Results tagged ‘ Lance Cormier ’
Today I want to conclude the photos that I took out at the Rays Spring Training complex on Friday morning. Hopefully each and every one of you will get a chance sometimes in your life to either get out to Arizona or Florida to see this yearly migration and training exercise featuring some of the most talented and fit athletes. No matter what team, or the location, these are our “Boys of Summer”, and to catch them in this energetic elementary state away from the confines of the regular season.
One of the necessary “evils” of Spring Training is the television and media requests for interviews and short sound bytes about the upcoming season. Here we have former Rays Rookie of the Year candidate pitcher Jeff Niemann being interviewed by a local television crew about his expectation for the 2010 Rays season. You can not tell by the photo, but Niemann is growing a ” Abe Lincoln”-style beard that is just beginning to come into its own. He has not decided if he will keep it for the season, but combined with rookie pitcher Wade Davis, they could be the “bearded” back end of the Rays rotation this season.
One of the great things about the way the Charlotte County Sports Park is setup is the short walk across the player’s parking lot before they hit the Rays clubhouse front door. It is an excellent spot to get autographs and also chat with your favorite players. Also, there are some players who are more pat to sign during Spring Training then they do during the regular season, and this is a great time to get those final pieces to your autograph collection.
Welcome to Tampa Bay Kelly Shoppach. I think he felt like a hunted man as most of the Tampa Bay media was waiting for him and the other catchers’ to come in last during the days event and he was kind enough to give and every one of them a sound byte for their nightly telecast.
Shoppach is pictured here in the middle of the media throng with local sportscasters popping microphones in front of his face as they ask about the upcoming competition to see who is going to be the Rays starting catcher for the season. Most people think the competition is going to be fierce between Shoppach and incumbent Dioner Navarro for the Rays starting catching job. I actually think it might come down to game situations as Shoppach is more apt at getting on base, while Navarro can provide some power at times in the lineup. Should be a fun time watching these two go through the Spring.
I remember when I was playing sports, I used to hate hitting the “sharks” as I used to call them. The problem with some media members is they are always seeking the negative items and looking for an extreme angle on the team. People have asked me why I try and take a more positive approach to my blogs and my commentary, the proof is right above in this picture. With all the media onrush, I think a positive spin on even the worst situation can do wonders. But, I do have my own targets ( Hickey, Burrell).
It was so great to see all of the guys out there tossing the ball around and laughing and commenting to each other throughout the workouts. Every pitcher performed drills today in anticipation of the Rays Fan fest on Saturday, in which most of the Rays pitchers’ will take that long trek up to Tropicana Field to participate in autograph signings and photo opportunities with Rays fans.
I was excited to head on down to the far end of the complex after the pitchers’ came in for the day and see the Rays catchers in camp doing time in the hitting cages. One of the guy who caught my attention was Joe Dillon, who is trying to make this Rays roster as a multipurpose player. Last season he was Maddon’s choice as an emergency third catcher, but with a great Spring, he could make the roster as a bench and infield utility man. Plus he was tagging the ball down the third baseline today with some extreme power.
I am always surprised by the new exercises and physical fitness regiment that they Rays include in their daily workouts. No matter if it is the extra large rubber bands to strengthen their calves and legs, or the flex tubing to help stretch out their arms and shoulders, each Spring there is something new in the Rays exercise arsenal.
And it was great to see the guys starting to hit drills during the first day with everyone participating but Rays new closer Rafael Soriano who has been battling some chest congestion due to a vicious cold. He might have only thrown a few long toss balls today, but he was there for Maddon’s meeting and looks imposing in his Rays uniform.
But the “man of the hour” was Rays owner Stuart Sternberg who fielded a barrage of questions from the media on subjects ranging from the Hillsborough County stadium buzz to the Rays possible scenarios to keep Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena for 2011. Another issue that was on the media’s mind was the payroll concerns for 2011 and the rumors of Rays Season Tickets being down for this season.
One of the true sights of Spring. Most of the Rays players came out in their game spikes, but they also brought along their running shoes for their post long toss running exercises and workout on another field. With most of their cleats not broken in yet, using these running shoes might be one of the best options to keep blisters and foot situations under control so early in the Spring Training process.
Rays reliever J P Howell and Rays starter Matt Garza are shown in these two photos ” airing it out” in their long toss portion of the Friday exercises. Howell was throwing with a group that contained fellow Bullpen mates Dan Wheeler and Lance Cormier before Cormier and Garza hooked up and put on a long-toss show with both pitchers throwing consistent balls in the air from the leftfield foul line to almost centerfield before they stopped and moved onto the pitching drills segment of the daily events.
Most of the morning exercises were devoted to stretching and limbering up for the daily grind of drills and activities to see what shape each of the Rays players might be in prior to the team turning up the dial and getting more intense in the next few days. And with every pitcher basically not doing intense workout on Saturday because of their travels to Fan Fest, it was a time to push the envelope a bit.
It was a great turnout of fans both from Charlotte County, and some who came as far as Boston and Chicago for the Rays first “official” day of Spring Training camp. Just another sign that the Rays Republic is beginning to get fans from all over the country excited about Rays baseball.
One of the things I respect most about Maddon is that he leads by example. He is one of the most positive people I have ever met, and he is always preaching and showing confidence and the essence of positive thinking to his players. But something else I have noticed the last few years, he is always the last person off the Spring Training field.
Not unlike Lt. Colonel Hal Moore in the Vietnam War epic “We Were Soldiers”, Maddon has lead by example and been a constant force of steady, confident leadership for his team. And just like Moore would not step off the ground and into a transport helicopter until every last solider was transported or removed from the battlefield in the Ia Drang Valley, Maddon also shows that unity daily in his activities with his team.
So this was my short and eventful day at the Rays complex as pitchers and catchers officially reported to the Rays to begin the 2010 campaign to get back to the playoffs. There will be another 10 days of extreme workouts and drills before game action begins, and less than 45 days until the Rays open their season at Tropicana field against the Baltimore Orioles. Hope you enjoyed the photos, because I enjoyed getting them for all of us to enjoy…
RRCollections **** Within the next few days I will post a extended Photo blog of the pictures I took today after the Rays Fan fest tomorrow afternoon.
I could not sleep a wink last night and thank goodness AMC had a pretty good movie lineup until 6 am this morning. This felt like the first time I ever suited up for a baseball game. I had the butterflies early today and mixed with the anticipated assembly again with Tampa Bay Rays baseball players who I consider “baseball buddies”. And the long hours leading up to this special moment of the Rays pitchers and catchers reporting for 2010 more than lived up to all the previous night’s hype and anxiety.
Sure you would think the hour and a half drive down to Port Charlotte from the shadow of Tropicana Field would seem to take forever as the sun began to rise in the East, but the reality was it seemed to furiously fly by with only the time staring to ebb slower as I began to wait first in line this morning to get into the Charlotte County Sports Park and “officially” begin my 2010 Rays experience. And it was great to not have the over indulgence of the Mosaic Corporation’s name attached to signage surrounding the complex today. And as I was standing there as the Rays media members began to assemble, some just passed by, while others acknowledged me standing their in my Pepsi sweatshirt as I battled the 56 degree weather.
And while I was standing there, a wild figure in pink sweatpants, barefoot and a huge poof of hair began to walk up to the security checkpoint carrying his baseball gear in a Army green dufflebag. He had come to make the team, and Edgar Gonzalez was not going to take “no” for an answer. Sure he might not have had great baseball experience only playing Marine Corp baseball, but decked there in his USF baseball jersey ( but did not play at all for USF), he was energetic and wanting an audition today for a possible slot on the Rays.
And two assembled security guards were business like and totally professional as they tried to point him towards Tropicana Field and the Rays Front Office to arrange an “official arrival” or even a slot to participate when the minor league camp came in next week. But Gonzalez was persistent and totally seemed to have his wits about him, until he began to unravel his story into a million pieces by saying he was trying to hold correspondence with U.S. President Obama and the world leaders on the curing properties of baseball. So as Gonzalez began to fade to black in the minds of the security force, he was advised to “put shoes on, or vacate the property as a safety precaution”.
Just then, you could see the color drain from Gonzalez’s face and he knew instantly that he had blown his scheme to try and infiltrate the Rays first 2010 workout. But I do commend the security force for doing it with grace, class and not singling him out and making the situation difficult. So as he turned away he said he would rehash it out up in “Tampa” with the Rays officials and be back another day to formally take the field. Well, Edgar Gonzalez, I wish you luck, and I hope you do get that shot, but since you have, by your own admission, never faced a 90+ mph fastball or seen a slider in your life, the audition might last the $ 2 it costs to run the Batting Cage machine at the Mini Golf complex down the street.
