Results tagged ‘ Matt Garza ’

Could September Soreness be effecting the Rays?

 
 
Chris O’Meara/AP

“Dead arm” syndrome, “September soreness”, those are just a few of the titles of the turmoil that is beginning to get a tighter grip on the Rays rotation and Bullpen. And it could not come at a worst time. With the Rays magical number now dwindling down to “10”, this is one of the worst times for your pitching staff to be experiencing any symptoms or even effects of the long Major League Baseball season.


The Rays already saw two of their rotation mates, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann go down for a period of time this season to try and rehabilitate the aliments without a long lay-off. So far the rest and relaxation technique seemed to work some wonders with Davis, but Niemann has last a bit of his stuff in the process.

Before his soreness, Niemann was considered one of the most consistent pitchers on the Rays staff, but since his return he looks a bit bewildered and astonished at his lack of control. Since his return, it has also sometimes seemed like Niemann is shot putting the ball to the plate, or even just trying to place the ball in a quadrant instead of his usual throwing motion. Niemann has gone from a consistent member of the Rays to a question mark right now.

And that does not bode well for the Rays, who will need a fourth starter in place before the playoff begin in a few weeks. This doesn’t mean Niemann is out of the running, but if he keeps up his inconsistent starts, he might just be shut down by the Rays and possibly left off the post season first roster for the American League Divisional Series (ALDS). That would give the Rays the option of letting him rest a bit more, do some side work and possibly be activated before the team has to submit their names for the American League Championship Series(ALCS).

Rob Carr/AP

And with Davis coming out of his time on the Disabled List throwing some of the best ball of the year, he might be the beneficiary of possibly getting that fourth slot. And for all the grip and grumbling Davis has taken for not being as consistent as the Rays other four pitchers, Davis is the only qualifying pitcher among the American League rookies with double digit wins (12). Only Baltimore’s rookie Brian Matusz (122) has more strikeouts than Davis (104). For all of Davis’s possible bouts of rollercoaster outings, he has been able to maintain a pretty impressive end result under the radar.

But Davis and Niemann are the only pitchers the Rays have acknowledged are experiencing soreness, while starter Matt Garza has shown signs of definite problems on the mound, but it seems the Rays are willing to let him sort it out on the mound and not on the bench. James Shields frustrations over the past month could also be a small bout of pain caused by a bit of overwork considering he has topped 200+ innings over the past two season, and maybe his arm finally has reached his limit right now.

The lone member not to show any adverse signs of the fatigue and demand of the long season right now is David Price. He has looked consistent and actually seems to have strengthened a bit as the innings pile up this season. But the aliment can come on quickly, and are the Rays throwing the dice right now hoping that Price doesn’t hit his limit before the Rays secure their second post season berth.

To have Price excluded from the playoff roster even for one series could be disastrous. But with the team possibly having to go with their usual starting five up until possibly their last week of the season, when could the Rays rest Price?


 

And suddenly, a few members of the Rays Bullpen have also started to show a bit of signs of fatigue and dead arms of their own. Over his past two appearances Dan Wheeler, who has usually been one of the consistent cogs in the Rays late inning machine has given up Home Runs, and also contributed towards two Rays losses. Could Wheeler have hit the proverbial wall this season after being a consistent piece of the puzzle for so long.

Over the last 7 days Wheeler has appeared in 3 contests, last 1 innings and posted a 18.00 ERA. That is not the signs of a consistent set-up man, but could be an indication Wheeler is feeling some fatigue right now.


You have to also wonder if Joaquin Benoit might be about to hit his own fatigue wall. Benoit made a miraculous comeback this season after surgery to pace this Rays Bullpen along with Wheeler for so long, but could his limits also being coming soon? For most of the season his ERA stayed below the 1.00 mark, but recently it has been pushed up to the 1.46 Era mark. This is not to say he is experiencing any fatigue, and is a key component of the Rays late inning brigade. Should Benoit also maybe be used sparingly over the last 15 games, or throw caution to the wind and hope for the best?

It is admirable that Shields and Garza are trying to fight the good fight on the mound and get through this without causing strife in the Rays rotation. But could their problems on the mound actually be causing a rippling effect through the pitching staff? We know that the minute the Rays secure their post season invitation the fans will see more of Andy Sonnanstine and possibly another pitcher (probably not Jeremy Hellickson) taking a start or two to give some of the usual starters, like Price a short breather.

 

But is it worth rolling the dice right now with the health and well being of your starters to get to that magical number plateau, then sit them down for the post season? And with that in mind, if the Rays do have to go late into the last week of the season with their primary starters, could that have been effected by this plague of “September soreness” and “Dead arm” syndrome? You can’t shut them all down right now, but can a shorter leash be attached for the rest of the season, or possibly we see a quick shutdown of the usual rotation after the Yankee series?

Price is simply “Money”

 
 
Getty Images

I am not sure why it is that in baseball, everyone seems to have to have a nickname. For some ungodly reason they have to have a secondary name plastered to them to solidify their inner baseball being, plus the fact that inside jokes tend to run the gambit here. They can be as simple as a name play on someone’s name, or could be a direct correlation to an event within the sanctum of the baseball society, but everyone has to have that ” alter ego” to play the game.

On the Tampa Bay Rays there is the names like “Big Game” (Shields) or “Zorilla” (Zobrist) and the always cool and sophisticated “‘Los”. I mean every player that is on the Rays roster has some sort of moniker pushed onto them by either the fans, media or even team mate, and eventually it begins to stick and they respond when you callout these names to them. Some take some hard work into the background stories like “Bossman Junior“( Upton) or even “Dirtbag” (Longoria), but after the long search and research about these names, you see a level of respect and admiration thrust upon the names and the players you might not initially thought would be possible.

But then you get the clever ones who partake in a more intellectual attempt at procuring their names to maybe use a dual advantage like Wade Davis acquiring the number 40 jersey so you could use his initials and his jersey number to thrust up a kinship to America’s #1 lubricant ( WD-40). Then for some odd reason names also tend to evolve during a player’s career and get adapted to define a moment or action that characteristic to that player like the “Spitting Cobra” for the persistent spitting of resin from Rays starter Matt Garza’s mouth.

But then there is the opposite effect of some of the shy members of the team that get adopted their natural state of origin like the “Tall Texan” (Niemann). Even the staff have their own nicknames and coy little turn of phrase namesakes like “Sugarbear” (Ramos), the “Professor” (Maddon) or even “The Enforcer” (Cursi). But that is what you expect from a group of people who are around each other for 162 games a year, plus Spring Training, and hopefully a month of great postseason action.

