the rotation with a good outing, but instead Davis stubbed his toes. And that lackluster outing has added fuel to the fire that Davis might not be with the Rays on April 6th for the Home Opener and might be headed down to Durham for a month or so to regroup.

 

And before his last outing, the idea of the Rays sending Davis down to stop his Major League service clock seemed to be the only logical reason to ship Davis back to the minors until at least the middle of May and sticking with Mr “Plug In”, Andy Sonnanstine on the Rays roster. The versatility of Sonnanstine right now might lay heavily on their upcoming fifth rotation decision as Sonnanstine could effectively switch from Bullpen or staring positions as needed until either Davis or J P Howell are again shown to be a positive move for the club.
 

And it was only last Spring that Davis also took himself out of the thought process for the battle for the Rays fifth spot in the rotation in 2009 with another similar bad outing at the wrong time. But this year, after a great late season campaign up starting games for the Rays, it seems that Davis had his future with the Rays in 2010 firmly in his pitching hands. And with Sonnanstine not flinching at all, but showing his resourceful nature and rebounding effectively from a bad 2009, it seems that the Rays could, should and might send Davis back for a month to push his service clock back a season.
 

And this move is totally reminiscent of the way the Rays pushed Third Base prospect Evan Longoria back to Durham in 2008 for a small period of time before Longoria was then brought up weeks later due to an injury to Willy Aybar. But with the Rays recent injury bug there is speculation that both could make the Rays roster without incident this Spring and push away the competition for the fifth spot. Which poses a few questions to me. If both starters make the roster, with one pitcher doing spot duty as a long reliever, will that reorganize the overall chemistry and roles of the Rays Bullpen, with the exceptions being closer Rafael Soriano and Dan Wheeler?
 

And if Sonnanstine is given the additional slot on the Rays 25-man roster, does that mean that Joaquin Benoit doesn’t have a realistic chance to make the Rays roster? There have been moments where Benoit has looked like his former Rangers heydays, and others where he has looked like he is still seeking the answers. But Benoit has done exactly what the Rays have asked of him, and is currently tied with several relievers in total game appearances this Spring, plus Benoit has looked extremely good over the last week. Could Benoit be peaking at the right moment to get in the mindset of the Rays Coaches as the clock winds down this Spring?
 

And with Howell out for at least a month, could fellow lefties Heath Phillips or even Carlos Hernandez get a chance again at the Major League level to occupy Howell’s spot in the Rays Bullpen, then bring about some major decisions by the Rays when Howell returns. Or could the Rays take their chances and try to sneak either pitcher through waivers and back to the minors upon Howell’s return?
 

Howell’s injury brings up the new thought of both Davis and Sonnanstine staying up with the big club, but could the move compromise the Rays Bullpen’s overall integrity a bit. With Sonnanstine joining the motley crew, could the move force former long reliever Lance Cormier into Howell’s old role on the short term, or do the Rays hope that Benoit can assume Howell’s role of facing hitters from both sides of the plate, and leave Cormier to mostly specialized rightie roles, or as a second possible long reliever?
 

 
Gail Burton/AP

But then there is another Bullpen question that some people have been mumbling about since late in 2009. Could Rays reliever Grant Balfour be a problem or could he be hiding something? Balfour has been decreasing his overall pitch velocity and looking pretty vulnerable to hitters over the last several months of 2009. Could he just of had a weak arm also towards the end of 2009 from his overuse in 2008 and 2009, or could he just have run out of tricks and the hitters are wise to him now? And again this Spring, Balfour has not had the best Spring again here in 2010 showing either he is a slow starter, or maybe the 2008 season’s magic might have finally left his fingers.

 

There are still many pitching questions left to be answered, but the Rays have said that a definite decision on their 2010 rotation will be coming soon. One highly probable suggestion is to flip-flop current the 3 and 4 starters Jeff Neimann and David Price to break up the right-handed heavy Rays front of the rotation. Something that was unique for the Rays in 2009 was their addition of the second leftie when Price finally joined the Rays mid-season rotation so the Rays could break up the righty-lefty batting order match-ups during every series, but with Scott Kazmir now gone, only David Price remains in the Rays rotation.

The move would effectively eliminate a lefty dominant line-up for an entire Rays opponent’s series, and break up any chance of another teams getting into a hitting rhythm against the Rays by possibly facing three right-handers in a row. Big decisions, hard decisions. But then again, that is why the Rays brass get paid the big money.

 

My personal hopes are that the team uses Benoit effectively in the Rays Bullpen to begin the season, with Sonnanstine as the fifth starter for about a month. That would give Benoit a chance to show he still has the stuff to compete at the Major League level. When Benoit is on the ball, he is simply magical on the mound. And this move could also effectively buy the Rays an added year of Davis’s services, plus give the team more time to showcase Sonnanstine’s talents if they decide they might want to seek a trade, or they could simply send Sonnanstine back to the minors as a insurance policy against further pitching injuries.
 