But as 10 pm came, I strutted in first in the line and was handed a Dioner Navarro and Matt Garza bobble heads and a great present of a Rays Spring roster cardboard placard that listed each invited Rays ” guest” to the 2010 Spring Training complete with the final statistics including every stop during 2009. I scanned up and down it a few time to see the names and former 2009 teams illustrated and saw a few extremely interesting names. Names like Mike Ekstrom who was claimed off waivers by the Rays this off season from the San Diego Padres , or former Ranger pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who might push some pressure on the Rays Bullpen spots, or Joe Dillionaire” Dillon who might push for a bench spot on the team and be an adequate third catching option on the Major League roster because of his versatility.
As the guy all assembled around Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his first inspirational speech for 2010, and the brief speeches and chats by Jeff “Ziggy” Zigler, who is the Rays Traveling Secretary, the team got into stretching and began long toss to get their arms stretched out for the first time in 2010 in front of a live audience. Rays starter Matt Garza and Rays Bullpen reliever Lance Cormier put on the show of the day easily topping 200+ feet in their long toss segment before the squad split into three groups and began to start drills on retrieving the ball in front of the mound and doing basic drills like covering first base on a bunt or even shot towards the hole at first base.
And on another part of the field, the Rays field players were beginning their daily workouts in the batting cages under the watchful eyes of spectators and autograph hounds. Gabe Kapler, Jason Bartlett and a bulkier-looking Rays prospect shortstop Tim Beckham all took their swipes in the cage today before taking time out to sign for some of the fans and expressed excitement in returning to Tropicana Field tomorrow for the 2010 Rays Fan Fest. I took this time to chat a bit with Rays Communication Manager Carmen Molina and St Petersburg Times Rays writer Marc Topkin about the season and to see if I could get a few tidbits.
But I was lucky enough to be within a good earshot of the conversation by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to the assembled media when he began to discuss the Rays payroll, keeping Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, and the possible Rays stadium pot that is beginning to boil. He was his usual self showing total commitment to the St. Petersburg market place the team is currently in, but stressed the stadium will not be adequate up until the 2026 lease expiration date. Standing their in his own “Rays Sky Blue” sweatshirt he spoke for about 15 minutes answering volleys at him and providing in depth, complex answers that more than fulfilled the questions thrown at him on the fly. P. T. Barnum would have been proud.
And as the players began to split into their respective groups for their day ending run in the western-most field’s outfield, several players like J P Howell, Jeff Neiman and Rays prospect Jake McGee sprinted to the Rays clubhouse and shed their sweatshirts and came out again to do their running before taking time to chat and sign for fans before leaving for the day. I had a chance to talk to Howell, and his eyes lit up when I asked about his off season trip to Bora Bora for his honeymoon, or when I asked if we could do an interview sometimes during Spring Training about it.
And as I was asking that, Grant Balfour slapped me on the back asking if I was keeping my same seat. I quickly told him I was, and told him he better keep his same seat also ( on the Rays Bullpen bench) for 2010. He just smiled from ear-to-ear and told me he was going to do everything possible to stay put. Or when Randy Choate came up with his new facial chin hair and asked why I did not yell “Randy” when he saw me. And I began to tear up a bit. This is hard to explain, but over the past three years while I have been battling employment issues, these guys have been the solid foundation and the people I made sure to say something to before, or during every single Rays game.
So today was special to me in a different way than most of the people assembled to welcome the Rays back from cold Winter snow-scapes, or even trips abroad with their new loved ones, this is my personal rite of Spring passage. Baseball is back, but better yet for me, Rays baseball is back. Even as I stood there talking with baseball buddy’s Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos or Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, I could feel that inner fire kicking up again and was eager for the upcoming season.
Maddon did not bring out any mathematical equations this season, but offered confidence and a yearning to remember those steps made in 2008 to again get back to that ” special place”. For the Rays to revisit their 2008 roots, it will take sweat, blood and commitment by each and ever member of their 2010 roster. In the next month and a half guys will come and go from the Rays clubhouse either to the minor league camps, or even towards other opportunities in baseball, but Maddon stressed that they had to regain that passion, had to redefine and re-energize to again do things “The Rays Way”, and make those steps to again claim a top spot not only in the American League, but in their ever present difficult Eastern division. But for today, it was just great to see my buddies again.
As I glance up at the luminated clock on the kitchen wall, I see that it is just a few minutes past midnight on Saturday morning. Within the next 24 hours, the Tampa Bay Rays front office will be finalizing the 2010 fate of 10 of their players. This is that stressful 24-hour period that every Major League team and their selected players have to endure where offers of arbitration, possible signing of contracts, or non-tendering their players so they can find employment elsewhere, or possibly sign with the team as a free agent (but doubtful).
It is not only a nervous time period for the 10 Rays players the team has up for arbitration this season, but also for the Rays fans who have grown attached to these players. A few of these player’s names might be absent from the Rays 2010 equation within the next 24 hours. And the possible 10 decisions by the Rays will include core players and borderline players who stepped above and beyond, but might be eliminated by numbers and talent rising up from the Rays farm system.
Of the 10 Rays players being considered for 2010 arbitration hearings, only one of them is currently a Rays starting pitcher. And on paper, you have to consider him to be a bona fide “sure thing” to be offered a contract. Rays starter Matt Garza might actually be one of the four possible “sure things” for the Rays within the next 24 hours. Garza has been a key member of the Rays staff, and has upped his game again in 2009, and on paper is a solid choice yo again be with the team in 2010. And Garza will see a nice bump in his 2010 salary (estimated $ 3.2 million) compared to the $ 430,000 he receiveded during the Rays 2009 season.
But during this 24-hour period the Rays front office might be finished crunching the numbers and getting scouting reports while letting their personal feeling for the players disappear from the equation. The Rays Bullpen could look considerably different after this 24 hour period as 5 total members of the Bullpen are up for arbitration. But the first glints of daylight also showed a rays of light that one arbitration eligible player will not have to wait for his fate as left-handed reliever Randy Choate signed a 1-year $ 700,000 contract with a possible $ 25,000 bonus if he appears in 80 games next season for the Rays.
That’s right, Choate is the first Rays player to feel the joy of not having to worry about the anxious stress of not knowing his 2010 fate. But even with one player down, and nine to go, that still leaves Bullpen mates Grant Balfour,J P Howell, and Lance Cormier to wonder about their possible fates for the next several hours.
But of that selective reliever corps, I have to consider Howell the second “sure thing” bet of all the Rays players to again get a clear contract offer from the Rays. He went above and beyond his job description in 2009, even giving the closer’s job a chance before the Rays finally shut him down in late September due to arm fatigue. The progress that Howell has shown from miserable,disgruntled starter to confident, out-going reliever is like a night and day transformation. And with that, Howell might finally get a chance to celebrate with his new wife that fact that he could have an estimated 2010 salary in the $ 1.8 million range during his first time on the arbitration tightrope.
But that still leaves both Balfour and Cormier to be in the “unknown” group based on a few personal observations, and not on their solid pitching performances in 2009. During the late 2009 season, Balfour was critical of the Rays pitching concepts late in the season and might have produced some bad blood between him and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey. Could Balfour’s small episode of mouthing off cost him a chance to continue with the team?
Also considering the Aussie is about to get hitched on January10th, you hope he did not put a wedge between him and the Rays front office and coaching staff in 2009. Could the Rays make him sweat a bit before late in the evening offering Balfour a contract? And if they do sweat him out a bit, could they be possibly motivated by the comments to try and get his estimated $ 2.1 million reduced through the arbitration hearing?
But my biggest Rays question mark concerning the Bullpen might come down to what the Rays will do about their long reliever spot. Cormier was impressive in that role during 2009, and I truly hope he is safe. But the Rays have two other pitchers fighting for their 25-man roster spots who do not have a secured spot for 2010. Might Cormier be the “sacrifical lamb” to give the Rays a possible roster spot to pitcher Mitch Talbot, who has no minor League option left, or Andy Sonnanstine.
Cormier would garner around $ 1.1 million in possible 2010 salary if the Rays offer him arbitration. Sonnanstine and Talbot’s combined 2010 salaries might only cost the Rays around $ 850,000, and could be the main reason the team doesn’t give Cormier an offer. Personally, I hope he gets an arbitration offer from the Rays because the job he did in 2009 was fantastic, but my word means nothing in the final scheme of things.