But there is one member of the Rays who has gotten a name attached to them that I do not totally agree with at all. For some reason the media has pushed the “King” label onto this player when a more apt name can be devised and should be attached to his monetary persona. I really think attaching “King” to the front of Rays pitcher David Price’s name is a bit too…simple. And for the sake of argument, Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez had it first, and fit’s the crown more right now.

 

With that in mind, then it is time to furnish Price with a more honorable moniker that fans, media and even his team mates can attached to his game persona and we all begin the long task of making sure it stays firmly on his presence for a long, long time. Most people know about Price’s obsession with the South East Asia delicacy known as Pho`. The body and broth of this amazing soup dish can be complex but simple with the addition or subtraction of its numerous ingredients. I know I heard a long oratory once where Price commented on a Pho` he got while the Rays were in Seattle, and it immediately pushed me towards a Chef and one of his common phrases as the perfect name for Price.


Guy Fieri is the host of the Food Network shows “Guy’s Big Bite“, and the acclaimed series “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” , which I consider one of the best food shows ever to be created…bar none. With that in mind, I think we need to dissect the “King” that so many have attached to Price’s baseball persona and infuse another name that also speaks to one of Fieri’s most astounding phrases. It is a phrase that has taken in by the ethnic disparity of America and has been embraced and nurtured to become a part of our culture all with five little letters.

The Fieri Flavortown dictionary defines this special word as being ” the top, providing a cranial obsessive formulation of superlatives and taste sensations that evoke a phrase of mass ingestion” . This phrase has been known to apply to food, an activity and even a sensual nature comparable to the human form. It is perfect the be reflected as a new Price nickname. And above all, it has a similar correlation to Price’s name that will only grow huge as his career evolves from today.

Ladies and gentleman, boy and girls, I give you my new nickname for the southpaw who has taken us to new pitching heights within the Rays Republic and also strikes a chord with our heartstrings. My new choice for a nickname for man who could possibly be in the running for the 2010 Cy Young Award is…..(drum line music)…..”Money“.

And if you really about it, ever since Price was selected as the First Pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, he has been banking and accumulating interest from fans, players and even small baseball fans into producing a windfall of pitching and inspirational moments. Price has simply been “Money” since the moment he put on a Rays uniform. How easy could this new nickname be adapted to Price as a further illustration to the total effect and admiration and respect the baseball community has for this budding left-handed star.


Nicknames can be a true defining moment into a person’s personality and character. Just because Charlie Brown had a friend named “Pigpen” doesn’t mean he was defined by his surrounding cloud of filth and dirt. He also played a pretty mean third base on Brown’s baseball team. Some nicknames can be attached to a person to denote a negative or subversive memory in our daily consciousness pertaining to that individual.

But for some reason, “Money” just seem to perfectly fir the persona and the perception of Price to me. Money grows in value, has times of influx and change, but always ends up coming out on top. David “Money” Price….A name the entire Rays Republic can bank on to get the Rays through another postseason market of fluxuating circumstances with huge dividends.

Matt Garza….Mind Freak?

 
 
Lloyd Fox/Balti Sun
Bravado and baseball seem to go together like a ball and a glove. They both have their rightful place in the scheme of things, and both can immediately set the tone or environment for the way the game will be played. So it is not rare that once in a while a player, or even a pitcher will spout out their wisdom through their vocal chords instead of first proving their notions out on the field of play.

And that same instance happened recently during the lull between Batting Practice and before Rays starter Matt Garza took the mound this past Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles. Garza, who gave up an uncharacteristic 4 Home Runs during his last outing against the Orioles let off a full head of his internal steam by telling some of the beat reporters encircling the Rays clubhouse looking for a story that he wanted to shove it (the ball) down their (Orioles) throats” during his upcoming outing.

And after Garza’s comments, reporters immediately sought out a member of the Orioles for their comments. Garza ended up actually getting a pretty unusual figure in his corner for his outrageous pre-game comments. Orioles Manager Buck Showalter actually understood the broad shouldered intention and the competitive nature and passion of Garza’s statements, and basically shrugged off the statements as someone just letting off the steam of a bad prior outing with a few choice words.
Showalter told a swarm of reporter’s before Friday night game:

“There’s a lot of people that feel that way they just don’t say it publicly. So what’s the difference? A lot of them feel that way. Certainly you got a pitcher (Garza) that was a real break from the norm. Pitchers do have a memory plus guys that pitch once every fifth day like that. I think it’s something a lot of guys feel. I think the difference is from what you tell me, and what I’ve been exposed
to, he just did it publicly. It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

Surprising to me was the way Garza seemed to surprise some players amongst the Orioles with his pre-game comments. Here was a power pitcher who came into that night’s game as one of the most frequent fastball hurlers in the American League, who suddenly went another direction and threw more breaking balls for strikes during his outing than almost any other time in his brief Major League career.

 
Elaine Thompson/AP

Could Garza have actually been trying to provide a few tasty and misguided morsels for the Orioles to digest with the Orioles hitters more than eager to get to the plate hoping that Garza threw his heat towards the plate, but instead he circumvented his usual style and went 180 degree against his norm by throwing mostly off-speed and breaking pitches. Could Garza have provided a little incentive for the Orioles to come out looking for his fastball, and instead Garza gave them a dose of not too subtle reverse psychology that worked to his advantage with flying colors.

Might Hickey and Rays Manager Joe Maddon instituted a little psychological bait and switch by circumventing Garza’s game plan by throwing a large dose of breaking stuff during that night’s outing?
I want to believe that the Rays game plan mysteriously changed after Garza’s hostile comments, but I can clearly see it being a clever diversion by the spitting Cobra and his Manager to bolster his increasing frustrations to his opposition and get the Orioles hitters to expect fastballs instead of feasting on a hard diet of breaking pitches all evening.

I also know that firmly in the back of his mind, Garza knows that his future Rays starts for the rest of the season might be uncharacteristically limited to about a 100-pitch count and may have actually been a remote cause of the whole nasty scenario. Garza has an “old school” pitchers mentality of wanting the ball every 5 days, and that might be limited in his starts with a possible playoff berth on the horizon. When Garza approached the predetermined 100-pitch mark, Rays Manager Joe Maddon immediately came out of the Rays dugout to replace Garza.

This action immediately sparked another eruption of internal frustrations that ultimately exploded within Garza as he suddenly began to walk off the pitching mound even before his Manager made it out there. You could see the dissolution in both Garza and Maddon’s faces as each passed each other on the grass section of the infield. Both showed visual signs of mutual frustrations by each other’s actions and reactions, and Maddon immediately headed straight for his emotional pitcher to resolve the issue right away upon re-entering the Visitor’s dugout.

