Results tagged ‘ Matt Joyce ’

Joyce is Enjoying the View at the Summit of the MLB Mountain

You knew the moment you first heard the distinctive sound of the ball of his bat Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce had ” it” within him. You always suspected that the burning fires ran deep and that his true passion for this game ran white hot. Suddenly Fantasy gurus around the Major Leagues are starting to chatter about his name, but we always knew he just needed reps in the box to prove he is no platoon player.


And I do not mean that as a disrespectful phrase, but before his recent outburst square onto the MLB radar, some started to label him as a ” specialist”, possibly downgrading his skill set in the process. But we know that is not what got Joyce red hot in the last few months, it more an extended amount of playing time by his Rays Skipper Joe Maddon that finally showed everyone outside of the Rays Republic that Joyce can smash a left-hander as well as a rightie any day of the week.

Amazing that coming into this off day for the Rays, Joyce is leading the Major Leagues in batting average (.367) a full 18 points above the second player, St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday (.349). Even more impressive is the fact Joyce has now led the American League in hitting for over 10 days.

 TEN Days. Think about that for a moment. Here is a guy who some had destined as a platoon positional player back in the Spring, but is having the ball come to the plate looking like a neon softball and he is hitting it all over the place. 10 days shows that a pattern is beginning to develop. Sure Joyce possibly can not keep this torrid pace up, but it suffices to say with a .429 average while hitting safely in 22 of his last 25 games, Joyce could pitch his tent in Rightfield.

Joyce has always had a great knack of destroying right-handed hurlers and is currently leads the Majors with a .397 average against righties. To put Joyce’s achievement into a further enlightened prospective, Joyce’s current 1.071 OPS ranks 3rd overall within Major League Baseball, and only Cardinals surprise Lance Berkman (1.113 OPS) and Toronto’s Jose Bautista boast a higher OPS at this moment.

Sure people are going to point immediately towards Joyce’s dismal .190 average against Southpaws, but with time, that stat also will see a nice rise as he gets comfortable and having a veteran leftie-killer like Johnny Damon ( .286 average) next to you on the bench, sooner or later something is going to rub off and click within Joyce’s left-on-left battles.

When you are riding a 5-game hitting streak where you are slugging the ball at a current .471 average and have been helping with run production with a .407 average with Runners In Scoring Position, you might a few extra hacks against the lefties in the AL. But this is the potential we have been waiting patiently to surface in Joyce for the past two seasons.

There have been glimpses of the magic, but like a sparkler, it faded with time. For some reason this time feels a bit different. His hitting chart shows a little more of a spread pattern, and the sound of the ball off his bat just sounds different. Possibly the “softball” analogy might be happening to Joyce right now, and he will take it and plaster a few all around the ballpark.

This is the latest in a MLB Season that a Rays has held that coveted top spot in the American League in hitting. A few years ago former Rays SS Jason Bartlett had his time trying to maintain a bit of consistency, but finally fell by the wayside.

Joyce could also see a bit of a slide, but already he is on pace for a career high batting average, a new high in MLB Home Runs and RBI, plus a chance to shatter the 92-game mark he posted in Detroit back in 2008.

Right now the Tampa-born Joyce is enjoying his new found fame, soaking up everything he can learn from Damon, and basking in the cheers as he heads out nightly in Rightfield. It’s always great to see a guy hit is potential, even better to see him blast past it and explode on the MLB scene with gusto.

Rays “Take It on the Run” Baby

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Rays Machine Churning and Burning Right Now

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“Over 162 games, if my big guys are
hitting and we get even halfway decent pitching, we’ll beat their (
our opponents) brains out.”


The above quote might seem more in
place possibly coming out of the mouth of someone within the Tampa
Bay Rays organization after the the solid efforts during Thursday’s
day/night double bubble victory tour against the hapless Minnesota
Twins. But it was not a quote from anyone within the Rays.

This quote was spoken loud and clear by
the late Cincinnati Reds Manager Sparky Anderson back when his “Big
Red Machine
” was still churning on 4 economical cylinders. But the
quote did have pertinent reference points to the Rays dismantling of
the Twins.


For some reason the outdoor confines of
the Twin’s Target Field seemed more welcoming to the style of play by
the visitors over the last three games. For some reason the usually
consistent Twins pitching staff turned into Batting Practice pitchers
at times, while at other resembled a mire shell of themselves.

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Some say the Rays were inhospitable
house guests as the two teams concluded their seasonal series with
the Rays knocking the breath of out the chests of the Twins in all
three contests. Heroes emerged for the Rays, pitching became a rising
star for this squad.