Now that we have looked into the Rays possible arbitration plans for their 2010 pitching staff, lets look to the five Rays field players who also could receive an arbitration offer within the next 24 hours. I will also make a quick evaluation on their possible chances to remain in the team past December 12th.
Jim Mone / AP
You have to consider both Rays players B J Upton and Jason Bartlett are pretty much another set of “sure things” locks for a contract offer within the next 24 hours. Bartlett has increased both his offensive and defensive worth to the Rays since the first day he lined up at the shortstop position for the team. But considering he might get a huge bump in contract up into the $ 3.3.5 million range in 2010, you can never count out anything until the arbitration contract is faxed to your agent. And everyone, everywhere has their own special opinions on Upton.
I personally can not see this team without Upton in centerfield in 2010. With the flip flopping of people around baseball as to the possible departure of Carl Crawford by the MLB Trade Deadline in late July, Upton is the solid member of the outfield and has increased tremendously over the last two years while learning his centerfield positon “on-the-job”. I truly have a feeling Upton will come into his own in 2010 both at the plate and in the field. Everyone has comments on his running style and his sense of complacency at the plate, but in reality, no one on the Rays is more concentrated and inwardly critical of his own actions as Upton.
But the stark reality is that Rays farm hand Desmond Jennings might just be on the cusp of playing in the Major Leagues, but it will not be in centerfield. Upton will be at the arbitration table for the first time and should get a considerable jump up from his 2009 salary of $ 435,000 to an estimated $ 3.5 million on his first journey through arbitration. It might seem like a good idea by Upton and his agent several years ago to not sign a long-term deal with former GM Chuck LaMar and continue with his norm of 1-year contracts until his arbitration years.
And this leaves us with only three members of the Rays squad still being considered for arbitration to discuss further. The trio left consist of outfielder Gabe Gross and catchers’ Dioner Navarro and newly acquired Kelly Shoppach. I do not think I am going too far out on a limb thinking here that a budget restricted team like the Rays usually do not trade for an arbitration eligible player unless the player could be a solution to a internal problem. And one of the main off season priorities of the Rays this year was their catching situation.
And that is what intrigues me most about Shoppach. Would the Rays possibly go to arbitration with both of their catchers and secure both of them on their 2010 25-man roster, or is one of them(hopefully) being shopped around for a possible new locale right now for 2010? Seriously here,I think Shoppach is a clear power upgrade to Navarro and might possibily be saved by the arbitration alarm clock in the 11th hour. Navarro might not so lucky.
Considering that Shoppach’s estimated 2010 salary ($ 2.1 million) is close in comparision to the estimation for Navarro ($ 2.5 million),I think Shoppach wins a arbitration submission based on his possible upgrade at the plate and his ability to get on base over Navarro. Their catching styles are similar, but Navarro has shown to be a bit lazy this past season behind the plate, or the team would never have traded for Gregg Zaun in the first place late in 2009.
I am thinking that Navarro might be one of the two Rays on the outside looking in after the bell strikes at midnight tonight. And I think there is nobody else to blame here but Navarro. The Rays gave him the steering wheel early in Spring Training by not bringing in a veteran to push him for the first time in his Rays career. But Navarro visually seemed to have gotten more and more lazy on bouncing balls in the dirt and seemed to have lost some concentration and confidence in his game behind the plate. Combine that with his solid decrease in hitting, and you have a formula for possibly being non-tendered tonight.
The lone Rays player left to be considered for arbitration just might be a victim of the Rays farm system and available options that exist within the club. He is a guy I have seen play above and beyond his abilities in his two seasons with the team, but hard cuts sometime have to be made,and Gabe Gross might be the hardest of the Rays decisions today.
You know the team has treasured having him in the lineup for the past two seasons, but youngsters like Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings are knocking at the Major League door to play in rightfield. And if Sean Rodriguez is dominant this spring at second base, it might force a position change for uber-player Ben Zobrist to play in the outfield. The Rays organization is coming to a point where a decision like this is not going to be based on performance, but on an obtainable roster space.
And you know the Rays have tried to find another suitor for Gross, but corner outfielders are a deep position this Hot Stove season, and no one has made a play for Gross. For years Rays fans have know that at some point the team would have an abundance of talented young players in place to force an established player off the Rays roster. And this season, the player elimination hatchet might fall hard on Gross. The Rays decision will not be based on monetary reasons, but on the overflow of talent just below the Major League level.
So within the next 24 hours, there will be cheer and tears for members of the Rays roster. Some players might be faced with the stark reality of looking for another team, while other might be just starting the battle for their positions in 2010. But as the arbitration offer clock winds down, some of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be sweating while others sit calm waiting for calls from their agents and the team. I am guessing that 7 or 8 of the Rays arbitration eligible players will be smiling.
(Fellow Rays blog, Rays Index was the source for my estimated 2010 salarie
s included today on my blog post. You can visit them on their website www.raysindex.com. It was a great help using your sidebar tools to complete this blog…..Thank You).
Chris O’Meara / AP
Coming into Spring Training in 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays might have all five of their rotation spots sewn up before the February 19th reporting date. That would be the first time in franchise history that the team had a solid 5-deep pre-Spring rotation set-up in advance of the reporting date. And that possible starting pitching affirmation, it might not bode well for Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine to crack that line-up in 2010. Because of his up and down moments since his first MLB appearance in 2007, Sonnanstine could be on the outside looking in this year because of the 2009 seasons posted by the Rays three rookie starters.
As of this moment it seems that the Rays pitching trio of starters’ David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis look pretty secure in their fight to again have a rotation spot with the Rays. But as we all know, an early injury, or a fall from grace could make a starting spot suddenly available for Sonnanstine to shine and make the late March decision difficult for the Rays.
But there is a large dark cloud hanging over Sonnanstine right now. The basic fact that Sonny has had problems making adequate adjustments on the mound during games doesn’t guarantee him a spot either in the Bullpen or the rotation. And the odd fact that his pitch selection might be deep, but not overpowering like Price or Davis, or having that extreme downward angle of the 6’9″ Niemann makes him the pitcher on the outside right now.
Since Sonnanstine’s abbreviated 2007 season when he posted a 6-10 record with a 5.85 ERA, Sonnanstine has seen his game prove to again be a rollercoaster ride in regard to consistency. After that personally disappointing 2007 season, Sonnanstine did make the needed adjustments to his game and rebounded with a solid 13-9 record in 2008. But a glaring trend was developing where the hitters’ were beginning to predict his pitch selection, and that hampered his growth as a starter.
Since that 2007 season, Sonnanstine has changed his finger grips on the ball slightly and made some break variations to his pitching, but still his arm angles and pitch speed did not change enough to camouflage his pitch selection to the hitters. His evolution as a starting pitcher worked out great in 2008 when he posted 125 K’s during the season, and brought another element to his game. It was his first time Sonnanstine ever posted over 100 strikeouts in a season during his three year Major League career.
Sonnanstine came into the 2009 season with a new level of confidence and a sense that he could pitch at the Major League level. He earned early praise during Spring Training from Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey, and this new confidence helped him secure the fourth spot in the rotation before the end of March 2009.
But Sonnanstine did not start the season the way either he or the Rays envisioned it. During his first start in Baltimore on April 5,2009, Sonnanstine was in trouble from the first pitch of the game and lasted only 4.2 innings, giving up 8 hits and 5 runs on only 92 pitches. It was not the kind of start of the season that would give him or the Rays, a dose of confidence in his abilities.
From that first start, Sonnanstine began a trend of an up and down season where he posted dismal results one outing, and seemed to rebound in the next. But the fact that he had allowed 18 runs in 19.2 innings during April for the Rays, raised more than a few eyebrows. But the game that seemed to define his 2009 season was the May 27th game on the road against the Indians.
In this contest there were early signs it might be a long night for the Rays. First, they had to endure a two hour rain delay before finally taking the field. Then Sonnanstine immediately got rocked after his squad stakes him an early lead. Sonnanstine got hit hard in the game by the Cleveland hitters’ and lasted only 3 innings while surrendering 8 runs on only 75 pitches.
The Rays stuck by Sonnanstine for another month before finally optioning him to the Durham Bulls (Triple-A) on June 27,2009. At the time of his demotion, Sonnanstine had the highest ERA (6.61) in the American League and the most Earned Runs allowed (60). Sonnanstine’s season total of 7 losses combined with his .305 opponents average put him solidly as the second worst starter in the American League at the time. He had sunk to rock bottom and needed to go to Durham to regain both his pitching and personal confidence.