 
Mike Fuentes/AP

This is not to say there was not a highly volatile frustration level burning within both of them at that moment because their body language as they talked near the end of the dugout showed that both were open and responsive to each others opinions but highly irritated . Either way, this will not be the last bulletin board fodder provided by a player or pitcher with the game dwindling down and the pressure firmly steeping higher and higher nightly. More and more with the game moving towards zero we will hear snippets and muses escaping from the sanctums of the clubhouses.


For some odd reason I think Garza ended up heading into the Rays clubhouse after last night’s game with a wicked smile across his face. Who knows for sure if Garza pulled a fast one on the Orioles, or if the sharp mind of Maddon changed the course of the game after Garza’s comments. Either way, it was a “W”, and the Rays became another step closer to the Rays clinching their second playoff berth. It could have been a ruse, or it could have been a preamble of emotions and pressure building up among the Rays with the goal in sight.

I loved Showalter’s last comments on Garza’s pre-game outburst:

“That stuff’s real short lived. But in today’s world I bet you somebody here has already asked our players about it. and between the internet and friend and buddies and whatever, there’s not many secrets here.”

Showalter honestly gets it.

 

The Red Sox are Coming, The Red Sox are Coming!

 
 
Chris O’Meara/AP
You could just sense that something was coming. Your ears would begin to burn and vibrate with increasing velocity, and you could just feel the barometric pressure beginning to rise the minute the Red Sox plane landed. This was going to be the series where the Red Sox laid it all out on the Trop’s turf and by heck or high water would make their ultimate 2010 stand to reclaim a spot in the 2010 playoffs.

At first you were not sure if it their first attack was an ambush at you from the Northeast, or maybe a flanking move from their Spring home in the South (Fort Myers), but you knew that the Red Sox Nation’s spirits were going to be flying sky high the minute they opened the doors for this decisive 3-game series. And you know every swing and every pitch will have viewers in the seats in at home pulsing towards the television feeling every ebb and tide of this series this weekend.

With the Red Sox sitting just beyond the Rays grasp right now in their own divisional fight, it is imperative that they gain ground this weekend, or finally face the horrific truth that they will need allies to get back into either the American League East race, or get a helpful nudge into the American League Wild Card top spot. With word spreading like wildfire that Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who has been a thorn in the Rays side all year pretty much done for the year, another viable weapon is taken out of the Red Sox arsenal.

And with around 35 games to go before the end of this season, the Red Sox will have to start an incredible push of possibly going on a unheard of 20+ winning streak, combined with some timely Rays losses to again be in a visible position to fight another day after October 4th. So what are a few key situations to keep in mind during this weekend series?

Chris O’Meara/AP

Red Sox Starters versus Rays Offense.

Rays have hit the combined Red Sox pitching staff with some consistency this season. But hold only a .226 opponents batting average against Boston this season. The key elements will be how the Boston starters hold the top of the Rays line-up plus adjust their pitching throughout the game. B J Upton is the only Rays hitter to hit more than one Home Run against Red Sox pitching this season, but the Rays have been patient and posted 53 walks.

Evan Longoria is not having a tremendous year versus Boston pitching this season, but has been on a bit of an offensive tear lately, which could work into his favor. With Carlos Pena now back behind Longoria, teams will have to pitch to Longoria more “straight-up” than pound his wrists and outer zones with the ball. Carl Crawford is definitely someone the Red Sox will want to keep off the base paths, but he has gone 8-23 (.348) at Tropicana Field this season against Boston with 13 total bases.

But in Boston’s favor is their first strategic move of the series, even before they landed in Tampa Bay when they scratched Daisuke Matsuzaka who was experiencing “back stiffness” on Wednesday and instead penciled in Jon Lester to start Friday night’s game. Granted, if you want someone with more spine, I would go to Lester too. The move might seem a bit hasty to some, but Lester holds a seasonal .182 opponents batting average over the Rays head, and a .052 ( 1-19) mark hitting in his only start in the Trop this season.

With a more solid chance to take a win in the first game, the Red Sox have pitcher Clay Buhholz ready to go Saturday night and holds a .261 average against the Rays this season. Combine that with 8 Rays strikeouts in their 23 plate appearances and you get a pretty provocative one-two punch to begin this series. But the problem is that this is a three game series, and John Lackey has not performed all that well within the roof of Tropicana Field this season. Lackey might be the Wild Card entry in this weekends games as the Rays hit him for a .308 average with 4 walks in his only Trop. Appearance.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays runners against Red Sox catchers

With the Red Sox catching crew decimated by wild injuries right now with former Texas backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia out with a leg infection and Jason Varitek not able to run effectively yet on his injured right foot they are down to Victor Martinez and ex-Ray Kevin Cash. The Rays have stolen 22 bases off the Red Sox in 2010, and have only been nailed once by a Red Sox catcher. With the Rays possibly amping up their usual small ball offense this weekend, being a catcher on this Boston team right now might be one of the most stressful spots outside of their Bullpen. But the Red Sox also can not forget Ben Zobrist (6 SB) or Carl Crawford (7 SB) at any moment this weekend.

Another unknown factor for the Red Sox to consider is that the Rays have garnered 53 walks off the Red Sox in prior games, and the Rays now have more patient hitters like Dan Johnson and Matt Joyce in the line-up to bolster the Rays chances of base runners. This segment of the weekend series might play out the biggest in the end. If the Red Sox can stagnate the Rays running game along with their small ball tendencies, it could be a huge blow to the Rays usual game plan.


 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays starters versus Boston Hitters

This is another area where the Red Sox might have a bit of the surprise factor as they started three outfielders in their game on Tuesday night who have limited at bats against the Rays this season. Former Rays prospect Darnell McDonald has appeared in only 5 contests between the two teams, but sports a .455 average in 3 games at Tropicana Field this season. Daniel Nava has played in four Rays vs. Red Sox games and is hitting for a .333 average with a triple. The third member of their unknown outfield from that night, Ryan Kalish has not faced the Rays this year.

But even with weapons like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis sidelined until 2011, this Rays pitching staff will have to be cautious. The Red Sox still have their power options in their line-up with both Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz, who both have 2 Home Runs in the Trop this season healthy and ready to go Friday night. But the Rays are also sending their best weapon to the hill on Friday night to combat the Red Sox bats.

