Results tagged ‘ Matt Moore ’

Great Luck and Solid Game Prep Have Moore Looking Pretty Perfect

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You have to think Rays southpaw Matt Moore has found the key to surviving and conquering his early seasonal pothole that has plagued him over his minor league and MLB career. Possibly it is as easy as a well-rubbed rabbit’s foot nestled in his left rear pants pocket that has helped him guide his 2013 numbers towards astronomical levels.

201303201845675068349-p2It is almost unheard of that a starting pitcher can post a 0.00 Era after 2 starts and not have been in the league at least 3-4 seasons. Even more surprising (in a great way) is the fact Moore is 2-0 even though he has had a few control situation, especially in regards to walks and not had one runner come around to haunt to hoist his ERA skyward.

But it is a confident thing for Rays fans that Moore has developed himself as a key component of this season’s team so early in the campaign especially as fellow ace and leftie David Price has found himself in a bit of a early season rut and showing a few signs of potential downswing from his 2012 Cy Young season. With Moore right now basically leading the Rays in not only ERA, but wins it will bring himself not only a great confidence boost, but could help produce the needed wins that could decide the Rays fate in September.

Right now I want to believe Moore can sustain this pace and post at least 5 or more wins before anything transpires that will de-rail this phenomenal start, but the reality is that we all know the floor will vibrate and finally crack for Moore but as a fan base we hope that happens later more than sooner.

Matt MooreThe reason I implied Moore might have a lucky charm is the pure fact he has given up unexpected walks that could of, should have come back to haunt him, but has miraculously come out unscathed and still holds a spotless 0.00 ERA.

With Price getting roughed up a bit early on this season, the incredible start by Moore is amplified and a much needed boost in the arm for the Rays causes, especially as they headed out for their first road trip of the season. Even more amazing is the fact Moore and the Rays 5th starter, Alex Cobb have kept this club’s pitching staff secure more than a few victories, and heading into their early AL East swing in the schedule, these games could decide any divisional goal of the Rays.

201304101810654390137-p2This is the potential we all hoped would come to the top for Moore who boasted some incredible strikeout numbers and control in his minor league starts, and with his new found rhythm and confidence started by this great string to the start of his 2013 season, the Rays will ride the luck of Moore until he levels out and begins to settle in to the middle of his starts this season.

I hope Moore not only posts more amazing results, but sees his game elevate during this string of starts hopefully possessing the Rays to moving him from his current 4th spot to the 3rd slot in the Rays rotation after an off day. Moore right now is doing the things we always envisioned he would as a starter, and with that he has taken this team firmly on his back and brought victories and smiles to his fellow players as well as the fan who truly want to see Moore succeed and become a pillar of this Rays staff.

Moore Finds His Groove and Posts a Beautiful Shutout Win

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If Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore who is usually a slow starter to begin the season as he gains velocity and control gets even a tad bit better for his second start, he might throw the Rays second No-Hitter. Seriously though, the fact Moore seems to have found a nice balance against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night and allowed only 2 hit to go with his 8 K’s and took home the “W” in his first start of the young season.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172823-107Maybe we can attest this change of routine to the fact Moore looked a little scruffy on the hill, not his usual clean-cut All-American cover boy self. Possibly Moore has taken a page from fellow southpaw David Price and just go with the flow and what the hitters give you and not stress the small stuff or missed borderline calls.

Or maybe it is really as simple as Moore took the mound during his Spring Training gigs like it was already the season and he used those 4 starts as his “early season” roller-coaster starts. No matter what the true reasoning is, it was great to see Moore showing great control, eliminating his walks and going6 innings while throwing an even 100 pitches. The pure fact Moore got to the 6th inning and helped the Bullpen is huge as it gave newly called-up reliever Brandon Gomes a chance to shine as well as give Jake McGee a solid outing to get that huge ERA starting it free-fall towards some sort of normalcy.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-192808-9463 times during his 6 inning stint Moore set the side down in order with only three hitters coming to the plate. And only during the top of the 3rd when Cleveland had 5 hitters come to the plate and advanced Mike Aviles to Third Base did a hitter reach third base. Moore even helped his own cause by pitching inside to Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera who hit a weakly hit ball right to Evan Longoria who rocketed the ball to Jose Lobaton stationed at Home Plate to gun down Cabrera and keep the shutout intact for Moore.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172837-183That is the kind of pitching that will elevate this team and keep them in ballgames. Playing to the oppositions weaknesses and strangling their run scoring opportunities by keeping the ball in the park, and on the ground. Of the 10 balls hit and put into play last night, 6 were on the ground and were converted with no problems at all. If Moore can keep playing to the Rays strength of a solid and well-oiled Rays infield defense, this is only the first of the wins for him in 2013.