Whatever the Rays decide, the team has to effectively decide what the roles Rays player’s like Benoit, Cormier and leftie Randy Choate will perform before they can streamline their thought process and make an adequate and concise decision. This might be the final season the Rays have this much offensive firepower for awhile, so the team needs to make the right adjustments and the right moves to counter that offense with a great pitching staff and effective Bullpen in 2010.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays Manager Joe Maddon is famous for using the quote, ” Starting pitching sets the tone of the game.” If the team doesn’t find the right solutions to shore up their back-end of the rotation, it will just fester into a situation every 5 days for the Rays. Davis and Sonnastine have to provide that comfort and confidence level over the next few days for the Rays to begin their final decision process. But with a swift decision, it also sets up the Rays pitchers to get into a rhythm now, even before the season begins and adjust accordingly to their rotation slots.

The Rays had a few setbacks recently on their pitching front, with Howell going down this weekend and question marks still surrounding several Bullpen 2010 roles and abilities. But in the end, the Rays have to do what is right for the team to fulfill their quest to again play deep into October. With both sides of the ball clicking for the Rays, the sky could be the limit in 2010, but quickly even that scenario can falter if an injury bug decides to hit the team, or a starter falters early….but then again, that is why we play 162 games before crowning a Division Champion.

Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

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With Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon seeming to go (on the surface) from genius to deflated mathematical slogans over the last two Rays seasons, it will not be the last time Rays fans see Maddon hits upon a numerical formula for the formulation of his young Rays squad. Just on the horizon, there will be another call for a numerical sequence to shape and ultimately sort out his final 2010 Rays 25-man roster.

And the final direction this 2010 Rays team takes in 2010 will be heavily based on this mathematical breakdown, even before their Home Opener on April 6,2010. And this simple math problem might say a lot about how solid and confident this Rays Coaching staff, and Maddon feel about the key elements of their 2010 squad before firmly heading into the Rays 13th Major League Baseball season.

 
 

One statistical breakdown remains unsolved, and it will definitely define the early roster of this team. This one still undecided simple mathematical conclusion could become the balancing fulcrum towards the realizations of multiple scenarios for possible failure, or ultimate success going into the 2010 season. For these two sets of simultaneous and sequenced numbers will decide the final set-up of the Rays roster. How the Rays split their 2010 roster into their “13 & 12″ segments will be a huge indicator of how the Rays perceive their team’s strengths coming out of Spring Training, and into the early divisional firestorm with American League East ramifications starting with Game 1.

How Maddon and his staff decide if they want to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 bench players or vice versa will be an early tell tale sign to the confidence level this Coaching staff has with its roster, and its solution towards early challenges.

 
 

For the Rays can not have a downward spiral in the month of April, like in 2009, when the Rays went quickly towards an unpredictable 9-14 early record, and put themselves in “catch-up” mode for the rest of the season. How this Rays squad separates their personnel into those “13-12″ splits might be a instant indication if the Rays organization believes their pitching will need to get the “upper hand”, or if the hitting/fielding players will get the chance to man that “13th seat” at the table.

But you can count on more than a few players trying to force the Rays hands and have their names put in ink onto that “13th” numbered roster spot this Spring. These young and hungry players will do everything humanly possible to make the Rays staff’s decision tougher, and hope to make it lean towards their names with an impressive performance during Spring Training. And the ultimate reward just might make their first Opening Day MLB roster.

 

If the Bullpen pulls it together and borderline relievers like Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer make the roster, it could tilt that invisible line towards the team ultimately carrying 13 pitchers. And even the addition of former Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine thrown into the pitching mix, either in the Bullpen, or as a possible fifth starter. This could throw the whole equation quickly into the pitching sides favor early on this Spring. But that in itself presents an interesting and complex decision all by itself.

GailBurton/AP

 
With returning fifth starter Wade Davis and Sonnanstine squaring off in the only battle this Spring for a starting job, could the eventual loser of that battle just be sent packing to another team like Jason Hammel in 2009, or could they just be sent down to Triple-A Durham knowing they might be the first call-up of the season?

 
 

I have a feeling right now Maddon and his Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be leaning towards extending that “13th slot” towards a pitcher, but there are also going to be some tough and interesting decisions to be made in the Rays infield and outfield mix that might make that entire pitching situation moot.

We already know that outfielder Matt Joyce is going to try to prove once and for all to the Rays Coaching Staff and Maddon that he deserves that Rightfield slot going into the season, and maybe for the next several years. And even if Joyce wins that spot (which I think he does), it is small factoring process compared to the highly competitive dogfight that will ultimately decide the fate of the Rays second utility guy between Reid Brignac and newcomer Sean Rodriguez.

 
 
And right now, I am basing this opinion solely on drills and exercises I have seen at the Rays complex, it seems at this moment that the Rays staff’s eyes are focusing tightly on Rodriguez’s defensive abilities more and more every day. But real soon we will see just how slick Rodriguez is at second base when Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday with the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Florida.

And maybe Brignac’s roster “pop-ups” to the majors in 2009 might have given the Rays staff more of an comprehensive book on Brignac’s abilities coming into this Spring, and possibly Brignac’s scorecard already has a few penciled-in notes and scratches from the Rays Coaching staff, while Rodriguez is a blank slate with everything to gain heading into the Spring Training games.