 

Rays Pitching will have to “Set the Tone”

American League Cy Young hopeful David Price, who has held the Red Sox to a .258 average in his only 2010 start against Boston on July 7th at home before the All-Star break. Working in Price’s favor is that in that lone start against Boston this season, he posted 10 strikeouts in the game. But Price has been more impressive since the All-Star break and this Lester versus Price match-up might be a pitcher’s duel until someone blinks.


Buchholz against Garza will have the same effect as the Lester vs. Price match-up in that two very selective pitcher will be wheeling and dealing until someone leaves a ball up and over the plate. And that was the case in Garza’s only start against Boston this season. He got rocked with 4 Home Runs in the outing and gave up 13 hits and 11 runs in the Red Sox’s 11-3 spanking of the Rays back on May 26th. But Garza has seemed more in control of his pitches in recent outings and better equipped for this pressure filled match-up.
Last, but not least will be James Shields coming in on the Nationally televised ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast against Lackey.

Shields has had his up and down moments recently, but he always seems to have a special 6th gear for Boston games. Shield has only faced the Red Sox three times in 2010, but held them to 4 hits and 2 runs and a .143 average in his only start against them at Tropicana Field on May 26th. Working in Shields favor is he is 2-1 against Boston this season and has held Boston to no Home Runs at home.


This series is going to be a bit of a :do or die” scenario for the Red Sox. They do not want to have to rely on any of the other American League East rivals to help their cause. This series might be all about the pride and the resolve of the Red Sox to show they can overcome and set the Rays down to get back into the Wild Card race.

If the Rays were to slip past Boston and sweep them in this home series, it could effectively put Boston near the double digit mark behind the Rays. This is going to be a great series, and one worth watching on ESPN on Sunday night.

Could the Shields Era be Coming to an End Soon in Tampa Bay?

 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

The number 55 can be symbolic to a number of people. We all know it is in the title of the song by musician Sammy Hager, “I Can’t Drive 55!”. We all know it was the posted National speed limit designated by huge signs along the nation’s Turnpikes and Interstates for a huge portion of our lives. Some gaming enthusiasts also know the number is associated with an astute “Call of Duty” clan of seasoned perfectionists who fight their battles on television screens everywhere.


The number “55” within the realm of the Tampa Bay Rays history books holds a very unique place, but it is also a dangerous place. Going into Monday’s night game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, the Rays would collectively bear witness to seeing the current Rays All-Time leader in victories, and Angels Starter, Scott Kazmir battle to preserve Kazmir’s weakening hold on the Rays All-Time career mark currently set at, you guessed it…55.

Kazmir will oppse the Rays in that contest against his former Rays teammate and friend, James Shields, and with a Shields win, Kazmir will have to acknowledge another part of his short legacy with the Rays will fall. It is extremely unusual for a pair of young guns like Kazmir and Shields to be fighting for the right to hold the Rays All-Time career mark. It does seems like such a low, low number, this “55”, but the solid reality is that life as a Rays pitcher does not always have a solid foundation or expanding future.

There can be several reasons for this, but the biggest is simply that the dollar signs sometimes makes a Rays pitcher a trade commodity way before his pitching expiration date. Recently, Shields has begun to hear the increasing mumbles and ground level grumbles around the Rays ballpark that he might be nearing the ultimate end of his long reign as the Rays King atop the Rays rotation. We soon forget as Rays fans, just how fast and short the escalation of the pitching exiting process here in Tampa Bay.

For a firm illustration of past quick exodus of the Rays winning pitchers’, you only have to look at the next four slots within the Rays career victories list to see former names of Rays pitchers like Victor Zambrano (35) Esteban Yan (26), and Albie Lopez (26) to show the Rays have not held onto their pitching stars for very long. Zambrano was traded for Kazmir, but when Zambrano left the Rays, he was the team’s career leader in victories.

Funniest part is that Shields is not even the highest paid pitcher currently on the Rays roster. That designation goes to teammates Rafael Soriano ($7.25 million), Dan Wheeler ($ 3.5 million) and fellow starter Matt Garza ($3.35 million). Shields will jump to $ 4.5 million for the 2011 and be in the current Top four of the returning members of the Rays roster. That high salary by itself could become Shields downfall. Sonnanstine (29 wins) who trails Shields in the Rays active victory tour will only see his salary rise to possibly $ 1.5 million due to his first stint at salary arbitration.

 

But it might be another Rays teammate that makes Shields expendable. Garza’s estimated salary arbitration has him garnering a possible $ 5.25 million salary for 2011, and that total could send the Rays searching high and low for a team willing to take on Shield’s and his 2011 salary. In 2011, Shields could find himself just like Kazmir, on the outside looking in at the next wave of Rays pitchers who will strive to take his name off the Rays pitching mantle. Shields has also not done himself any favors recently with some of his erratic pitching, and clouds of doubt have begun to fly all around the stands as to Shield’s effectiveness.


Surely the pitcher who has logged over 200+innings over the last two years and has been one of the only Rays pitchers’ not to go down for the count on the DL will be spared from this worry. But can the Rays gamble that same level of consistent return again in 2011? On the positive side of the equation right now is two solid performances where Shields won twice, plus he logged 7+ innings for just the second time this season. Maybe Shields had a bit of a dead arm and instead of complaining he fought through it and has gone 5-2 now over his last 7 starts. The signs are there that Shields might have found his second wind in 2010 and that we should not count him out…just yet.

Still stuck firmly in the back of my mind was that horrendous day in Toronto when Shields surrendered 6 Home Runs, becoming only the third pitcher to produce this type of hurling disaster in the last 70 years. Even though Shields did push some of the blame on himself for the debacle, Shields also tossed his young catcher, John Jaso firmly under the buses’ wheels and pushed a mountain load of the blame firmly towards his catcher and his play calling. That was uncharacteristic of Shields, and might have been a defense mechanism, but it was still an ugly side of Shields the Rays had never seen surface before. If Shields felt that way on the mound on that horrendous day, why didn’t he shake off Jaso’s signs?

 
Elaine Thompson/AP

That one instance doesn’t make Shields expendable, but the rubber arm and his consistency will come to a crashing end in the future. Will the Rays take the gamble and roll the dice with Shields, or will another starter who is waiting in the Rays system like Jeremy Hellickson take his turn in the Rays merry-go-round. If the Rays moved Shields this off season, it would save up to $ 4.5 million the Rays could use to entice another offensive weapon to join the Rays for 2011. With Garza also getting a substantial pay raise through arbitration, the Rays (after Garza’s salary) could effectively only have to spend around $2.525 million for their other four possible starters (David Price, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson) in 2011.