Roberto Hernandez Could be the Linchpin to Several Rays Spring Decisions

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So we can already guess upon the top 2 slots in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation without much debate. But number 3 through 5 will definitely bring about a few thoughts, opinions and possible destinations for the one hurler who loses out a slot with the team. It truly seems that SP/RP Roberto Hernandez will have a say on who might take the third slot, then the rest will hopefully fall into place with possibly one odd man out, and he might just find himself in an ironic footnote.

RobHernWhen the Rays first signed Roberto Hernandez I was not sure which pitcher we might see this Spring. We could have seen the guy who was “lights out” as the Opening Day starter for the Indians, or the pitcher who seemed in a daze last season putting up sub-par numbers and maybe battling a bit of a confidence issue due to his “name game”. Instead we have seen Hernandez throwing some interesting innings, and he could possibly push his way up to number 3 if SP Matt Moore has some more control and questionable decision while on the hill.

And I do not mean this as a demotion to Moore, but the Rays could have a guy in Hernandez who could be throwing at a #2 level right now and with Moore fighting a few issues, pushing him back to the 4th slot could give him extra time with Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey or to work on his mechanics and be ready to start off the Rays second home series of the season against the Cleveland Indians. This short reversal in the rotation order could be beneficial to Moore in fixing his small flaws and also get him going against a foe that seems to hate left-handers.

201303051306471744340-p2Moore could in all likelihood after a few good starts reclaim his 3rd position, possibly as soon as April 16th in Baltimore due to a Rays off-day on April 11th in the middle of the Rays first road trip of the season. Of course that would push SP Alex Cobb into the final slot for the rotation baring an injury or the Rays decided SP Jeff Niemann would be a better fifth starter. But that is the biggest question mark of the Spring, and that decision might be delayed all the way into the Rays final contest in Tropicana Field against the Detroit Tigers on March 30th.

It seems more than likely at this moment even with a stellar Spring Niemann might be the odd man out and ironically, the Tall Texan could be possibly headed to the MLB team the last guy who fought him for a fifth slot found himself on Opening Day. You might remember the Spring 2008 battle between fellow right-hander and hurler out of options Jason Hammel and Niemann came down to the last possible inning before Hammel got shipped off to Colorado.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red SoxIronically, Niemann could also be heading to Coors Field because just as that moment, he is still out of options and would never pass through the waiver wire without someone hitching his name to their roster. The Rockies have checked in on Niemann already this Spring, and with a trade that might include a few prospects and maybe a fringe MLB player at best, Niemann could be staring at the Centerfield waterfall on the Rockies Opening Day.

So a few things seem to hinge in where the Rays truly see Hernandez in their rotation, either as high as third until Moore clears out a few cobwebs, or possibly as far down as fifth if the team think Cobb has the goods to secure that spot for the season. But with Moore having a few hiccups, using a proven MLB starter at the third slot until he clears his hurdle would be beneficial to him and the Rays especially since they have Hernandez on their roster.

sp_cobb030713_10351535_8colSome might say put Cobb in the 3-slot and let him learn on the job, but with an early seasonal tilt with a playoff and American League East divisional rivals slant, not putting the extra pressure on Cobb could turn out to be a blessing especially if it means he gets to mature at his pace and might get some extremely favorable match ups in the fifth slot that would favor the Rays right-hander.

Niemann seems to be the odd man out, but if the Rays see him as a long reliever, then he might not have to worry about any trade rumors and could find himself seated down where his old teammate Wade Davis sat in 2012…the Rays Bullpen.

JameyWThis is where another decision might have to be made. If the Rays think long time journeyman Jamey Wright might push Niemann firmly towards the door. If the Rays think Wright could be a right-handed option out of the Bullpen and stay healthy throughout the season, he could find himself taking Niemann’s slot in the Rays 25-man roster.