Anderson is so right, when all
cylinders are churning and both ends of the Rays machine is
producing, it is a glorious time to boast about the Rays. From this
series special moments like Johnny Damon extending his new Rays April
hitting streak record to 16 games. Damon had a 15-game streak last
season when he was with the Tigers. Matt Joyce, who is daily finding
more confidence and swagger went 4 for 8 and saw his average rise
from .290 to .313 during the twin bill.

Rays starters Jeremy Hellickson and
Jeff Niemann never seemed under duress or in any significant danger
of losing their contests at any point with each going past the 6.1
inning mark while both securing wins for their efforts. Before the
double-dipper, the Rays starters had gone 11 games still standing on
the mound during the 7th inning. The team had collectively
tossed a 2.67 ERA up, and held their opponents to a .215 batting
average.

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Niemann especially had me at hello last
night tossing some of the best baseball of his career and held the
Twins hitless until the bottom of the 7th when Tampa
native Denard Span who was facing a 3-2 count sent a ball into
shallow leftfield out of the reach of both OF Sam Fuld and SS Elliot
Johnson. Neimann ended up surrendering his only other hit of the game
on an RBI single by Twins 1B Justin Morneau. Great to see Jeffery the
Giraffe finally show why we all like his downhill pitching style


At no point in either of these games
did the Rays pitching staff have any significant threats or run
producing explosions to duplicate the Rays sudden offensive
bombardment. In three games the Rays posted 29 runs to the Twins 6
runs. It wasn’t a case of the Rays going against the Twins at their
low point, it was the Twins error to be playing the Rays as their
offense awoke and decided to thrust its might.

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But you can not discount the
significant and tremendous role uber utility man extraordinare Ben
Zobrist provided in this series. Zobrist who had been struggling a
bit at the plate at times with consistency has now hit 6 Home Runs in
his last 12 games. Finally Zobrist is materializing back into the
“Zorilla” of 2008 that we need right now to lead this club
offensively.


We all know Worldwide about his Rays
record 8 RBI eruption in the day game of the double douse y, but
overall Zobrist went from 31st in the RBI Leaders list to
Numero Uno in a lightning flash. Zorilla eclipsed the previous Rays
RBI record of 7 RBI’s held by Carlos Pena, and was the first
explosion of it’s type since Blue Jay Adam Lind back on August 2009
when he posted 8 RBIs on the Texas Rangers.

Lost in all the big numbers is the fact
Zobrist is now riding a 3-game hitting streak himself and boosted his
own batting average from .203 to .258 at the end of the night. Along
the way in this back-to-back series of game Zobrist produced a solid
7 for 10 stream along with 5 runs scored and a staggering 10 RBIs.
Suddenly Google searches for “Zorilla” have gone through the
roof.


That is the same mechanics that helped
build the “Big Red Machine” into MLB prominence before most of
this Rays squad other than Damon ( 1973 ) or relief pitchers Kyle
Farnsworth (1976 ) and Joel Peralta (1976 ) were even born.

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Suddenly this Rays team is posing some
problems for those people who wanted to believe that so much team
composition and transition would eliminate the Rays from any chances
of competing, but still the Ray keep pushing wins across the board.
Great teams have to gain their sturdy basic roots somewhere, possibly
this is the Rays chance to thrust them deep and solidify their team
structure and confidence.


This Spring there was great worry among
the Rays Republic about this team and their inherent structure and a
possible backslide in talent and abilities. Suddenly that same
worrisome thought process is being erased by the bats of Damon,
Zobrist, Joyce and the consistency of this all under-30 pitching
rotation.


I think I am just going to sit back a
bit more this short home stand and relax as this Rays team shows not
only me, but all of the Rays Republic and MLB that not only was
Anderson right with his quote, but we have nothing to worry
about….this team is out of hibernation and hungry for wins. Wonder
if the Los Angeles Angels are nervous yet about playing the red hot
Rays?




Pitching and Defense Providing Perfect Harmony

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Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has
always preached that his “pitchers set the tone of a game“. I’m
not sure, but I think the Rays skipper forgot to tell his young
outfield and his rookie Shortstop.


On a night when the Rays offense struck
early against usual Rays-killer Edwin Jackson, the Rays defensive
unit kept the pressure off southpaw hurler David Price with
incredible plays in both in infield and the outfield. Possibly this
young Rays fielding unit has finally found the right note to play in
harmony with their pitching staff.


Rays outfield Sam Fuld who wandered
over to his more familiar Centerfield spot again left his feet for an
incredible catch, and Ben Zobrist looked more like a sprinter going
towards a ball near the Rays Bullpen that was just a inch out of his
reach.

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Everyone of the Rays outfielder last
night made incredible running catches last night to help synchronize
Price’s artistic game on the mound. Rays SS Reid Brignac also got his
own note in with a deep ball hit towards the edge of the Rays new
AstroTurf surface, then turned and fired a strike that would have
made any pitcher envious for the 6-3 put out.