And Sonnanstine worked on his pitching and regained his confidence and ability to throw strikes. He made 9 starts for the Bulls, which included seven quality starts and a 5-3 record with a 4.40 ERA. He had rebuilt himself as a pitcher and was awaiting a chance to again prove himself to the Rays. He got his shot after the trade of Scott Kazmir to the Los Angeles Angels and came up on September 1st and took Kazmir’s slot against Boston at Tropicana Field.
During the early days of September, Sonnanstine made 3 starts in his first four appearances back up with the Rays, but did not impress the Rays enough to secure that rotation spot for the rest of the season. But in hindsight, the Rays might have been waiting for the Bulls to complete their Triple-A Championship season before bringing up Davis to take Sonnanstine’s spot.
Sonnanstine was subsequently put into the Rays Bullpen and after a spot start against Baltimore in Camden Yards, he made his last three appearances of the season out of the Bullpen as a long reliever. His demotion to the Rays Bullpen was the first time Sonnanstine had pitched out of the Bullpen in his Major League career. The last time Sonnanstine had pitched in relief during his professional career at all was during his rookie debut season with the Hudson Valley Renegades (Rookie level) and the Charleston Riverdogs ( Class-A) in 2004. As a Rays reliever during his 3 appearances in 2009, Sonnanstine had a 5.79 ERA out of the Rays Bullpen.
And the 2010 season might be the final chance for him to make an impression on the Rays coaching staff that he can be a starter in the Major Leagues. I personally think that he will either have to make some radical speed adjustments to his arsenal, or he might again face being sent down to the minor leagues. The Rays still have minor league options left on Sonnanstine, and he might just be used as an “insurance policy” against injury for the Rays this upcoming season.
But what is upsetting to me is the pure fact that this is not a pitcher who doesn’t only throw two or three pitches, but has an arsenal of five possible pitches to use at vari
ed points during a game. His cutter can be thrown from two different arm positions, and is an adequate different approach to his 2-seam fastball. Sonnanstine also mixes in a nice slider, and a 12-6 curveball. And his change-up has developed a nice sinking action to it, but his main problem is that from his fastball (86-90 mph), to his change-up (81-82) there is not a huge amount of velocity difference, which can easily translate into hitter adjusting on the fly to him during an at bat with ease.
But I love Sonnanstine’s work ethic and the way he approaches the game of baseball. He never wears his emotions on his sleeves like Matt Garza, but stays cool and calm on the mound. Sonnanstine has the same off-speed abilities to dominate the plate like James Shields. You just do not win 13 games in an MLB season without knowing how to throw the ball for strikes. But for Sonnanstine to again secure a possible spot at the Major League level, he either has to rediscover that mode of consistency,or he might never get another clear shot with the Rays.
I expect to hear his name surface a few times in trade chatter due to the fact he does have a MLB arm and has minor league options that would benefit a team taking him on and maybe using him in a duo role. But I really do not see him in a long reliever role for the Rays unless they intend to not offer Lance Cormier arbitration in the off season. Sonnanstine’s limited relief appearances aside, Sonny is not a reliever yet at the MLB level. If the Rays did decide to go that direction, he will need time in the minors to adjust his pitching approach in that direction.
So the Rays brain trust must decide what type of role Sonnanstine will play within the Rays organization in 2010. Could he be that MLB experienced insurance policy against possible injury for the team? Or could the Rays consider him expendable with the pitching depth in the minors and trade him away for some catching or possible relief help?
We have around 128 days before the 2010 Rays team reports to Port Charlotte, Florida for Spring Training. As Rays fans have discovered over the past year,anything can happen between that period of time. Rays fans never even anticipated the Edwin Jackson trade coming before it was completed and announced to the media. Could the same happen to Sonnanstine this off season?
Maybe he will be a nice addition to a package deal that could land the team a experienced reliever or catcher? Or maybe the clock has finally stopped ticking and it is his time to possible leave the Rays? 128 days is a long time. But within that time we hope to discover and learn the possible avenues that the Rays could use Sonnanstine in 2010. What do you think the team should do with Sonny?
Brian Blanco / AP
I know a lot of Tampa Bay Rays fans have been a bit anxious and upset at the recent development over the last part of this 2009 season where it seems that Rays Manager Joe Maddon is wearing out the turf from the mound to the dugout sometimes changing a pitcher three times in an inning. For all the clammering and yelling towards the dugout to stop the madness, there is actually a good reason for his “match-up” formula, and the more you really look at the number, the more it seems to make sense in the long run.
Maddon would love to have that classic Bullpen set-up where you have that designated 7th, 8th and closer to round out the game. But with the injury to Troy Percival, and his shutting down his candidate-of-the-day J P Howell, he is apt to continue this wild stroll to the mound over the next 4 games. If you have noticed over the last three games, Grant Balfour right now is the closer-du Jour, and he has come away with three solid saves in the last three games.
Now this doesn’t mean he is going to get any notion of becoming the Rays closer, but the true fact that Maddon does look over the opposing line-up before the game with an eye towards the later innings. And in that time he does do a bit of matching-up on the back of his scorecard based on lifetime averages against some of his guys, and their ability to get outs from left or right-handed batters. And so far in this wild experiment, the prognosis has not been bad.
So let me take the 8th and 9th innings of the game last night and break them down a bit more and see if I can make it a little more easy for all of us to understand when he begins his Bullpen Blitz again tonight during the Baltimore Orioles game. But first off, let me remind you that the pattern does change for every game, and for every batter.
This same pattern might not show up the next four games, or it could even resurface tonight based on the pitching match-ups and the hitters. And Maddon does even look towards the guys that will be on the bench and matches them up as a precaution to them entering the game. So let’s get this guess work started right now:
Starting with the 8th inning, the Rays send out Russ Springer to start the inning to go up against Ty Wiggington. Now tonight is the first time either of them have faced each other in their long careers. This match-up really seems to be based more on a feel by Maddon than an actual scientific fact since Springer is allowing lefties to hit .342 against him this season, and righties hitting .268. But he gets Wiggington to line out to centerfield for the first out.
Russ Springer relieved by Lance Cormier.
Cormier comes into the game with a sub .250 average aginst both left and right-handed hitters this season. He is one of about three Rays relievers that Maddon might have total confidence in him battling against guys from either side of the plate. Cormier’s actual stats are that he is allowing lefties ti hit .243 against him, and right-handers have hit .255 against him this season, and both side have 3 home runs this year. First up is Nick Markakis, who was 0-2 against Cormier this season before taking the fourth pitch and getting an infield single off a hard shot to Reid Brignac at shortstop.
Up next is Luke Scott, who has faced Cormier two time prior to tonight and has only gained a walk from Cormier. Scott ends up hitting a fly ball out to leftfield to get the second out of the inning. Next up for the Orioles is young catcher Matt Wieters. In 2009, Cormier has faced Wieters only one time, and that was here in Tropicana Field when Cormier struck him out. In tonight’s contest Wieters takes 3 pitches before he grounds out to Ben Zobristat second base to strand Markakis on base and end the scoring opportunity for the Orioles.
Dan Wheeler relieves Cormier
Maddon sends his veteran reliever Dan Wheeler to the hill to begin the 9th inning. The first man to face him tonight will be Melvin Mora. The reason that Wheeler is on the mound is because right-hander, like Mora are hitting only .154 against him in 2009, and against the first batter in his appearances, Wheeler is allowing them only a .161 average. But a side note to worry about in this at bat is the fact that Mora is hitting .500 off wheeler this season. But Maddon is rolling the dice on that .161 average allowed to the first batter Wheeler faces tonight. On the second pitch, Mora singles to leftfield.
Randy Choate relieves Dan Wheeler
Maddon then quickly gets Wheeler off the mound since the next batter is leftie Michael Aubrey. The reasoning here is that wheeler is allowing lefites to hit at a .310 clip against him in 2009. So on comes Randy Choate to face the young leftie. Choate actually is the perfect guy to face Aubrey as he is allowing lefties to hit only .151 against him this year, with only 1 home run. Choate gets Aubrey to strike out swinging in their only meeting this season.
Orioles Manager Dave Trembley then pinch Hits Lou Montanez for Jeff Fiorentino. And the mind games get to be played all over again by both managers. Montanez has not faced Choate in 2009, but the fact he is a right-hander, and righties are hitting .306 with 3 home runs against Choate gets him an early night for the Rays.