So it might be a bit of trickle-down right now with the Rays as they decide where to position Hernandez, and if Wright is a viable option for the Bullpen. Either way you seem to slice it right now, Niemann is firmly on the razor’s edge, and any slight wavering by the Rays in the coming week could either bring him back to safety, or mark his trail onward and outside the Rays roster.  

 

 

First Glimpse at Photos From Today’s 2013 Media Day

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This is the day a lot of us wait for wondering who will smile, who will not, and who just might have the most character in front of the photo lens. When the Tampa Bay Rays take their Team Photos, you never know what will transpire and make itself to the Web. So I hit up a familiar website that usually posts these photos in nano-seconds and took 21 of the photos uploaded and presented them here for you to get a first glance/peek at before the final set is divulge.

ArcherFlettfootAs always most of the main characters within the Rays roster got their time in front of the lens, but a few of the Rays team photos did not make it into this first batch and probably will make their way onto the blogosphere some time soon, but I’m hoping they might show a bit more character and possibly a splash of that classic Rays humor we all know and love.

Longo1Of course Evan Longoria is not in this first set as he was motoring towards the St. Petersburg area to attend to a bit of baby business, but we know when his photo does surface, he will definitely have a grin from ear-to-ear as Papa Longo heads into the 2013 MLB season. But the 2013 edition of the Team Photos does look a bit tame compared to some of their previous Team Photos since the Rays moved their Spring Training complex 79 miles to the South in the hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida

MerlotSRodOut of this first batch of photos there are the usual pairings like Ben Zobrist, David Price and Rays Manager Joe Maddon that look more like a Glamor Shots shooting than a Team Photo. But the camera again this season seems to love some people while also doing a 180 shift on others to kind of dull their enthusiasm and excitement and make fun of others.Some times the worst thing to do in front of a camera lens is try and look too professional be too serious as the camera doesn’t have a brain and can then tend to make them look more demented or possibly deranged even before the first Grapefruit League contest.

CobbColomeThis season the “Grumpy” awards might go to Rays SP Alex Cobb who looks serious, but also has that serial bean ball artist look much like Kyle Farnsworth’s every year photo.Interesting enough, minor league prospect SP Alex Colome might actually get the old moniker I stuck on his Uncle, ex-Rays RP Jesus “Smiley” since his photo looks more like a mug shot than a happy occasion. But that is what sets Team Photos apart.

Not all of them will be masterpieces or utter clusters, but it is the time of the season when  you can definitely tell who is relaxed, who might need a long hug, or who should be tackled by Raymond and tickled to the point of a huge smile and giggle.

Luke2Still, I think Luke Scott might actually have a twin in the Rays Spring Clubhouse mounted right alongside his locker. Now if he dyed his mutton chops white they might actually look like the tusks of that wild boar currently residing with a Rays Spring starburst cap in the Clubhouse.

But it is still great to see most of the photos are relaxed, tranquil photos that definitely shows who is eager, who is relaxed and who the camera seems to love.

LOneyLeeRays newcomer James Loney seemed to have brought a bit of that old LA vibe with him into the photo day as he looks perfectly calm, cool and collected as the Rays head into their 2013 slate of Grapefruit contests in less than a few days.

HellHernandezAlso within the first 21 photos released were SP Jeremy Hellickson, INF Sean Rodriguez, SS Hak-Ju Lee, Desmond Jennings and someone who might just make a player for a rotation slot this Spring, Roberto Hernandez.  There will be more photos in the future, but this first crop of Rays Team Photos for 2013 definitely shows the vast polar realms of personalities on this Rays squad this Spring.  Not matter what transpires, I can definitely see this team this Spring not being a bore…or is that boar?

Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament is Always a Home Run

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I do not remember the first time I went out to the Tyrone area of St. Petersburg, Florida and watched my first Miracle League ballgame. Here were kids, some with huge physical disadvantages with smiles going from ear-to-ear laughing, along with their adult co-pilots whistling around a soft surfaced baseball diamond with the ease and grace of deer or birds. I tugs deep inside you to see the joy, adulation and huge amounts of spirit on display not only by the cheering parents and friends, but by other kids awaiting their own turn at the plate.