Little by little this Rays patchwork
Blue defense is gelling and beginning to showcase not only their
defensive skills, but show great support for their Rays pitching
staff by boosting their offense. I have to say, this might be one of
the best Rays athletic defenses we have seen in a while from corner
to corner…Sorry Carl Crawford.

Tell me this little quote will not infuriate the Red Sox
Nation. Rays Maddon on Sam Fuld’s LF defense compared to
Carl Crawford, who won a Gold Glove last year:

“There’s no drop-off. There’s no drop-off. To say
that right now, I would just be appeasing everybody. That’s
not true. Sam’s playing that level of defense right now. He
throws the ball better. And right now, all the different
things he’s doing defensively, I can’t tell you that Carl’s
better. I can not.”

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High praise for Fuld from a Rays
Manager that got to see Crawford nightly from 2007 to 2010 along with
a duo of trips to the post season. But this entire Rays outfield
right now is torqued to perform and to provide moments that even ESPN
would be proud. Interesting enough, Fuld currently has a comfortable
points lead (18) on the ESPN Web Gems standings over both Braves SS
Alex Gonzalez and Marlin OF Chris Coghlan.


Interesting enough, Rays 2B Sean
Rodriguez is in a 3-way tie for fourth place with 9 points, and Rays
1B Dan Johnson has 7 points. The Rays as a team currently have 36
points and are being chased hard by the Rockies (24) and the Royals
(19) in this early stage of the season. The Rays current .986
Fielding Percentage ranks second in the American League.


Before tonight’s broadcast, FSN Florida had an on-air interview with Price and his quote says it all: “ I hear that water covers 75% of the World, the other 25% is covered by Sam Fuld.”


Pitching may ” set the tone”, but
if you have your defensive unit also in unison playing extremely
stingy defense, it helps lighten the burden of the pitching staff.
When a pitcher is down 3-1 or 3-2 in a count and his defense is
playing with humongous gloves, they can skirt a ball in on the hands
or outside hoping for a ground ball and a sure fire out.

The overall confidence the pitching
staff can gain by the Rays defense playing superior right now will
play into guys trusting the players behind them and let the game
unfold instead of the pitchers’ trying to win it all on their own
shoulders.


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Acrobatic plays, leaping grabs and full
sprint catches might seem like a rare occurrences on a baseball
diamond, but here in Tampa Bay, it is just business as usual for Fuld
and crew. When I played football, my Coaches used to preach that
“defense wins championships “.


Right now the Rays are playing a tune
like “Take It On the Run” by REO Speedwagon in with both starting
and relief pitching strumming along, hitting banging hard to provide
tempo and the entire fielding unit playing in harmony. Maybe Maddon
is right because right now pitching is setting the tone…. and it is
simply beautiful to the ear.

Maddon: Mad Man or Crazy as a Fox


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I really do kind of understand how
difficult it can be in the final methods of deciding who plays or who
get the pine for the night. Scrolling over a mountain of facts and
figures and calculations can drive a normal person insane.


But sometimes, just sometimes I truly
think Rays Manager Joe Maddon is just toying with our minds. Some
days I think he is more apt to throw 9 darts at a board featuring his
picking his final 9 for the line-up or ask the Magic 8-Ball for game
day guidance. Seriously sometimes I think he diverts the obvious
choice in the line-up to test our tolerance….or ignorance.


From Maddon posturing to let a recent
Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience decide to insert Tampa
native RF Matt Joyce into the 3-spot, to posting tonight’s line-up to
include a slightly more 2010 Triple-A line-up with his young Rays
“Ace” David Price on the mound borders on simply criminally
insane, or crafty like a fox.


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Got to admit, like the recent Barry
Bond’s grand jury of his peers, I am not sure what is the whole truth
and what is truly fictional anymore about Maddon’s line-up choices.
And that is sad for me.


I stand wholeheartedly in unison with
most of the Rays Republic united behind Maddon’s maddening mantras
and his sometimes diverse ways of pushing his team towards the next
level without physically jamming it down their throats.


Sometimes though I still find myself
puzzled and bewildered from what rationale place some of Maddon’s
diverse decision originate from, and why? Heading into tonight’s
Chicago White Sox 4-game series, I really expect to see 4 different
line-ups over the next 4 games with more than a few head scratches or
questions from the Rays Republic. Maybe bring on RP Andy Sonnanstine
as a pinch-hitter late in a game.


I understand “Rock Star” Johnny
Damon took one on the ring finger in Sunday’s contest and can’t even
hold a bat today, but to take one of your best hitters, even if it is
B J Upton, and sit him against a free-wheeling hurler like White Sox
starter Edwin Jackson tonight just makes me go back to the above
questions…slightly insane or crafty like a fox.