That makes Shields very expendable, even with only the second highest starter’s salary on the team. We might be seeing the everlasting glow before the sunset of Shield’s time with the Rays. Considering Shields has already been here about 5 years, maybe his time has come for him to seek another opportunity elsewhere. Another interesting sidebar to last night’s game, Shields and Kazmir became only the second pair of former Rays Opening Day starters to meet in a Rays game.

Ironically, the first time this happened was when Kazmir met Oakland starter and former Ray Joe Kennedy back on May 5,2007 at Tropicana Field. Maybe it is time for Kazmir to pass that Rays torch to Shields and let him shine brightly before his Rays tenure begins to dim. But then again, that is what we have come to expect out of “Big Game”.
 

 

Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em

 


 

 During their 13 year existence, the Tampa Bay Rays have always had trouble with their foes in the American League West. Coming into this recent three game series against the Texas Rangers, the Rays have gone a combined 187-277 against this division. The Rays do have a few bright spots in 2010 so far as they swept the Seattle Mariners this season, plus won in Anaheim for the first time since 2008. It is paramount right now that the Rays rise up and throw down their own gauntlet towards this division that has always been a thorn in their side. And it all began again in an upcoming ten game AL West swing beginning with a trip into Tropicana Field by the Texas Rangers.


The Rangers come into Tropicana Field as the American League West division leader, and a threat to the Rays surge to again hold onto first place in the American League East. The Rangers came in with the simple thought that if they could beat the Rays in their own house, they could effectively put some seeds of doubt in the Rays minds before their West Coast road trip. The Rangers wanted to play their own special brand of Texas Seven Card Stud with the Rays hoping that Texas could out hustle the Rays with a few well placed losses that would eventually bring these two squads back together in the American League Divisional Series in October, with the Rangers holding the momentum card.

With the Rangers beating the Rays in two of their three games under the June heat in Texas, the team came into Tropicana Field wanting to show the Rays that Texas had the might and the winning hand to take this critical late season series. As the first cards were dealt on the night of the first contest, with both Texas and Tampa Bay going with their left-handed “Aces”. The Rangers sent to the mound the cunning Cliff Lee, while the Rays sent cool-handed David Price and it was soon evident that this game would be an instant classic.

 

It was a match-up of two of the better left-handed pitchers in baseball going at it with each and every pitch. And the game was a classic pitcher’s duel until Lee flinched first in the bottom of the fifth inning to give up two Rays runs. Both teams fought back and forth before Lee showed his final hand and the Rays put 6 earned runs on the Texas southpaw who had lost this third straight game against the Rays this year. In the end, the Rays had converted the better hand with their Ace (Price) giving them the top card to take this first of three games.


And in the second game, The Rays put up a second “Ace”, Matt Garza on the mound to oppose the 9-1 record of Texas starter Tommy Hunter, but the Rangers were easily out hustled in this contest. The game quickly t
urned into the Rays favor in the bottom of the first inning as the Rays spotted three quick runs on the board off Hunter and never looked back in this game. The Rays “Kings” Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford went a combined 6-9 with 6 RBI and the Rays went 6-15 with runners in scoring position in taking the second game of the series. The final score of 10-1 showed that the Rays had the winning cards on that night with their ace in the hole, Garza going 7 inning with 10 strikeouts and surrendering only 5 hits.

But it was in the third game, which was played as a matinee game where both squads brought this game to another level and fought tooth and nail to the final out. The Rays sent their third “Ace” in a row to the mound in this contest James “Big Game” Shields who finally got some of his control back and gave up only 4 hits in his seven innings of work. Even though Shields did not shut out the Rangers, he did have one of his best performances of the season’s second half tonight to give the Rays the much needed series sweep. But Shields also got some tremendous run support from the Rays as they posted 8 runs in this final game. And that is huge as the Rays were averaging 3.13 runs per game for Shields in 2010.

 

The Rays ended up playing some amazing offensive cards against the Rangers in this three game series. And within the grasp of this series a few things did end up happening. The Rays are again in a tie for the American League East crown with the New York Yankees, and the Rays have also seen Longoria and Crawford emerge from their recent struggles. By out hustling the Rangers with their own cards, the Rays showed that they might be dealing the best cards of the season right now. Combined with the Longoria and Crawford offensive explosion, B J Upton is also riding high on a 9-game hitting streak to help the surging Rays.


The Rays next two series against Oakland (4 games) and Anaheim (3 games) could be just as critical as these first three games against the Rangers. The Rays have played twenty games against the A L West division during the 2010 season, going a unprecedented 14-6, but have gone a combined 3-3 in journey’s to Anaheim and Oakland, which also included a May 6th Perfect Game by A’s starter Dallas Braden. For once in the past few season, the Rays have a bit of an edge on this division, but again the team will have to play their cards close to their vest. They will begin on Thursday night by sending Rays “Jack of all trades” Andy Sonnanstine, who has performed great in relief starts to the mound.

For the Rays to finish off this 10 game A L West stretch in a positive light, the cards have to play right for the Rays. So far with a 3-0 start to this stretch, things are looking extremely positive to begin this road trip. But a losing record on this road trip might damage the Rays cred to both stay atop the A L East race, and have one of the top records in baseball. This road trip could also illustrates or expose a few kinks in the Rays armor heading into other crucial battle with their A L East rivals. Every game can hold a vital part to the Rays quest to again go into the Playoffs, or secure another A L East crown. Hopefully the Rays “Kings” and “Aces” are ready to again throw down the superior cards…or the Rays could fold.
 
 

Could a Rotation 5.5 Scenario Work for the Rays?

 
 
We all know that Tampa Bay Rays prospect Jeremy Hellickson’s name has been on the lips and minds of most MLB Fantasy baseball owners right now. I can admit he is on three of my teams, but what happens now? Most of us who roam the highways and byways of the Rays Republic know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been more than adamant about wanting to pamper Hellickson’s first journey up in the big leagues and Hellickson will be headed to the Rays Bullpen after his next start (Friday in Oakland ).

His next start will also correspond within a few days of the possible timeline for Rays pitchers Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to come back from their recent shoulder stiffness vacation. With the Rays usual starting five then back into the swing of things, Hellickson will be free to free lance or get some spot duty here and there for the Rays. Maybe we can devise a roation 5.5 scenario and effectively use this hot young arm to the Rays rotation’s advantage through the final 46 games? 

Most people have the assumption that Hellickson will do mostly relief duty through the rest of the Rays 2010 season, pretty much exactly what David Price provided for the Rays in 2008. But I have another idea. I have something that just might be a perfect 5.5 scenario of attack the Rays could employ during the rest of the season.