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 048The Miracle League was the first charity ex-Tampa Bay Rays catcher Toby Hall took under his wing when he began his foundation. As the league as grown, so has Hall’s involvement with another great institution, Buddy Baseball who now joins side-by-side with The Miracle League as Hall’s main baseball charitable interests. Both of these leagues embrace the positive things about the game of baseball as well as promote equality as players no matter your limitations and bring about a honest and positive experience for all involved.

And this is something Hall has not only embraced during his playing days, but also kept the spirit alive and thriving since his retirement from baseball last season. His foundation and his annual Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament have grown just as much as his charities, and the involvement of present and past athletes from the Tampa Bay are and beyond have stepped to the plate and knocked balls clear past the fences with their charitable donations and efforts.

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 011From his golf day events and raffles, to that evening much anticipated silent auction, I have been glad to watch as this event has grown into an event that people mark on their calendars as far back as October to be a part of this event.

This season I got a grand honor of being the celebrity greeter at the event and got to meet plenty of people I have never met personally as well as greet old baseball friends and past participants who remember my face. And this event is not only for baseball players. The assorted collection of athletes and celebrities from this region that show support for this event runs a gambit from artists like TW Curtis, Hooters/ Sports radio icon Lynne Austin, Rays “strapping young Rays lad Todd Kalas, and even Fisher from 97X radio grace the celebrity pairings as well as guys who made their name on the fields, ice and gridirons.

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 107From the frozen ice we saw former Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, Pat Jablonski putting a few dimpled balls into the cup. Boxing champion Winky Wright took a few doglegs left and right this year as well as Montgomery Biscuits Coach Ozzie Timmons and his memorable pants. Even LPGA golfer Brittany Lincicome and Lantana Stone made celebrity appearances this year. Buried in the list of celebrities was also a race car driver, Martin Plowman. In all, athletes from ex-Bucs great Mike Alstott to Wright made their yearly pilgrimage to Hall’s event, and as always, fun was in the air and the kid’s were on our minds.

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 036The day was prefect for golf. Not to hot, not to cold (until the later hours) and just enough wind to drive the golfers crazy with slices and hooks, but also keep the sweat off your neck and arms to prevent a little too much Sun. Even special treats like amazing Bloody Marys via an icy adventure, to succulent and tangy shrimp cakes with an amazing sauce kept spirits high and fun at an explosive level. It was great seeing old Rays baseball friends like Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Romano, Randy Winn and the “Crime Dog” Fred McGriff take time out of their schedules for such a great cause.

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 091Other current MLB players like Adam Lind, Jesse Litsch and AJ Pierzenski (who brought his own foursome) along with the Rays rotation duo of Alex Cobb and Matt Moore showed their support for Hall’s charities as well as play a pretty competitive and good spirited round of golf. And the Tampa Bay Bucs were not absent from the festivities as former players like Alstott, Dave Moore, Anthony Becht and Reidel Anthony played along side current Bucs WR Vincent Jackson during the scramble tournament.

As always, the day began with everyone relaxing, eating some lunch and getting themselves ready for a great day for golf and supporting Hall’s many charitable organizations. From mulligans purchases to the final bids of the evening at the banquet with our new comedic friend “hook ‘em horns” guy, the event came to a final end with some of the kids and parents of both charities in attendance at the nightly banquet/silent auction.

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 092I even got into the spirit this season bidding on a great autographed item and being able to take it home and proudly put it on my wall as a reminder of this great event and the guy who brings joy to so many kids within The Miracle League and Buddy Baseball.

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 008So, I need the date for next year because I definitely want to highlight it and save it because who would not want to be a part of this foundation’s great events and shake hands with the humble host who always seems to get that clutch donation. I have always had mad respect for Hall, but this season I think I can ratchet it up a few more hundred notches.

Always a pleasure helping Toby out with this event, and I’m not only looking forward to the 2014 Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament, but 3-4 years into the future as it is so much fun to volunteer and be a part of such a great event hosted by such a humble and great supporter of the game of baseball. Call me anytime Toby, I’ll help in anyway possible.

Here is a Flickr link to all 81 photos taken during the 2013  Toby Hall Spring Training Celebrity Golf Tournament.