Moving Sam Fuld into Centerfield might
seem a bit crazy to some, but if you read any of Fuld’s 2010 minor
league scouting reports, you will notice Fuld has played mostly
Centerfield in the minor leagues. This idea shows more of the “fox”
tendencies to get Fuld in the line-up, plus possibly exploit another
fielding talent area the Rays Republic has not seen from Fuld outside
of Spring Training.


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But seriously, Joe. You really expect
me and the Rays Republic to not take a gander at Felipe Lopez who is
hitting .265 this season to be the right choice at Designated Hitter
and hitting clean-up and not go find a binding white coat for you to
wear?


Just because Lopez has a career .286
average against “Action” Jackson, did you fail to see that was
only a limited 2-for-7 slice lifetime against tonight’s starter. I am
starting think we might have to watch the exits of the Hard Rock Cafe
and see if you might have a hidden gambler tendency to you…or maybe
you are asking the valets’ for their opinions too. Don’t get mad Joe,
we are just worried about you.


I bet Jackson quickly ran looking for a
calendar in the Visitor’s Clubhouse thinking it was his birthday (
his B-day is actually Sept 9th). How can you possibly
think you are fielding a competitive squad when you send your first 3
players in your line-up tonight who spent most of their 2010 season
at the Triple-A level. Hopefully you have written in the line-up
card in crayon so we have a key defense item against an insanity plea
in the near future.


Seriously, this Rays game can go two
directions tonight. Either it can be another solid outing by Jackson
with another possibility of a “No-No” in the air , or could
implode into a brilliantly conceived Maddon master plan that awakens
a few bats that have laid in mostly silence so far in 2011. Brilliant
or baffling, less than three hours to go to fully divulge the answer.


I still think the real loser here is
Rays starter David Price. He either gets a re-energized solid defense
behind him and is on his game tonight, or it will snowball into
another questionable loss that Price doesn’t deserve. It is almost as
if Price has to hit the mound thinking of a perfectly pitched game
for him to even have a sliver of a chance of celebrating a victory
tonight.


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But that is the thing about this Rays
staff and players. They have been portrayed as AL East second class
citizens in pre-season predictions, butchered by a 0-8 start, but
have quickly risen like a Phoenix from the ashes. Only 9 innings and
27 outs tonight will show if Maddon played his hunches right, rubbed
the rabbit’s foot in the right motion or read his morning tea leaves
with any hint of clarity.


Usually you want to have you most
consistent 9 on the field for a contest against a team who is coming
in for the last 4 games you will play against them in 2011 (baring
the playoffs).


By midnight tonight we are either going
to think Maddon is a pure baseball genius, or Maddon will have most
of us muttering a few choice four-letter words unprintable on here to
describe the performance of his line-up as we exit Tropicana Field.


Whether Maddon is clever as a fox, or
insane in the membrane, you got to love the fact he is not afraid to
tinker, tamper or stir the pot. Hopefully tonight he got his
tendencies right and the dome will be lit up in an orange hue. Just heard a tidbit that
 Maddon is battling a cold…..Could cold medicine have been the true culprit in deciding today’s line-up?  Can’t wait for the post game conversation now…….




Matt Had Us All Re-Joycing Last Night

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You’ve been waiting for this day for a
while Tampa Bay. The perfect time to board the bus and support Tampa
Bay Rays RF Matt Joyce. Sure he is a local guy, graduated from
Armwood High School just a stone throw away from the State
Fairgrounds. But you had doubts.


Hopefully a few of those “doubting
Thomas’s” got some sense of religion last night after Joyce produce a beautiful
2-run single to tie the game against the Twins at 2-all setting the
plate for more hi-jinxs in the later innings. Still some of you
pointed to Joyce getting nailed on a steal in the fifth inning.


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Then again some of you are finally
seeing that this Rays team needs someone like Joyce who seems to pick
his moments and then seals the deal with a key hit, a sensational
catch, or maybe even something as simple as a single into the CF-RF
gap that sent Denard Span into hyper gear, but to no avail.


The mantra of these feisty Rays is
“Find Another Way”. Last night that simple but multi-layered
mantra ended up dancing in the late night streets, celebrated by
howling at a sliver of the moon, and brought the Rays their first
victory at home this season.

The victory also snapped a 2011 5-game
losing streak at Tropicana Field that used to play into the Rays
hands, but has been an albatross for them this season. Furthermore,
the Rays snapped a 9-game consecutive losing streak (including post
season) since September 29, 2010.