Grant Balfour relieves Randy Choate
Maddon again makes his way to the mound and take out Choate so that Grant Balfour can face the right-hander.
For the season, both right-hander and lefties are hitting sub .250 against Balfour too. He is another one of the three possible guys that Maddon trusts pitching against lefties and righties in an extended outing in a ballgame. And with Montanez, a rightie due up, it is only natural that the Aussie, who is surrendering only a .236 average to righties gets the call. Balfour gets the job dome as Montanez goes down after 5 pitches after missing on a swing for th
e strikeout. For the season, Montanez is 0-2 now against Balfour.
Since Balfour is consistent between hitters from both sides of the plate, Maddon will leave him in the rest of the inning. Next he will face shortstop Cesar Izturis. Balfour has the upper hand on Izturis as he is 0-2 against him so far in 2009. But it is Iztruis, who swings at the first pitch and sends a fly ball to centerfield that B J Upton gloves to end the game. Balfour also recieves his hris save in three games for the Rays and might be the 9th inning guy for the Rays in their final 4 games.
The system emplyed by Maddon makes more sense when you look at the fact he also shut down one of his other great pitchers at getting guys from hitting from both sides of the plate. When he set down J P Howell for the rest of the season, he lost his current closer option, and also lost a pitcher who has allowed righties to hit only .180 against him this season.
Other guys on the bench for the Rays are more situated for spot work the rest of the season. Take for example Jeff Bennett. Right-handers are hitting .333 (7-21) against him this season, and lefties are killing him at a .500 clip (14-28). So his use will be dictated by individual match-ups the rest of the season. Bennett was actually brought onto the squad as a insurance policy for long relief, but he was one of the main pitcher in that blowout last week in Texas.
Dale Thayer was not brought up for his facial hair, but was also considered a insurance policy for any possible problem that might happen with any of the Rays relievers. And it is a good thing they did bring him up, because Chad Bradford is experiencing elbow pains again and is done for the season. But Thayer is also learning the ropes at the Major League level, and has been hit by righties to a tune of a .345 average this season. He does have some good stuff to punch lefties back to a .250 average against him in 2009.
But Bradford has been used only 10 1/3 innings this season as he has been battling injuries. But also the fact he has given up some really gaudy numbers to both sides of the plate this year is another eason he has seen spot appearances this season. Against righties, they are hitting .391 (18-46) against him, and lefties just begin to salivate when he takes the mound as they are hitting a robust .800 (4-5) against him in 2009.
So the match-up scenario used by Maddon right now is the best possible option to try and post a victory every time out for the Rays. It might not make much sense when you are sitting in the stands or watching on the TV that he uses 5 different relievers for a total of two innings. But the end result in the last three games have been victories. This is not to mean that this is going to be a indicator of a system that will be empolyed in 2010.
This match-up system is only being used now out of necessity because we do not have a proven late inning trio to take the Rays from the 7th to the 9th inning every night. The Rays do not have a Mariano Rivera or a Jonathan Papelbon in their minor league system at the time, and might have go outside the organization for one in 2010. And isn’t it ironic that the two best closer in the league tend to be in our division.
Maddon is adapting to the cards he has been dealt, and even if it is frustrating to the guy sitting in the stands, it does have some logic to it all. I also found it frustrating until I began to look at the numbers associated with each reliever and their breakdown against both sides of the plate. Sure it might be all science and a hitter can get a lucky break of a hanging curveball. But the relaity is that the system is working for Maddon right now, and it is producing wins for the team. It is not a cure-all situation, but is a nice substitute measure that he can emply for now until we can again try and shore up the Bullpen for 2010.
What better way to celebrate a series ending victory than take a group of 10,000+ of the Rays biggest supporters to a place in Ybor City that celebrates the kid in all of us. And boy, did we all have a great time and also get a few great moments playing game with and against some of those same guys who took the field that very same afternoon. It is an event I have been looking forward to every since the invitation hit my mailbox, and the Rays Email system must have gone nuts with how fast I responded to the RSVP.
Yesterday was the Second Annual ( hopefully more) Season Ticketholder event at Gameworks in Ybor City. Now if you have never been in a Gameworks, think Dave and Busters on PED’s with a gleaming polished metallic finish that would send anyone into “Kid Mode”. Now I have been to both of these events, and let me tell you this season’s events kicked some royal booty. Missing were some of the Rays stars, but the entire rotation of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann hit the event to show their support to the fans.
But they were not the only ones to come on out and see the masses in this crowded but truly spectacular event put on by the Group Sales Department of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bullpen was also very heavily represented with Randy Choate, Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour, Brian Shouse and J P Howell holding court near the racing games and near the “Dance, Dance Revolution” platform. But not to be forgotten was some of the guys who also play out in the field for the Rays who made the journey over to Ybor City. Ben Zobrist and Dioner Navarro came on out to represent the guys who play in the infield, and Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler also made the event along with B J Upton last night to show the love from the Rays outfield.
But even with people clammering (myself included) to get personal pictures and autographs from the fans, I could see that the guys truly enjoyed their time out with the fans last night. Shouse and Choate were even able to blend in and play a few games before some people noticed they were there last night. But some of the true hits of the night were delivered by the Group Sales Department as they again put on a first class event. From the photo opportunity area where you could be put into a Rays photo, to the awesome stuff given away as door prizes, the event sparkled from the first fan entering the building. And it was great seeing these guys out and about not in uniform and enjoying themselves.
And some lucky fans even got to race or play against some of the players during the night festivities. I remember seeing Kazmir in the back of the Game Room playing an NBA game against a fan and it was a highly contested game with a lot of great plays by both until someone had to lose. But the true hit of the night for me was the fact that 6 foot 9 inch Jeff Neimann got up on the “Dance, Dance Revolution” stage and strutted his stuff. I was in such awe of the event I forgot to pop my camera into video mode and film the entire wild and crazy event. But I have to tell you, once he got the hang of it all, the guy held his own on the dance floor, or platform.
I did not see Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but Rusty, the Rays game day host was remarking (joking) that he was holding a wine tasting seminar in the corner of the bar area. From seeing people like Matt Silverman, the numero uno of the Rays, to Andrew Friedman, the Vice President of Baseball Operations out in the crowd was fantastic. Oh, and Andrew, I truly loved the photo of the top of your head in my picture with Ben Zobrist, but I laughed out loud when I saw it. Some days I have wanted to pick your brain about the team, but never thought I would get a photo of the “brains” of the Baseball Operations group.
But what makes this such a great events is the milling of the Front Office guys and the players and the fans themselves just discussing everything from baseball to the chocolate fountain that is always the highlight of the event. I got lucky enough to be photographed last season at the fountain, but this year I kept an eye out for the camera. Just to see that light blue, dark blue and yellow chocolate flowing out of the top of the fountains crowned with a triangle of baseballs was tremendous.
And again, the food was one of the true stars of the evening. From the beautiful ladies handing me pot stickers or small wrapped tasty morsels, to the cute and personable bartenders, this was a night to celebrate everything Rays. From the hot stations in the front area of the party, to the temporary apps station piled upon the ticket counters, it was a feast made for a king. And if you did not try the roast beef, you missed out on some fantastic meat with a juicy and succulent au jus.
But the evening had to end sometime, and even as it neared 10:30 pm Garza was still laughing and holding court near the back game room. Gabe Kapler had left by then with his two boys, but he was the perfect doting Dad last night. By the time I left, or my card read only 100 minutes left on it, there was a light rain falling outside, but it felt great on the skin after all the sweating I did beating some unnamed pitcher on “Dance, Dance Revolution” score 1 for the old jock. I know I had a tremendous time, and the Group Sales guys and gals have to feel great about this event.
The sheer fact that so many people fit into that small place and left with smiles should be a great indicator of the event. And my ticket rep, Craig Champagne was there from start to finish. I have to tell you a wild story about that night concerning Craig. My game card did not work and I asked him if anyone else had that problem. Well, instead of making me plow my way back to the front, he took the card and return within minutes with a
new one for me to use.
A small minor flaw that night was quickly fixed and repaired like new by one of the Group Sales best guys. Seriously, me not playing shooting and alien-killing games might have put a damper on my night. Then I would have had to sample a few more intoxicating beverages, and enjoy the view. But in the end, I was physically exhausted and sore, was full of great food and spirits and did not want to leave. But as I walked to my car parked in the Centro Ybor Parking Garage I was already flipping through the memories and the sights of the night in my mind.