Sure Rodriguez was a key trade component of the Rays trading left-handed starter Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late July 2009, but this will be the first time most Rays fans and the Tampa Bay media will get an extended chance to see what the kid can do……now or in the near future for the Rays.

 
 
And if you realistically count the Rays bench players right now, with players like Carlos Pena, Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, B J Upton, Gabe Kapler, Pat Burrell and the injured Willy Aybar, you already have 11 Rays players penciled into that first 11 possible bench slots ob the 25-man roster.

If more than one of these young players like Joyce, Rodriguez, Brignac or even Elliot Johnson makes a lasting impression that they “have to be” on this roster, this could ultimately shake up the preconceived notion of 13 pitchers and twist the equation quickly towards 13 bench players. And that scenario has a very distinctive possibility of happening this Spring. These numbers games for the first time in Rays short history, might effectively come down to total game day performances and not the foresight predictions on their talents, or a daily growing maturity in their abilities to play at the Major League level.

 
 

But, the wrist injury to Aybar might be one of the biggest question mark still unanswered totally into this first set of Grapefruit League games. If he is down and out for an extended time, or even gets put on the 15-day Disabled List to start the regular MLB season, the Rays could keep an extra bench player down with the Rays instead of sending them to the minor league camp or even up to Durham.

So there might be a lot of day-to-day evaluations and recommendations discussed with Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield in the next week or so to see if there is a viable option of Aybar playing before the Major League season begins, or they shut Aybar down from hitting drills and let him effectively rehab back into game shape before pressing this same numbers issue again during the Rays season.

 
 

And if Aybar does go on the D L, it could also be a bit of a last gasp of making this roster for one of the reliever fighting it out to become a Rays Bullpen member, or could evolve into a chance for the loser of the Sonnanstine/Davis battle to be kept on the Major League roster as a possible long reliever like Lance Cormier.

My personal gut reaction is that the Rays seem to want to do everything in their power to try and keep Sonnanstine up at this level, but if he falls into that 13th slot and Aybar comes back, he would be the first to fall from the 25-man roster. You already know that Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (leftie specialist), J P Howell along with Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann take up 11 pitching spots before even considering Abreu, Thayer or Joaquin Benoit as a Bullpen option.

 
 

 
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That would leave a possible one viable slots, with a second up in the air right now if the Rays want to carry 13 pitchers. You could pencil in Sonnanstine into one of those two spaces, but with him and Davis both having minor league options, they could always be sent down with the adage that it came down to that “13th ” spot. And even with Thayer and Abreu showing mixed results at this level, you have to think of the two, Abreu would get a longer look based on his 2009 MiLB.com designation as the Triple-A Reliever of the Year.

But not going in Abreu’s favor is his short stint with Cleveland in 2009, when he seemed to imploded a bit on the mound and almost started an all out brawl in a game versus Seattle. But both relievers have paid their minor league dues and could force the Rays hand and send Sonnanstine to Durham, even with great outings this Spring.

 
 

This is only my scenario of the whole situation and is only my personal glance into the Rays possible decision on this issue. I see the loser of the Davis and Sonnanstine battle to be immediate trade bait offered before MLB rosters finalize and if a good trade option can not be found, the loser of the fifth rotation battle will be sent back to Durham knowing they are the first starting pitcher recalled by the Rays.

I think there are a few NL teams that would jump on Sonnanstine if he has a great Spring, but there is still time to see about his 2010 situation. I truly feel that Joyce will win his battle for Rightfield, and will platoon with Ben Zobrist to begin the season until Joyce shows he can hit left-handers with consistency, then it open another can of worms for the Rays as to a final playing position for Zobrist.

 

Out of the infield battle, I see Sean Rodriguez maybe having a slight edge right now, but I feel it is Brignac’s job to lose since he has the confidence and skill level to play at the Major League level. And if Aybar does go on the D L , they both could get a realistic shot to make the initial Rays 25-man Opening Day roster. But I also think in the end, the Rays will shop Brignac and he could be somewhere else either before the 2010 season, or within the first few months of the season.

It is funny how two of the Rays past “utility” guys, Aybar and Zobrist based on their great seasons in 2008 and 2009 will play a part so deep into the Rays decisions in 2010. But that just goes to show you the improved depth and wealth of talent sitting in Port Charlotte right now, just at the Major League camp level.

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

Some people consider the number “13″ to be mostly evil with no redemption for any good. But that same number “13″ for one Rays player this Spring Training season will be a blessing, and a chance to show they have what it takes to survive and play daily at this level of the game. Whoever gets that coveted “13th” spot in 2010, no matter if they are a Rays pitcher, or field player, they will know internally that they survived one of the most competitive Rays Spring Training camps.

It might not seem so tough to some of the Rays fans watching the workouts and drills, but this Spring’s competition level has been raised very, very high, and the final Rays player to grace that “13th” spot decision has to consider himself lucky indeed, for they get a chance to grow with this Rays team as they again set their sights on games in October.
 

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