Suddenly a team mired in the cellar has
found ” another way” to win, via a new hero every night. A the
Rays Republic are the ones re-Joycing.


  

“The Animal” is Making a Lot of Noise in the Rays Outfield

 

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I love it when a guy comes out of nowhere and makes a play for a spot on the final 25-man roster. It is especially exciting if that guy is one of the Spring Training non-roster invitees who is beginning to make a whole lot of noise with his play in the field, and at the plate, possibly pushing a young Rays farm system player to the side as he tries to stake a claim on a potential roster spot with the Rays for Opening Day.

Most fans who follow the Rays probably did not do a double-take or even bat an eyelash when outfielder Chris Carter signed a minor league deal with a Spring invite back on January 21st. But I took notice. Here was a guy who former New York Mets Manager Jerry Manuel called “The Animal” for his work ethic and who played 100 games for the Mets last season.

He was another of those under the radar signing by Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman that could pay huge dividends either at the beginning of the season, or if an injury bug nips the Rays. Carter is one of those guys you want on your roster. His bat speaks loud, hitting .263 with 4 HR and 24 RBIs in his limited time up in “The Show” in 2010.


alg_mets_carter2.jpgBut if you look at his history, then you get a real view of what potential he could have as another left-handed bat for the Rays. Oh, did I fail to mention as a pinch-hitter for the Mets in 2010, he batted .328 with a solo HR and 10 RBIs. Sure he might miss the final cut due to numbers, go to Triple-A Durham and fortify a chance for a recall sometime in 2011, but this is a guy who gets hot in the early stages of the season and keeps the fires burning for the entire year.

Carter only hit .336 with 6 HR and 22 RBI before the Mets recalled him after 29 games at Triple-A Buffalo. Heck in 2009, while still in the Red Sox system, Carter had 37 multi-hit games (25 2-hit games) while leading Triple-A Pawtucket in batting average, homers,RBI,runs, hits and doubles.

Carter even had a chance to make his MLB debut against the Rays back on June 5,2009 coming in as a pinch-runner, then getting his first MLB hit off Rays reliever Grant Balfour later in that contest. Carter even has the unique distinction of hitting a 4th inning RBI double to bring home J D Drew with the first run to come across the new Home Plate in the first-ever exhibition game (4/9/2009) at Citi Field.

But this is a guy who has always hit well in the minors, and is showing this Spring that he deserves a long,hard look by the Rays as a viable candidate for an outfield position. Carter is currently hitting .412 with 3 RBI, 7 hits, and only one extra base hit ( double) and a .892 OPS. Carter even had a chance to complete a double play from the outfield in his 16 Put Out opportunities and a 11.25 RF rating, which is tied for third best on the Rays this Spring.

All the numbers point to Carter getting an extended “look-see” by the Rays this Spring, but he is currently trying to push the issue by providing spirited play and a hot bat. The problem is there is already a logjam at the outfield position with both Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon expected to get a large slice of the Left Field opportunities.

B J Upton is probably cemented in Center and Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist with an occasional Sean Rodriguez start should solidify the Right Field platoon unit. It might come down to the numbers the Rays will carry on their bench as to if Carter gets a realistic chance to gain a Opening Day roster spot.

091408_7224.jpgSo far he has done everything right, and provided some offense while former Stanford and current Rays teammate Sam Fuld has suffered at the plate. I am anxious to see if Carter can keep up his offensive number through the rest of the Spring and possibly force the Rays into a long and hard decision concerning his immediate future with the Rays. He possesses the hitting and fielding the Rays desire, but also hits from the left side of the plate like Joyce.

As you can see by the photo to the left, Carter can take the pressure. Here he was dressed up for the Red Sox Rookie Hazing as a buxom quasi-blonde, and he seems to be having fun with it all.

 

 The ultimate decision might come down after the Rays last Grapefruit League  game held on March 31st at Tropicana Field. Maybe by then Carter will know where to store his gear for 2011. Even if the answer is a ticket to Triple-A, if Carter gets off to a quick start, the noise from Durham might be deafening, and a return should be in the cards.

 

But what else would you expect from a guy named “The Animal”?

 

 




Dynamic Duo Make Their Rays Debut

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RaysRenegade

Got to admit to all of the Rays Republic, in the beginning I had a few doubts and even reservations about a Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez duo signing. Maybe it was the aspect that they have been associated with the 2004 Red Sox “Cast of Idiots“, or maybe I was afraid they might not be able to “Cowboy Up!” one last time.

After witnessing the magic and pure adrenaline rush permeating through that Tampa Bay Rays Press Conference media room, my doubts and worry suddenly melted off like Ramirez’s pounds during his workouts in Arizona. From the moment their agent Scott Boras led them into the room until Rays Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn yelled “Is that all?” This was a glorious ride to see in person.