This season there have been some changes in the Season Ticket realms. Some things have been scaled back,some things have changed,but all in all,this event is still a benchmark of the dedication and the commitment of the Rays to the fans who attend so many baseball games. It was a great environment to see so many people you knew, and would get to know have a great time by themselves and with their kids. I know I am already with a red marker ready to circle the 2010 date to do it all again.
So here we are on the day of the 2009 MLB Draft, and the Tampa Bay Rays for only the third time in their history are picking in the lower levels of the draft board today. People forget that this is not the first time the Rays have actually picked near the bottom of the First Round of the Draft. Sure we have had our share of non-winning seasons, but prior to our first professional game in Tropicana Field as the Rays, we had a few lower level (pick 29-32) draft picks.
The Rays did have some lower picks prior to our first ever game against the Detroit Tigers on March 31, 1998. How many people remember that we picked 29th in 1996 when the Rays selected their first amateur player in the draft, outfielder Paul Wilder. The Rays actually did get a bit snake bitten in that years draft. Marc Topkins of the St. Petersburg Times wrote about Wilder in 2005, “Wilder was a big man who was supposed to be capable of doing big things. But the attention that came with being the Rays first first-round pick in 1996 far exceeded the production. Wilder couldn’t stay healthy, never made it out of Class A and was released in 2002.”
Be he was not the latest pick the Rays ever had in the Amateur Draft. That honor will go to former Alabama native pitcher Jason Standridge who was selected with the 31st pick in 1997. Unlike Wilder, Standridge did make it to the major leagues with the Rays and made his major league debut on July 29, 2001 when Standridge came on in relief for 1/3rd of an inning during a 2-0 loss to the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas. He did end up pitching in 21 games for the Rays before leaving the team In 2009, Standridge was assigned to the Florida Marlins minor league camp on March 19th, but is not currently on the roster of their Triple-A affiliate, the New Orleans Zephrs.
But the late First Rounds selections that the Rays have gained from trades with other teams actually worked out great for the Rays. Russ Johnson, who the Rays obtained in a trade with Houston was the 30th pick of the 1994 draft. Johnson ended up a valuable utility player for the Rays, basically a clone of Ben Zobrist from 2000-2002 for the team. Johnson last played in 2007 for the New York Yankees for 22 games.
Pitcher Nick Bierbrodt, who was acquired by the Rays from the Arizona Diamondbacks was the 30th selection of the 1996 draft. He ended up pitching for the Rays at the major league level only in 2001. Most people who follow the Rays know that he started to have some control problems and he was sent down to the Class-A Charleston Riverdogs for some mechanical work. While down with the Riverdogs, Bierbrodt and some friends went to a local drive-in for some late night food and he was shot in the chest and right arm by a man on a bicycle in the drive-through line. He did rehabilitate from the injuries suffered in the encounter, and last pitched for the Texas Rangers in 2004.
And the last traded player in the later part of the first round to play for the Rays is current reliever J P Howell, who was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 2004 draft. Howell has developed from a leftie starter to one of the most proficient members of the Rays Bullpen in 2008, and is continuing that tradition in 2009. He currently is the youngest member of the Rays Bullpen and 14 of his last 16 outing have been scoreless. He is currently riding a streak of 12 straight appearances with a strikeout in 2009. And his 2.17 ERA is second only to Lance Cormier on the Rays Bullpen staff.
But picking that low in the first round of the player’s draft can have its advantages. Some teams might be scared away from certain agents representing clients, and some players might be leaning towards maybe attending college for a few seasons before finally deciding to play professionally in the major leagues. For that reason, sometimes the lower section of the First Round can bring about bargains and also can make some of the better athletes fall towards the Rays pick at 30th today.
Some of the players that are being picked by the Rays in mock drafts vary, but the team has said it is going to focus on either a catcher, or the best athlete available at the pick. So the team will be able to do a lot of checking and double checking before they make their section about two hours after the draft starts in Secaucus, New Jersey today. After their pick at 30th, the Rays have to wait until the 78th pick of the draft to again select a player unless a trade can be worked out during the draft. Rays Scouting Director RJ Harrison has a bevy of 16 possible names that might fall into the Rays lap at the 30th pick.
“We have a pretty good target group,” he said to the St. Petersburg Times. “You hope like heck (the other teams) leave us a couple of the names toward the top of our list.” Baseball America most recently projected them to take Bonita (Calif.) High shortstop Jiovanni Mier. Catchers Tommy Joseph (Horizon, Ariz., High) and Tony Sanchez (Boston College) and Midway (Texas) outfielder Todd Glaesmann have also been suggested. But several mock drafts conducted online have the Rays looking for other options at this spot. MYMLBDraft.com has the Rays selecting Wil Meyers, a 6’3″ catcher/3B out of Wesleyan Christian Academy with their first pick.
But then you have other sites like MVN.com have the team selecting left-handed pitcher Andrew Oliver out of Oklahoma State University with that first selection. That pick looks more like the site is thinking of the best athlete available for the team at that point in the draft selection process. But then again, the site MLBDraftSite.com has the Rays selecting another player entirely from any of the players listed above. They have the team taking A J Pollack, a Outfielder/2B out of the University of Notre Dame with the first pick. This site also goes so far as to pick the second selection (78th) as Robbie Shields, a shortstop out of Florida Southern College. This pick is a bit unusual as the Rays picked a shortstop, Tim Beckham with the top selection in 2008.
but let’s let one more website make a guess at the possible Rays selection at about 10:15 pm on Tuesday night. ProspectInsider.com might be the closest so far to the Rays wish list as they have the team taking Tommy Joseph out of Horizon Arizona HS with the first pick. This is also one of the players that the Rays have circled in their books that could still be available at their section spot. the spot is purely speculation until maybe five minutes before you select because you can see the type of players who might have slipped a bit because of injury concerns or maybe functionality for the teams above the R
But I am going to try this speculation thing out for the first time in the MLB draft. I actually have three guys who are staying in my brain right now as possibly falling to 30th and right into the Rays laps. The first is Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez who is from South Florida, but his availability will depend on if the Boston Red Sox want to take the local B C catcher, or maybe float down a bit and take someone in another round. But Sanchez has some great comparisons to his catching style that might entice either club. He plays a lot like Kelly Shoppach, who the Red Sox were grooming for years before he got away and is a success with the Cleveland Indians.
But there is another catcher, even if he is a High Schooler who might be wetting the Rays whistle right now. He might not even fall this far, but it might be based on what the Red Sox do with the 28th pick if this catcher is even still on the board when the Rays name is called. California prep catcher Matt Stassi has been labeled as a clone of the rockies current catcher Chris Ianetta. He is a great hitting catcher who has a fluid swing and his demeanor behind the plate is impressive . He would be a great addition to any team that selects him. But I am not sure if he will fit the Rays bill at 30th. I still have questions on his stamina and his ability to control a pitching staff, but those skills can be learned also on the job.
I am going to go out on a limb and agree with the Baseball America pick of Wil Meyers for the Rays at the 30th pick of the First Round. The North Carolina High Schooler might have one of the truest swings in the draft at his current level. But along with his possible catching skills he could also be converted into an outfielder or maybe even a future corner infielder for the Rays. He is a solid runner who has some speed and should be sitting there pretty for the Rays to select him. The one thing that might separate him from the other two catchers is his versatility to maybe adjust to another position based on his speed and ability beyond just behind the plate. Because he is such a great athlete, he might just be the perfect fit for the young aggressive Rays.
The biggest advantage the Rays have this year is the fact they are noting going to have to pay the huge signing bonuses out that they have in the past to their First Rounders. Meyers will still get a good lion’s share of some bonus money, but it will not be like the money given to David Price in 2007, or Beckham in 2008. This should help the Rays financially be able to maybe entice some other great players down in the later rounds of this years draft. This picking of a player who might or might not be there with the 30th pick is like a Las Vegas Roulette table. But I am putting my money on the Carolina Blue and holding my breath that the team selects Wil Meyers tonight.
Just Wasn’t Their Day
Every once in a while a game comes around that reminds you that nothing is guaranteed in life. Well yesterday, in front of a Fox Television audience, the rest of the country found out what we already knew in the American League East division. Ever game is a battle, and even when you think you can win, you can lose. I really never thought we might have “parity” in baseball the way the NFL has weaned its teams towards. But in the AL East, even with the gigantic payrolls and the talent for days, the division is probably tighter today than it has even been.
There is not clear cut winner or loser anymore, it has been refined and designed down to the simple fact that the team with the highest score will win in the end. And that is the way it should be, it should not be decided by the pencil pushers or even the guys with the microphones protruding out of their faces, it should be decided by those 9 men on the field against that guy at the plate every at bat of the contest.