Why not just let Hellickson take at least one spot start from the top three Rays starters during the rest of the 2010 season, plus one of the four games against the New York Yankees in September in New York to give the Rays starting five a short breather. It would give the Rays pitcher with the hottest arm right now a chance to gain momentum, confidence and also provide a alternative in-house to stave off any dead arm syndrome or possible long term injury.
 
With at least a pair of the Rays starters  currently showing a bit of late inning strain on their tired arms, it would be a possible 6-8 innings of work saved on their arms going into the stretch run of the season…and beyond. W
ithin the next few starts, if it seems that Price will not be able to hit that heralded 20-win mark, it would be a great time to even set down the mighty leftie for a game to also save his arm for the Playoff run.

 

This is not a 6-man rotation idea, but something I like to call rotation 5.5, where Hellickson can use his hot arm, plus give some added relief to the guys who have been grinding it out every five days all year long. Of course, this would depend on the match-ups provided by the opposition, but right now the finesse pitching of Hellickson could adapt well opposite almost any pitcher in the Major Leagues.


It’s just a thought. A rambling of my brain cells that tells me this could work in a perfect crescendo of pitching performances for the Rays. Hellickson has been groomed as a starter, and a small segment of his time can be used for relief, but you really have to be cautious when you fool with a pitcher’s mindset going from a starter’s mentality to the every day grind of a reliever not knowing if he is playing, or watching that game. You only have to look to the Yankees and what has been done with Joba Chamberlain to see how quickly you can confuse and ruin a great pitcher.

if you can get Hellickson a few extra starts before his formal “coming out” party in Spring 2011,then it can only help the young Iowa native. With 46 games left to play, and 28 of those against teams playing .500 or better, it might be time to use the Durham secret weapon to its fullest. Sure there will be boasted bravado from any of the five Rays usual starters that they do not need a tag team pitching match-ups down the stretch, but the Rays have been playing a gambler’s hand for a long time with no huge setbacks and injuries on their starting pitching front.

 

Do you want to really tease with disaster when the prize is gleaming right in front of your eyes?  Hellickson could be a huge and key ingredient to how far the Rays go in the 2010 post season. Just like Price, he has the goods and the talent to help fortify the Rays in either the Bullpen or the rotation down the stretch. Even though Hellickson is now the first Rays pitcher to EVER go 3-0 in his first three starts, it is the poise and finesse he has shown both on and off the mound that make him a multi-functional weapon for the Rays.

No matter which way the team decides to use Hellickson over those next 46 games, you can expect Hellickson to want the ball, hit the mound throwing, and providing a chance for his team to succeed… a great mirror image of Price’s same role in 2008.
 

Kurt Vonnegut Could have been a Rays Fan

 

 
Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press

There is something about the Tampa Bay Rays that sometimes boggles my twisted, but usually sane mind. The Rays have one of the best collective hitting line-ups in all of the Major League in regards to being patient and getting walked by their opposition. But they can also just as easy twist 180 degrees and also possess one of the worst overall team batting average in that same sentence.

The Rays have somehow now been involved directly with 5 no-hitters or one-hitters in the last 12 months of baseball, and yet the Rays win-loss record is still somehow among the elite in the Major Leagues. They are definite pupils and teachers in retrospect of the liquidity of the basic yin and yang theory.


Let’s see if I can for one day immerse myself within the dusty trails modern literature and see if I can find a vantage point of clarity for our Rays through the quotations of Kurt Vonnegut. Maybe a cerebral focal process from which to fully understand the way this pendulum of production seems to find itself rocking to and fro to outlandish point of god awful performances, back by pronounced hitting and progressive defensive maneuvers. How quickly these 25 Rays seem to possess the innate power to go from the dangerously dismal to the climatic explosion of power in a mire pitch or timely swing of the maple bat .

 
Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press

I could throw the usual baseball clichés on this page right now and write to the heavens above that the Rays are just another reincarnation of that devilish team that wouldn’t die, but we still have 56 some odd games for that to materialize fully. Instead let me find verse, quotations and maybe a few home spun yarns as to the resilience, perseverance and down right uncanny ability this team has uncovered to keep itself in the hot spot for so long, while also venturing into the bowels of normalcy by always poking the sleeping dragon with a stick. These former (Devil) Rays might have a death wish cast upon them from beyond, or might be luckier than a litter of kitten with all their lives intact.
 
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”   

How provocative these mortal words have rung true this past weekend as the Rays seemed to again and again defy the logic of gravity and physics by going outward from the center of their comfort zone to immerse themselves in the chaotic and random actions of lunatics. How bizarre that these Rays on Saturday afternoon saw one of their more prolific throwers convert himself into a human B P machine and surrender 6 Home Runs to his opposition. How during that debacle, there must have been chatter amongst the players in their mind that it could not get worse, then with the crack of the bat…It materialized and optimized that this Rays team can not conjure up luck on the fly.

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion…I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterwards.”  

Over the last four contests, the Rays Republic has not had much to take in as positives or any affirmative points of reference. The true fact that a evolving ball of internal frustration has built its way larger and larger into the subconscious of this Rays team to a point of epic proportions with key previously productive teammates possibly suffering injuries and unexplained bouts of fatigue is mesmerizing at a time when each Rays teammate needs to gather and assemble their collective positive chemistry and provide a sense of release from this bubble of frustration, and exhaust the bad karma within themselves.

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody want to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”

Seriously here. This is so within the Rays character right now. It is not about “lollygagging” or even settling for less. It is about pushing beyond the levels of yourself and accepting more from yourself at a time that the team needs that spark of motivation. Right now the innate positive going through so many minds within that Rays Clubhouse is they took 4 out of 4 from this same Tigers team last week at home. It is a starting point, a jumping off point to further the range of what can be achieved for these 25 guys.

 
Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press

Now is the time to promote the civility of winning again into this Rays culture before the nagging bits of negativity again reign supreme upon the rotting corpses of “what if’s”. Time is of the essence to take back the winning characteristics that drove this Rays team to such heights on the road in the beginning of 2010. Time for a rebirth of reality, and of the expectations of “What is Important Now”.

“People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything meaningful to say”.

This last quote is all for me. Seriously, how frustrating it was during the hours following yesterday’s defeat to see people ring in the “possible No-No” card, but forget the game could have eventually turned on that same first hit. How the general public wanted to tunnel-vision the situation and forget Longoria was the tying run of that contest. They wanted to proclaim the Rays a pathetic team, but totally cloak the fact their team has a worse record than these same Rays. What was so profound to me that I can understand and empathize with Blue Jays fans on this feat, but other team’s supporters suddenly clicked on the MLB.TV link to see history get flushed in an instance.