I was not suppose to be in this room nestled near the darkness with my little camera, but the entire Rays office was poised at noon today to see the next chapter unfold and I tagged along for the ride. From the media buzz to the clicking of camera’s and live video feed both locally and from MLB, this quickly became a love fest, not just for Tampa Bay, but for the two men seated in the middle of the large table.

Instantly you knew both guys were on the same page, had the same intentions and wanted to the guys to help usher in a repeat American League East title. Like Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein so eloquently said recently, “The demise of the Rays is greatly exaggerated.” I am not climbing the flagpole just yet, or marching fully to that beat of triumph again, but this duo instantly make me hunger for that chance.

Both said the right things too. Ramirez flexed his right arm to show his muscle when asked if he was “fit” ,and Damon said insistently this was not the “last chapter” of his baseball career. Instantly the void that grew immense when former clubhouse guru Carlos Pena vacated for Chi-town became smaller. Suddenly I could see the Rays clubhouse leader ship not come from one speaker, but act in stereo with their actions and observations going to make this team competitive every game.

Suddenly I remembered why I hated these two so much. Their competitive nature just seems to ooze from their confidence levels, and that used to scare the death out of me. But there were comments from both that instantly brought me back to why they were signed, Damon called the Rays his “Dream Team” or Ramirez saying while putting on his number 24 Rays jersey that he ” looks good in white“.

Integrity, confidence and ability all joined hands in that room today. Manny was his usual joking self, but did not shy away from questions on if “Manny might be Manny” in Tampa Bay, but a guy who has hit almost .300 lifetime in this dome knows what is expected of him. Possibly Manny even threw out a nugget for the Rays to consider in 2011 that he thinks he can play “five more years”. Not making any predictions, but if Manny is right he has already made his money….maybe a Tampa Bay discount knowing this team can compete might be in the future.

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 The love fest we saw between these two today was incredible. You can tell they are more than happy to be playing with each other again, and the respect level is very high between them. Several times during the Press Conference I expected both to rise and do an Ari Gold (Entourage) “hug out“. Not since Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs and HOF hopeful Fred McGriff put on a Rays uniform have I been excited about such a veteran duo. Some in the assembled crowd made predictions of a possible 70 Home Runs between the pair while other were optimistic of a great meshing of the duo with the young Rays corps.I left that room running for my laptop in the car wanting to write this. Eager to let this feeling flow from me today of this incredible moment. Some say defining moments in a franchise’s history never reveal themselves until later, but today the moment just felt perfectly right for a half hour. So the signings are official, the jerseys have pressed their backs for the first time and the media got to shake their verbal hands with Damon and Ramirez. For some reason the comment from Ramirez to Damon of “You play 100 games, I’ll play 62” (referring to LF) is still ringing in my ears…in a good way. 

I snuck in to see this magical moment mush like a kid who sneaks under the canvas at the circus. I expected to see a sideshow event. Once that propped both of them up in a definite light. What I got was two men who had extreme confidence and respect for each other pass compliment after compliment not just to themselves, but to the young team they will embrace in 2011.

I really do hope that Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce and the rest of the Rays budding hitter pick the brains of these two baseball icons. I hope the competitive nature and confidence level showed by Damon and Ramirez today fills that Rays Spring Training clubhouse. But most of all I am just glad I got to see the magic happen….firsthand.

Tampa Bay’s Own Casey Kotchman Added to First Base Mix

 

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Zimbio 

Anyone who has attended a Rays game in the past knows that when Casey Kotchman came into town for a series, there was a line at the Visitor’s dugout. Former teammates, Kotchman Baseball School students, coaches and even friends have been known to surround the dugout rails for a moment with the former Seminole High School star before Rays games. Now the Rays dugout might be feeling that pressure as the Tampa Bay area product is coming home to play for his hometown Rays.

The addition of Kotchman today to a $ 750,000 minor league contract with incentives could become another fine tooled feather in the cap of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman as he pieces together another contending ball club. It instantly fills a need for the Rays, plus provides another ounce of proven ability to a club most thought was going to roll over and die for a few seasons.

The signing of Kotchman shows the Rays value ability as well as staying within the limits of their thin pocketbook, and might be another off-the-radar pick-up by the frugal Friedman. Bringing in local star Kotchman could also have a clear double-edged sword effect on the Rays roster this Spring.

In one clear instance, this move will automatically raise the level of corner infield talent and ability at the First Base bag and provide a great measure of not only healthy, but needed competition between Kotchman and Dan Johnson this Spring. On paper, this signing might look a bit one-sided with Kotchman winning by a landslide the defensive side of the overall 1B equation, but as we already well know, the mind of Rays Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t always follow common baseball logic.