We are closer to that in the AL East. When you have a team that was predetermined to be a cellar dweller manning the second spot just a click away from the favorite, it is time to believe everyone is equal until the last out. When you have a pitching staff that has been destroyed by injuries but rebuilds itself within its own minor league system to emerge with more victories than you can count on your two hands, it is time to believe in parity. Who care if $ 2 billion dollar stadiums still need fine tuning, these squads within our division are hungry, and the plate is full for them right now.
With the AL East getting center stage in the East of the Mississippi for most viewers, it was a time for either the Rays or the Red Sox to proclaim dominance in the division. Even though Red Sox Nation might be mourning a loss, they should also rejoice in the game gave more validity to the fact we might have the ultimate division in baseball right now. The Rays showed why they can not be taken solely on their record by bashing 17 hits on the day. They also continued their stranglehold on Red Sox starter Jon Lester, who used to handle them like a rag doll.
The bevy of teams in the MLB also have this passion and skill, but still lack that personal challenge stage that besets every Red Sox vs Rays battle lines. Both teams know that to win this division, you have to conquer the elite first. The Rays have yet to even play their first contest against the Toronto Blue Jays, and some say that is why they are off to their big start in 2009. The Rays do not play their first game against the Blue Jays until June 29th. Here we are in one of the most closely competitive divisions in baseball, and the defending divisional champs do not play one of their first games of the season against their nemesis divisional foe until almost the All-Star break.
Not to be outdone is the fact that the Blue Jays also are coming to Boston on May 19th for their first run at the Red Sox in 2009. So as you can see, even if we do have the division right now, the aspects and the smoke-and mirrors designed by the MLB schedulers make the division look a bit more one-sided than it truly is right now. The Blue Jays only played the Baltimore Orioles from our division in the first month of games. They have been set up against mostly A L Central and West divisional foes before finally taking on the Orioles in the beginning of May. Even though they did sweep the three-game series against Baltimore, they do not go against another divisional foe until this week when they play a mid-week series at home against the New York Yankees.
So even though the Red Sox might be currently sitting in the catbird’s seat, they also know that their work is just beginning in 2009. With every Red Sox loss to the Rays, they give a valuable key to the division to their southern brethren. And since the Rays have now won 5 out of the first 8 contests, giving them an early leg-up, but it is a long season. Today’s game was an abnormality in these two teams game over the long haul. Every year their is a small segment of games that show a huge disparity of scoring, but so far in 2009, neither team has set a dominance in that category against each other. The only other game this year that featured any type of dominance by either team was the Rays 13-0 shutout the last time Matt Garza met the Red Sox.
For the first time in their divisional match ups, these two teams come in with defined roles, and lofty expectations. No matter what happens tonight, the game will be have a national audience so that the rest of the country can see what all the fuss is about in the A L East. From shore-to-shore, baseball fans will again see the rivalry that some say only exists in our own minds. That these two teams just hate each other and that nothing but a win will do for either team’s skipper. That might be true, but if the Rays do take the game tonight, it will be their seventh straight series they have defeated the Red Sox, both home and in Fenway Park.
That will not sit well with Red Sox Nation. They are accustomed to winning these games, and not settling for the Rays to gain any momentum towards the top of the division this early in the season. People have talked about the dismal start of the Rays as if they were 25-5 at this point last season. After 32 games, they are only minus two wins from their 17-15 record last season at this time. So much has been written, and so much has been anticipated of either team in 2009. For both of these squads to be within 4 games of each other after their collective starts is amazing on its own…but what else would you expect in the A L East.
Rays put on a Hit Show
Coming into the game the Rays were t
he fifth best hitting team in the American League with a .274 team average. Considering they were taking on the second best team in the AL in the Boston Red Sox, it might seem like a tall task. But the Rays have made their living the last two seasons out of beating the odds and winning the game people think they should lose on paper. So coming into yesterday’s game against the Red Sox leftie Jon Lester, the consensus might be a Red Sox victory. This is the first game that Lester will have thrown against the Rays in 2009.
I am not going to dive into the inning by inning blows of this game, but might just pick up on some of the highlights of this contest. We all know the score by now, and that Lester had an early dominance on the Rays before their bats awoke in a big way. Every hitter in the Rays lineup got a hit in yesterday;s game but Gabe Gross, who was on deck for his first at bat of the game when Evan Longoria flied out to left field to end the top of the ninth inning. Five members of the Rays had multiple hits in the game. Carl Crawford led all Rays batters by going 3 for 4, with a walk in the game.
But the biggest winner of the afternoon had to be B J Upton, who went 2 for 5 and had two nice hits during the game. Considering that Upton came into the game with a .156 average, which was the lowest average in the MLB for a starter, the game was a huge success at the plate. For if he is about to breakout and contribute to the Rays offense like he did in 2008, the sky is truly the limit for this team. We have seen a lot of frustration out of Upton at the plate, maybe trying to do too much at times, but his defensive plays have shown he is mentally on his game, and he only needed some plate confidence to get rolling this season.
Kazmir finds his Groove
A lot has been written lately on the good and bad side of Scott Kazmir’s 2009 season. He has always seems a bit out of sorts and fighting something within himself on the mound. It might be a small adjustment to his release point, or maybe a different grip on his slider, but he has always looked a bit off on the mound. During todays game, he finally had a sense of confidence and mound presence we have come to know from Kazmir. His day might not have started on the right foot, but his first inning looked more productive and more controlled then usual.
Even his second inning lead-off slider that Rocco Baldelli put out of the ballpark for his first Red Sox homer was put in a nice spot, but Baldelli made a great swing to take it yard. But there was a small thing I did notice on the mound with Kazmir. He made a effort to look down and always check his footing after releasing the pitch. If you noticed on the television screen, after every pitch he glanced down to see where his landing point was on the mound. Maybe that was the small mechanical point he spoke of after his last outing. He voiced a displeasure in a level of his mechanics in his last post-game interview, and maybe they figured it out and he was just trying to maintain that level of consistency in the start.
But for whatever reason, Kazmir did look good today. He showed composure and also a sense of dominance we have seen missing from him this year. Oh, he has had great starts in 2009, but this one felt different for some reason. He seemed to be watching himself more, testing his stuff and throwing like he did in 2007 with more sliders and that wicked change-up that compliments his fast ball so well. He only threw 5 innings in the game, and only 100 pitches, but he did display a great work ethic today. His strikeout ratio have gone down since his huge numbers a few years, but maybe he is becoming a more complete pitcher who doesn’t have to win every game anymore by extreme measures.
Sunday’s Smatterings of Thoughts
**** Yesterday’s Fox broadcast of the Rays versus Red Sox game seemed to be riddled with some mis-guided comments and observation by the broadcast team. I have always liked Tim McCarver and Dick Stockton as a duo, but yesterday they did make some very smartsy comments that I hope other people also heard during the broadcast.
1) Dick Stockton called Red Sox Jon Lester a “rightie” at one point when discussing the pitcher’s performance in the top of the second inning.
2)Tim McCarver in the top of the third inning said that Boston was the only team that had a winning record against the Rays in 2009. Well, Baltimore currently has a 4-1 record against the Rays in 2009 after winning their first series against the Rays, and splitting the last series against the team.
3) McCarver called Jason Bartlett “Evan Longoria” in the bottom of the sixth inning after he scored on Akinora Iwamura’s sacrifice fly.
**** The Rays are now 7-3 in their last 10 games and have scored 65 runs (6.5 runs per game average). They have combined for 304 hits this year and scored a total of 166 runs. They have also now hit 76 doubles this season, only trailing the Toronto Blue Jays by a single double for the A L lead. On the negative side, they have also now struck out as a team 258 times in 2009 to lead the American League in that category.
**** Jason Bartlett is currently leading all MLB shortstops in batting average (.355) and only one AL shortstop has less errors than Bartlett’s two ( Marco Scutaro , 0 errors). He is also hitting 69 points higher than any other AL shortstop right now. Combined, Bartlett and Longoria are hitting . 359 this season. That is the highest combined average for the left-side of an infield in the majors this season.
**** You might notice a small blurp in the box score today in which the Rays Lance Cormier received a save during his 3.2 innings of work in Saturdays 13-5 win. Even though there was not a threat of him losing the lead, the aspect that he pitched three innings and did not give up a run constitutes a save in the MLB rule book. This is his first save with the Rays for the former University of Alabama closer. in the MLB Rule book under section 10.19, the offcial scorer can give the relief pitcher a “save” if he complete three innings of work on the mound.