Lost in that moment of Jays euphoria was the aspect of Rays long reliever Andy Sonnastine coming off the Disabled List prior to that contest to make a spot starter for the ailing Jeff Niemann and no one gave a single prop to Sonnanstine. Everything centered on Brandon Morrow, and nothing, even on MLB Network spoke to the courage and strong performance of Sonny. But that is the sad end of that No-Hit coin. The opposition can hold the other team to only 5 total hits and a single run, but the hero is the guy who missed out on destiny. Just ask Matt Garza, if destiny wanted you to have that No-No, it was within your grasp. Fate and destiny do not know how to throw a fastball.

 
Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press

Hope you enjoyed me standing out on the ledge for a bit here today. For some reason I needed to do a bit of clarity cleansing myself after this weekend. I saw so many episodes that pushed pre-2007 moments into my mind this weekend that I needed to proclaim a different mindset today and evoke another during of rare karma amongst my Rays. Who knows, maybe they can get a recharge of mojo in the Motor City. I guess I should leave all of this with at least one more muse of Vonnegut.

“History is merely a list of surprises. It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again”.

Spoken like a great Rays fan.

 

Take That! Garza Distractors!

 

When you think of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza, usually the words patience, consistency and cool under pressure do not immediately come to your mind. Garza has always had the reputation on the Rays of being the lone wolf, the agitated always combustible pitcher who take everything a bit too personal, and craves perfection. Well, after tonight, we just might see a different side of Garza, because once you have had the ultimate confidence booster….A No-Hitter, the rest of the season seems to be on a rail sometimes.

And the beginning of the evening saw Garza with his I-Pod at his side bopping his head to his pre-game musical mix almost invisible within the confines of Tropicana Field. Even as Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine was adding a few darker goatee touches to the image of the Matt Garza bobblehead on the Rightfield wall, Garza seemed immersed in his own hip-hop World tonight. And even as he began throwing in the Rays Bullpen before the game, he did not produce his usual “pop” when catcher Kelly Shoppach caught him tonight.

 

His ball seemed to flow off his hand tonight. His breaking ball was snapping with a nice downward spiral, and his fastball seemed to have a little more movement than usual. It was almost as if Garza and the ball knew something we all did not know yet. But as the Rays game began tonight against the Detroit Tigers, Garza seemed to be in a different set of parameters.

But early on, it almost seems as if both Garza and Detroit’s starter Max Scherzer were occupying that same unique space of rare air and traded zeros back and forth as both starting pitchers saw hitters being sent down 1-2-3 until Garza made the first blip on the radar by walking Brennan Boesch on 7 pitches in the top of the second inning. This removed the “perfect” label from Garza’s outing. Boesch was quickly erased from the basepaths by a 5-4-3 Double Play to end the scoring threat by the Tigers. 

After his walk to Boesch, Garza sent down the next 22 Tiger hitters in a row to secure the first No-Hitter in Rays history. Now only two National League teams, the New York Mets and the San Deigo Padres are the lone members of the non No-Hitters Club. What was really impressive is the fact that before tonight’s game Garza had gotten close before on June 26,2008 when he lost both his shutout and a No-Hitter by giving up a Home Run to Hanley Ramirez in the bottom of the seventh inning.

 

Before tonight’s No-Hitter, the farthest a Rays pitcher had gone without surrendering a hit was actually shared by two players. Rays leftie Tony Saunders went 7.2 innings on 4/22/1999 against the Baltimore Orioles, and former Rays First Round Draft pick Dewon Brazelton went 7.3 innings against the Florida Marlins on 6/23/2004 before surrendering their first hits of the night. But as the innings seemed to progress, Garza seemed to gain more composure and confidence as the night commenced.  On the night, Garza had only one 3 ball, 2 strike count( Gerald Laird/ 3rd Inning) before getting into a bit of a jam to begin the seventh inning.

Both Austin Jackson and Will Rhymes fought back to identical 3 ball, 2 strike counts before going down and preserving the night for Garza in the top of the seventh inning. Garza got Jackson to fly out to B J Upton, and Rhymes hit a grounder to second baseman Reid Brignac that was easily converted for the second out. Garza got Ryan Rayburn to strikeout on four pitches to end the inning.  In the top of the eighth inning, it took Garza 16 pitches to strike out the side. But mixed into that bunch was a possible problem as Garza went down 3 ball, 2 strikes to Boesch, but he ended up just watching Garza’s strikeout pitch hit Shoppach’s mitt.

 

Then came the top of the ninth inning with goose eggs all over the Detroit side of the scoreboard. Garza spent a little extra time composing himself behind the mound for the ninth inning visiting the rosin bag, looking into his cap for the fortitude to get this game finished on his terms. Garza quickly got a first strike on Tiger hitter Don Kelly before he fell behind  with three straight pitches just above or outside the plate. On the next pitch, Kelly hit a soft grounder to Brignac, who easily converted for the first out.  Laird then came up and was whiffed on four pitches by Garza to set up the night most intense moment.

In the balance was the chance for Rays immortality as Tigers Pinch Hitter Ramon Santiago came on to hit in place of shortstop David Worth. The stage was set for Garza, and all he had to do was deliver and he would be the proud owner of a No-Hitter of his own. Santiago went to a 1 ball, 1 strike count before hitting the next Garza offering to Rightfield. The ball seemed to slowly come to Ben Zobrist’s glove, but the moment it hit leather, Zobrist erupted by jumping straight up in the air and sprinting towards the increasing mob of Rays players at the mound.

 

Even as the excitement and emotions were swirling all around Garza, he still seemed as cool as a cucumber and a bit oblivious to what had just happened to him. Even in the post game interviews, Garza seemed unusually relaxed and calm, a bit of cool “Zen” to him. But maybe it was the realization that he has so much to offer this Rays team. That maybe by going down into that fifth slot in the Rays rotation he can preserve and protect a few more Rays wins. Or maybe we just saw one of the last steps of pitching evolution tonight with Garza.

Tonight was his night to shine like the moon outside. Big, bold and bright, with clarity and instant confidence. Just a few days ago a local Sports Radio icon began to question Garza and his pitching abilities. He wondered if we might have seen the best of Garza and would see a slow progression downward now. Guess this outing firmly put that question into your face like a shaving cream pie.