Kotchman has appeared at First Base 581 times in his MLB career with Los Angeles/Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle. Johnson has only manned the First Base bag only 21 games total in his Rays career.

You automatically see Kotchman as a key defensive replacement for departed past Gold Glover Carlos Pena. Even though Kotchman, who sports a .998 lifetime fielding percentage including only one error in 116 games for the Seattle Mariners during the 2010 season, it isn’t as clear cut on the offensive side of the numbers.

With both Rays First Baseman taking their swings from the left-side of the Batter’s Box ( same as Pena), the ultimate winner of this Spring battle might come down to a few more intricate pieces of either players arsenal such as OPS, RISP. And possibly strikeouts. All First Baseman indications prior to the signing of Kotchman seemed to be focused on a Ben Zobrist and Johnson platoon, but the addition of the sure handed glove of Kotchman might actually provide a bit of outfield controversy this Spring.

The Rays Brian trust must have a plan in mind prior to this signing, and possibly a platoon action could be configured also with Kotchman and Johnson in mind. Looking at their offensive numbers, Kotchman has not produced as fluidly as he did from 2006-2007 when he was with the Angels.

Then again, Kotchman has been kind of pigeon-holed offensively over the past few years in platoon action while with the Mariners, Red Sox and Braves. If Kotchman can prove that his .219 average and 75 points fall off his slugging percentage was a fluke, he could see significant starts at First Base for the Rays. Kotchman actually on paper looks a bit like Pena in that when he gets into a solid rhythm at the plate, he can turn on the magic.

I still think it is Johnson’s spot to lose. The Rays have kept Johnson close to them for a few years for some reason that defies some of our own logic. Possibly the Rays have the gut feeling that with extended playing time and at bats, he can return to his pre-2007 offensive numbers he held while a member of the Oakland A’s. Back then, Johnson hit 42 Home Runs in 3 season and produced 162 walks.

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BleacherReport

I want to wax poetic here and think that Johnson’s 2008 Home Run against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was the greatest HR in Rays history, but some think it was the right guy at the right time only. Personally I would love to see Johnson get an extended 2011 try at first for the Rays, but considering his batting average against right-handed pitchers hovers below .200, but Kotchman only get a slim lead based on his own .239 average against righties.

An interesting tidbit is that Kotchman went 1 for 10 (.100) on turf in 2010 while Johnson only went 13 for 63 (.206). But if you look at a factor like On-Base Percentages, Johnson has a slight leg-up on Kotchman .343 to .280. It might just come down to something as simple as run production and game day match-ups to decide who out of this pair might get the nightly starting nod.

With runners in scoring position, Kotchman sits closer to .300 against both left-handers and right-handers while Johnson sits under .200 against right-handers. The numbers tend to bunch both of them close into a possible platoon situation with Maddon again possibly tinkering with his line-up nightly to get the slight edge. It might ultimately come down to plate discipline. Johnson’s posted a 25-to-27 walk to strikeout ratio while Kotchman leaned more towards the strikeout 35-to-57 in 2010.

By no means does the signing of Kotchman signal the end of the Johnson idea at First Base for the Rays. It just muddles the waters a bit and provides each player with a dynamic where they have to produce to get a shot at manning the bag full-time. But each player seems even in regards to right-handed pitching, so neither has a solid chance to cement their name on the line-up just based on which side the pitcher lines up on the mound.

2011 has been a year of surprises so far for the Rays. The addition today of Kotchman has to be viewed as a positive move by the franchise to give the Rays more depth and defensive ability going into Spring Training. Going into the February 20th report date for all players to the Rays Spring Training Camp, I am going to give a slight edge to Kotchman at First Base. I still think it is Johnson’s to lose, but I got to support and root for the hometown guy…Sorry D J.

Was Burrell just plain Evil as a Rays Doppelganger?

 


 

There was growing Tampa Bay Rays rumor floating in the Rays clubhouse prior to the 2010 season that Rays All Star outfielder Carl Crawford would not even entertain an idea of a contract extension because of this one player. In 2009, the tension grew and grew between these two leaders in the Rays clubhouse until finally a confrontation between the two exploded and Crawford had to be restrained by Rays starting pitcher James Shields.


Crawford’s adversary had taken a cheap shot at his friend and teammate B J Upton after a contest, and somehow pushed Crawford beyond his boiling point. Immediately a thickening line was drawn in the sand nonverbally that if the Rays valued Crawford, that this one individual had to go. Increasing rants and raves outside the locker room began to point towards this lone figure and provide a mountain of blame because of his decrease in productivity and leadership to this young budding squad.