The Dye was Cast
I hate to admit it when the umpires get a play right, but the circumstances surrounding their logic and reasoning last night boggled the mind. In the sixth inning last night with Dye at the plate, he hit a ball that seemed to go fair and then Aybar picked it up deep in the hole and threw to first base for a easy put out. At no time did the Third Base Umpire Gerry Davis or Home Plate Umpire Brian Gorman signal a foul ball. It was not until Dye and White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen both started to act like a spoiled children that Gorman even considered the play by having a umpire conference just off the pitching mound.
During that time, I saw Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann do a really intelligent thing. Either he did it himself, or the Rays bench convinced him to roll the ball to the bench area before the umpire broke from their conference. Since none of the four umpires could of seen the ball go off of Dye’s big toe and stream down to third base, they made a judgment call on the action. Well, they got it right by replays, but the reasoning left something to be desired. Why couldn’t they have just left it as ” it went off his foot” and not say another word.
But then Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and argued his case as to the odd reasoning they also gave to giving him a foul ball on the play and not letting the play stand as an out. The umpires called for the ball from the Rays dugout and Gorman decided that the ball did show that Dye did foul it off his foot. But Dye was wearing grey spikes during the at bat and could not have made a mark on the ball. Also obvious to the fans, but not to the umpires was the fact that Dye was using a black maple bat, and could have produced the mark on the ball from the initial contact with the ball.
Maddon was livid at this point because he knew that they had the reasoning wrong on the call. He even went over and pointed to Dye’s spikes to show that he was wearing a neutral color spike that would not provide evidence on the ball. For his action, he gained his 10th ejection as a Rays Manager. But think about this, how can a grey cleat produce a black spot on a ball? I can not. So Maddon was right in his argument. I wonder if Gorman or the rest of the umpiring crew might be on the lookout for similar situations the next three games at the Trop.
But the pure fact that none of the four umpires saw the play, or even made a vocal call on it tends to also throw some doubt on it all. The television replay is the only solid evidence that they got it right, and it was not a reviewable incident. They did get it right, but Maddon did have a few great points that I wonder if they even took a second look at before deciding that it was a foul ball and Dye again stood in the batter’s box. He did end up hitting a single in the inning.
Rays starter Jeff Niemann did start off last night game a lot different than his last outing. Tonight he seemed more in control and had the White Sox double thinking a few times at the plate. And that is a great sign for the Rays. Since his last outing some sites and outside voices have called for the Rays to bring up David Price, but after tonight’s performance, Niemann hopefully has given some confidence to the Rays faithful. His ball did seem to have a bit more snap tonight and his pitch selection seemed a bit more in line with the White Sox tendencies. His breaking pitches also seemed to be hugging the corner better, and his fastball had great movement.
So the Niemann haters had to give props to the tall rightie tonight because he did everything in his power to keep the Rays in the game. He did get hit around a bit for 9 hits in his 6 innings of work, but he only gave up two runs, and both of those was on a Dye homer run in the second inning. He did get into jams and a few pretty hairy situations, but the Rays defense stiffened and got him through it with no problems.
Niemann even helped his own cause in the sixth inning after a Alexi Ramirez short bouncer in front of the plate. the 6 foot 9 inch Niemann got to the ball and as he was tumbling to the turf threw a strike to Dioner Navarro to get the force out at home for the second out of the inning. The tall rightie looked like a down giraffe on the play, but completed it perfectly to record the out. But the biggest point of the night might have been in the first inning when he sent the White Sox 1-2-3 to start the game. That bit of confidence is essential for him this season. Knowing he belongs after the media and fans blasted him after his outing in Baltimore is critical for him.
After tonight’s display, where he also got White Sox second baseman Chris Getz to fly out to B J Upton in center with men on second and third to end the innnig, just adds to his renewed confidence. That might have given him the spunk to again come out in the third inning and shut them down again 1-2-3 in the game. Niemann left the game with it still tied at 2-2, and gave the Rays a chance to win this ball game, but the White Sox came up with a run in the top of the ninth inning to defeat the Rays 3-2.
How much pressure do think this guy has felt in the last 10 days. He was basically the last guy to be told he had a spot on this roster and has fought and clawed his way ever since in the long reliever r
ole. I actually think he has been the most solid member of the Rays Bullpen early in this season. I am wondering if he might just have the type of year that Grant Balfour and J P Howell had last season ans cement himself a rock solid spot in this Bullpen. So far this year he has appeared in 4 games and pitched for a total of 7.2 innings of work.
And in that time he might be the only member of the Bullpen to surrender over 6 hits this season,he has given up 9 hits so far in 2009. He is also the guy who has been on the mound the longest from the Rays Bullpen. And not lost in that translation is the fact he has been on the mound in critical parts of those four games against great hitting ball clubs. Tonight he went 2.1 innings and threw 55 pitches, and gave up the winning run to the White Sox.
In the top of the ninth inning, after getting a quick out from Ramirez, he gave up consecutive singles to Getz and Brian Anderson to put two White Sox on with one out. Josh Fields hit a sharp ball to Jason Bartlett that he hesitated for a moment before trying to get the speedy Fields at first. He did not get Fields, and Anderson scored to put the White Sox up 3-2. The play was very close at first base, and if not for Getz coming in high at second base, he might have gotten Fields with an earlier throw to first. But for the sake of argument here, Cormier has come in for some hairy situations this season and came out smelling like a rose. Unfortunately, tonight was not one of them.
Sometime I marvel at how much torque Carlos Pena gets when he arches his back and leans back a bit on his swing. There have been times this year that he might have had the distance to again homer past the wall, but his back was arched too much and it turned into a towering out high into the sky. But last night during the Rays game, Pena hit a monster foul ball moments before correcting the path and again depositing one in the deep right field stands of Tropicana Field. His foul ball was a monster shot, but his homer was of equal distance, and counted to give the Rays a tie at 2-2 at the time in the contest.
Pena has been consistent since coming to the Rays in hitting the long ball. And paired with Evan Longoria and Pat Burrell, the trio was the Rays best home run hitting product since the deflated “Hit Show” in 2000. And so far this season Pena and Longoria have not disappointed the home team. Right now Pena, Longoria and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers all share the top spot in the American League home run contest with 5 this year. Pena is doing it without the usual protection of Longoria in the lineup, which is a huge factor. In the last two games, Pena has had to fight off breaking balls and sinking sliders to erupt into the home run race.
But with his line-up mate Longoria expected to be back in the lineup tonight, the duo can set their sights on the fans beyond the outfield walls. Pena also sit in a 6-way tie for the second spot in runs batted in ( RBI) this season with 12. Longoria is also in that mess of six tied with Pena in RBI’s. And even with him just beginning to get comfortable at the plate, with Longo and Burrell in the lineup in front and behind him respectfully, Pena is going to see more and more pitches this year for the Rays . This in turn will be good news, because with more pitches thrown to him, his chances of hitting one long and deep increase dramatically in games.
Escot Friday Night Bus Service to Games
Starting tomorrow night, April 17th, ESCOT Bus Lines will add three routes to provide transportation to and from Tropicana Field for Tampa Bay Rays Friday 7:38 pm home games. These three routes will service Pinellas, Hillsborough and Sarasota/Manatee Counties. Here is a tentative schedule of games that will provide the bus service and a example of pick-up points in the three counties served by the Escort service.
Date Opponent Game Time
Friday, April 17 Chicago White Sox 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 1 Boston Red Sox 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 15 Cleveland Indians 7:38 p.m.
Friday, May 29 Minnesota Twins 7:38 p.m.
Friday, June 12 Washington Nationals 7:38 p.m.
Friday, June 26 Florida Marlins 7:38 p.m.
Friday, July 10 Oakland Athletics 7:38 p.m.
Other games could be added to this schedule in the future.
Pick-up Times for Serivce:
5:15 p.m. departure from Tarpon Springs Shopping Mall
5:45 p.m. departure from Country Side Mall
6:30 p.m. departure from Courtside Grille( Carillion Park)
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field
5:30 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 9331 E. Adamo Dr., Tampa
6:00 p.m. departure from Channelside District
6:30 p.m. departure from West Shore Mall
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field
5:15 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 5942 34th St. W., Sarasota
6:00 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 1795 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch
6:35 p.m. departure from Beef O’Brady’s, 8913 US Highway 301 N., Parrish
7:00 p.m. arrival at Tropicana Field
Photo credits: All three photos are from Chris O’Meara / AP