A night like tonight can define a players and take him to another level, if he lets it. I got a feeling the sky is the limit right now for Garza, or at least he can go outside right now and howl at that big old bright full moon. The first No-Hitter in Rays history is now firmly in the books by a guy who has always let little things frustrate him, but tonight, the only frustration felt by Garza is if his pitching glove is off to the Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow.

   

 

Rays Pitcher’s Have No-No Possibilities

 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

With the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night finally being able to erase their name off the four-some of current Major League Baseball teams without a No-Hitter thrown by a pitcher on their staff, the list has now been funneled down to only a trio, with the Tampa Bay Rays being the only American League team still searching for a No-No. And sharing this distinction with National League squads the New York Mets and the San Diego Padres, it is actually only a matter of time before another name is dropped off this list.
 
Honestly with the Mets farm system not having a highly-touted prospect in the pipeline, and the Padres having some talent in the lower levels, but nothing on the immediate horizon, it seems logical that the Rays might have the best chance to be the next team to throw a huge “X” through their name and eliminate the American League from this special list. But this is not to say that a pitcher from either the Mets or Padres could not have a once-in-a-lifetime pitching performance and one-up the Rays with no notice.

In my honest baseball opinion, the Rays seem to have more viable options either close to the MLB level, or presently throwing some impressive ball for the team. So I am going to toss out three categories here today, showing who I think is the odds-on Rays pitching favorites to produce a pitching gem, and a few who might fly a bit under the radar, but with good command and some great defense behind them could shock the world.
 
The one obvious visual choice has to be Rays current uber-competitive demon Matt Garza. Everyone around baseball knows the maximum competitive fires that brew deep within him every time he hit’s the mound, and that a pitching gem is just within his reach with every start. And the reasoning for this is quite simple…. He has flirted with this gem before…twice and still is just as hungry to taste it again and again until he finally is granted within the special club just for hurlers who possess a “No-No” on their MLB pitching resume`. And with him showing these glimpses over the last two seasons, he is the odds-on favorite in deed to finally take the Rays name off that “Non No-No” list.
 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

We first got to see that future dominating pitching ability during the 2008 MLB season when Matt Garza took the mound against the Florida Marlins in an Inter-League contest. In the contest, Garza completed his first career complete game, but more importantly, he threw a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts against the Marlins giving up one hit on the day via a solo Hanley Ramirez Home Run to lead off the seventh inning for Florida. On the day, Garza only faced 28 batters on the day tying the Rays club record for fewest batters faced in a nine inning complete game setting also held by James Shields. But this was only our first glimpse into his possible future chance to throw a no-hitter.

 
Garza also gave us a second glance early on in 2009 when on April 30th against the Boston Red Sox in Tropicana Field when Garza went 6 innings of perfect baseball before Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury infield single to lead-off the seventh inning ruined the longest bid for a perfect game in Rays history. And in that contest Garza retired 18-straight Red Sox hitters before Ellsbury’s single. But Garza tied for the third longest no-hit bid in club history while striking out 10 batters and walking one. He combined with Rays reliever Grant Balfour for a one-hit 13-0 victory for the Rays.
 
As you can see by the above situations, Garza is my favorite to be the first Rays pitcher to ever post a No-Hit or even Perfect Game performance for the team. This is not to discount the rest of the Rays starters in the least as I truly think there are a few others who might conjure up the chance to also venture into this hallowed pitching grounds if the right situation came their way. Rays left-hander David Price has the pitching pedigree that he could also be on the mound with a chance to produce his own pitching gem, but I think he might need a bit of defensive help behind him, but with the likes of Carl Crawford, B J Upton and Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena on the corner infield spots, Price could also produce a stellar pitching performance….but not within the next several MLB seasons.

 
Duane Burleson/AP

This takes me to the guy who I truly think might be the one Rays pitcher you might not think of throwing a no-hitter, but pitchers who have the same abilities as this Rays right-hander have produced gems of their own. Some times it has noting to do with killer speeds on your fastball, or even the ability to read and adjust during the game. Some times it is just something as simple as a game rhythm you get into early as a pitcher that can set the tone and get you amazing results. That is why the one pitcher who might beat Garza to the punch and produce a no-hitter before him, or be the second Rays to perform the task might be Jeff Niemann.

 
The Rays former First Round pick has had a pretty mild-mannered career so far with the Rays, but we have all see just what kind of dominating performances he can throw out there when his breaking ball and his fastball placement both sync up and his 12-6 curveball buckles players knees at the plate. The first time I got the realization that Niemann could possibly be a hidden gem to throw a no-hitter might have been during the 2009 season when he lead the Rays in ERA and wins, becoming the first rookie to lead a team in those two categories since New York Yankees pitcher Bob Grim in 1954.

What is simply amazing was the true fact Niemann has shown an increased dominance in several areas that could help him reel in a no-hitter bid. In 2009, Neimann allowed only 0.85 Home Runs per nine innings, which was the sixth best in the American League. But he also held lead-off batter to an astonishing .240 batting average in 2009, which was the lowest in the Major Leagues, and walked only six batters in 192 opportunities, which lead the American Leagues. And all of this was only during his Rookie campaign against aggressive American League East hitting teams.

 
Brian Blanco/AP

What really pushed the thought in my mind that Niemann might be a dark horse, but a distinct no-hitter possibility might be in the fact he did not lose a home start at Tropicana Field after May 2,2009. Niemann was an impressive 6-0 in 10 starts after that date and his 3.05 ERA tied him with Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez for 1oth best in the American League….as a rookie. But what ultimately put the exclamation point on the whole debate for me was the fact he was the only rookie to EVER bet Toronto’s Roy Halladay twice in one season, and was joined later in that exclusive club by teammate David Price later in the 2009 season.


As you can see, the Rays do have the pitching firepower to be excluded from that list within a short period of time. But as we have seen as recently as the Mark Buehrle no-hit game against the Rays last season on July 23rd. You can have the ultimate command of the strike zone and get the seams of the balls itching on the black corners of the plate for strikes, but the final test might just be a single defensive play by your teammates behind you.

 
Elaine Thompson/AP

All three of the Rays trio mentioned, Garza, Price and Niemann have the tolls and the skills to post this gem any time they step on the rubber for a game. But it might take a leaping catch by Upton, Crawford, or maybe a diving play down the line by Longoria or Pena to produce the Rays first shinning pitching gem amongst the dust of the baseball diamond.

Isn’t it great to know that the Rays can effectively produce those sparkling moments on the mound and might someday soon also be celebrating late into the night a performance worthy of not just a no-hitter, but eliminating their name from that lonely list forever.

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