More and more the sediment became apparent in the stands that member of the Rays Republic has seen their tempers growing thin with his antics and his chatter . That his mown rhetoric of playing in the field fueling his motivation fell upon increasingly deafened ears as the divide began to grow deeper between himself and the Rays fans. Finally on May 14, 2010 after he went 0-4 in a 4-3 loss against the Seattle Mariners at home in Tropicana Field, the door closed quickly on his time in a Rays uniform.

On that Friday night in May when he hit a long fly ball out to Ichiro Suzuki in the bottom of the ninth inning, it would be his last time putting on a Rays uniform. After that night, the evil doppelganger that was Pat “The Bat” Burrell was laid to rest by the Rays. The next morning the Rays front office officially designated Burrell for assignment, but he was not even in the Rays clubhouse.

Burrell had already heard the news and was adjusting for another shot somewhere else. He would have to endure a 10 day storm of criticism and negative innuendo before finally weathering the storm and searching for his next opportunity. He had hit a paltry .202 during that short span with the Rays, but he still knew he could play the game if he could find an employer who would listen to his plea and give him an opportunity.

 

Burrell had been crying to the heavens before his release to the Rays staff that he needed to ” get into the flow of the game” by playing in the field with an occasional Designated Hitter relief spot. That playing everyday in the green grass(turf) got him into a positive flow and environment where he produced instead of sitting on a bench expected to rise to the occasion 4 or 5 times a game. He needed a consistent game flow, not one predicated by InterLeague games and Spring Training starts only in the outfield.


So were we all fools not to heed Burrell’s logic? Did he really know the essence of his hitting stemmed from his getting some time in the fresh air and outfield, or was it just a ruse? Considering the pure fact that Burrell seemed to suffocate within his new restrictions as a DH in the American League, did that predicate his departure again for the National League and a chance to again force a team to insert him into an outfield situation?

Was Burrell’s pleas and wants to play in the outfield met by deafened ears within the Rays system and not even thought of as an alternative to getting his fires churning before the Rays designated him? Here the ideas are speculation, but the proof is in the pudding. Burrell suddenly seemed to excel again once his tootsies touched the green grass/turf of the outfield.

 

Burrell had to shed the evil doppelganger persona and renew his NL allegiance by signing with the San Francisco Giants for the rest of the 2010 season for the league minimum salary. The Rays were still on the hook for a bulk of his $ 9 million salary, but they now had no ties or bonds to the enhanced positive spirit and exuberated talents now showcased by Burrell during the reminder of 2010.


His evil doppelganger never reared its ugly side in San Francisco, instead a more centered and reliable bat spilled out of the rejuvenated Burrell. Before May 14,2010 ( 24 games) Burrell had compiled a .202 batting average with 2 HR and 13 RBI. In tune with the evil doppelganger, Burrell had struck out 28 times in only 84 plate appearances. Simple nasty numbers considering his high salary and the demand for consistent performance from his DH position.

Upon his return to the Major Leagues with the Giants in 2010, Burrell went on to play in 96 games for the G-men posting 18 HR and 58 RBIs and boosting his OPS to a .872 mark. His strikeout totals were still high (77 in 289 at bats), but Burrell quickly quadrupled his walk totals and provided a much needed offensive piece of power for the Giants. Burrell even felt a rejuvenation in his play in the field playing 87 games in the Giant’s outfield and collecting only 2 errors. A total of 632 innings in the outfield and only two small errors. By comparison, the Rays right fielder Matt Joyce played in 63 games for a total of 472 innings and had 3 errors.

Simply put, Burrell might have been right about his fielding help accentuate his hitting. Maybe if both the Rays staff and the fans given him a chance to play in the field occasionally, it might have worked to the satisfaction of both parties and given Burrell a renewed energy and vitality at the plate. Of course this is purely speculation because in hindsight, who knows what Burrell could of done if Burrell was included in the platoon mix in Rightfield for the Rays.

 

The cycle has now seemed to have turned 180 degree for Burrell with a level of success and another trip to the post season firmly within his grasp. Burrell is having the time of his life renewed by the pressure and stress caused in trying to win a National League pennant for his new club against his old squad, the Philadelphia Phillies. Funny how ironic it is now that the Rays signed Burrell as a offensive weapon in their arsenal for the next time the Rays could have faced the Phillies in a playoff situation.


Crawford has now boxed up his equipment and gone home for the season, possibly never to wear a Rays uniform again. The Rays never seemed to have gotten a level of consistent power or hitting from their DH even after Burrell’s departure. Ironic again that the Rays might have finally cut their ties with Burrell thinking he was not the piece that would get them to their final goals in 2010. Now Burrell is preparing for a trip home to San Francisco with the series tied 1-all and a chance to again be anointed as a godsend late addition to the Giants than as a possible evil Rays doppelganger.

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