Rays “Golden Arms” Were the Highlight of 2012

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As we begin our final countdown days towards the end of 2012, I want to take a moment to look back and remember both fondly and shudder at what was the Tampa Bay Rays 15th full season. This team showed us so much in their 180 day 2012 campaign both on the turf and off as this team bonded like never before where we all were witnessed to watch segments of their battle plan both explode and implode.

m3f5403-retouchIt was a season where human action figures named “Batman” (Wil Rhymes), “Godzilla” (Hidecki Matsui) and even “Wolverine” (Luke Scott) intertwined with “Zorilla” (Ben Zobrist), “HellBoy” (Jeremy Hellickson) and the “Archer” (Fernando Rodney). Even with such heroic character names, this team could not ultimately find a way into the October post season party, but their travel from game 1-162 was never boring, or devoid of heart and soul. We also got to see this team’s “nerdy”-side as team road trips again showed imagination and chemistry.

york-yankees-v-tampa-bay-20120702-193721-7552012 was also the season we saw a few players take their game to the next level with authority. B J Upton missed the coveted “30-30” spot by 2 HR, but in his failed attempt we finally saw glimmers of the potential we have always envisioned for him. Hellickson, fresh off his AL Rookie of the Year platform again garnered new hardware as he earned a special honor of garnering a co-ownership spot in the form of a glistening Gold Glove taking his pitching education to another dimension. We got to see the pitching promise that is Chris Archer, the resounding clarity that was Fernando Rodney brilliance, but also felt the pain and anguish of Rhymes as he collapsed into the arms of Rays First Base coach George Hendricks.

d2We all got to bear witness to one of those once-in-a-generation moments as Rays southpaw David Price and New York Mets knuckleballer R A Dickey both squared off in an early Inter League showdown on their journey towards their eventual Cy Young moments. Price in particular showed his stamina and determination throughout the 2012 campaign being one of the true linchpins of the Rays rotation providing the type of consistency and fortitude needed of your number 1 hurler.

In an ironic twist, the Rays home city of St. Petersburg, Florida somehow dropped the celebration ball with Price, possibly committing a ultimate publicity faux pas by getting “one-upped” by their “neighboring community” of Tampa presenting Price the key to the city with Astro, his trusty sidekick getting the opening cue on ESPN’s “Sportcenter” that evening. As is Price’s personality, he rolled with the moment possibly producing the best dog sound byte since Lassie’s first bark on television.

tumblr_m3fqj3gHF31qekndso3_12802012 was definitely a “Dog’s year” for the Rays as early on in the Spring they revealed their true love for the canine when players from the team teamed up with local no-kill animal shelter/clinic Pet Pals to produce a calendar that showcased the likes of RP Wade Davis’s German Shepherd pal Charlie, Evan Longoria’s “Spuds McKenzie” look-alike Bull Terrier Jango and Longo’s other canine condo bunk mate Boerboel Mastiff Tatum. We all even got to meet Maddon’s stoic English Bulldog furry friend Winston who like Astro has his own twitter account. Even behind the camera lens there was a Rays presence as James Shields wife Ryane did all of the shutterbug duties as the team embraced this community animal haven.

6985308645_09d3a46c7d_zalso saw bald again become beautiful as both Rays players, Coaches and even front office personnel let their curly and straight locks of hair fall to the wooden decks of the Charlotte Sports Park this Spring. From Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Maddon to even Rays clubhouse staffers, all sat in the barber’s chairs to show community support and love for the “Cut for a Cause” campaign started by another fellow Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning star Vinny LeCavalier to bring about awareness to local pediatric cancer organizations and promote one of the Spring most heart-felt moments.

Even with all this animal love bounding through the Tampa Bay region, 2012 was also produced another stalemate check mark as the team and the surrounding communities wage verbal and visual battles trying to loosen the Rays lips and get some sort of loose translation sound byte of their own in the Rays quest to find their next home on either side of the bay.

carillon-new-rays-stadiumWith proposals surfacing that went as far East as the Florida Fairgrounds region, to a patch of dirt just off the Howard Franklin bridge in the Carrilon region, the entire community awaits with baited breath for some sign of the Rays want to stay or leave this community. Hopefully 2013 the silence will be broken and at least some parameters set into the community as to the Rays visions and dreams of a new state-of-the-art stadium hopefully somewhere in the Tampa Bay region.

Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta2012 started off with a few displays of fireworks with walk-off victories and the revelation that would become the foundation of the Rays Archery Club as we all bared witness to re-emergence of the shut-down abilities of Rodney who pushed post game arrows higher and farther with even his teammates watching as his quivers and stats reached levels not seen in the MLB for some time. Just watching Rodney pull back the imaginary string and release into the sky a Rays record 48 times was reason enough to be a Rays fan. 2012 was also filled with “Gladiator” moments as the team embraced the Roman warrior culture with some of it making its way onto television screen across America.

Evan LongoriaUnfortunately 2012 also revealed a few flaws in the Rays machine, especially after Longoria went down with a hamstring injury and the Rays began a roller coaster ride that did not straighten out until Longo again adorned a Rays uniform and returned to the lineup. Even with the Rays pitching staff producing incredible numbers in strikeouts, saves and ERA during 2012, the elimination of the Rays most potent weapon for such a long stretch showed their Achilles heel to all, and their opposition attacked the Rays at the core of their weakness with vengeance.

201208221343494136596-p2Even though Upton, Zobrist and even new Ray Jeff Keppinger tried to fill the void, their own production was muted by the struggles and slumps of Carlos Pena, Scott and the merry-go-round that was the Rays Third Base and Shortstop position for most of the season. The Rays once strong point of defense sprung leaks, showed faults and ultimately produced moments that reminded all of us of those pre-2008 Rays squads. 

It is hard to find a true title to the Rays 15th campaign. For all the highs and lows, the moments of exhilaration as we witnessed walk-offs and lost opportunities, nothing really stood out except the 5 souls who made up the Rays rotation.

Seattle Mariners v Tampa Bay RaysTheir arms truly becoming “golden” during the season as the team set an AL leading marks of 1,385 K’s , a incredible combined team ERA of 3.19, and saw Shields and Price eclipse the 200+ inning mark again. 2012 also saw mirror image inning production from young Rays Moore (177.1 innings pitched) and Hellickson (177.0 innings pitched) as they gained another strong year on the mound.

In the end, 2012 began and ended on the mound for the Rays. No matter what offensive highlight moment or defensive mis-step behind them, the Rays hurlers both starting and in relief set the tone this season and brought this team within a few victories of again hitting October moments. Their consistency, going deep into contests combined with stellar relief marks by everyone down in the Rays Bullpen gave us hope and want that the playoffs and October glory was still within our reach.

thYou can say 2012 was a lot of things from “Fortune Favoring the Bold”, to arrows piercing the night sky, but in the end it truly was the Rays “Golden Arms” who kept us spirited and showed us determination, heart and even a little hustle can produce moments to remember. As a homage to 2012, I am definitely tilting my cap to the right on New Years Eve as an homage to what was so fantastic about 2012.

Who Will Take a Chance on the Rays Roulette Wheel?

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The Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching situation is beginning to emulate the spinning of a casino Roulette wheel. Sure it is a gamble on both ends of this spectrum, but the Rays have the advantage here as the spinning of the wheel with any of their MLB or even minor league hurlers’ names anointed on the spinning circle could bring them rewards, financial stability or provide an end to a future problem scenario.

377261244And right now the Rays have more than a few suitors watching the spinning wheel wondering if their trade wagers either catch the Rays attention or if they only get a fleeting glance as the team takes in all of the MLB barters trying to find the one that brings the team the personnel windfall this franchise will need in 2013 or beyond to be competitive. As the dizzying wheel keeps gaining momentum and speed, you have to wonder if there are members of the MLB’s brass who will throw down the right coinage on the Rays felt and come away with a treasured piece, or go away empty-handed, wondering if they short-changed their opportunity to gain pitching riches.

I hate to tell everyone around the Rays Republic, but that always present fear of having a huge threshold of starting pitching talent and no where to put them is firmly on display on the Rays gaming table, but do not fret, just like Las Vegas, the Rays front office has the odds in their favor. Now is the time of the off season where we will truly see if anyone in the MLB is anxious to throw down a few much needed trinkets or prospects to entice a deal with the Rays and take a prized piece from the team;s staring pitching coffers.

201207151513547959658-p2This is the reality of the combined effort of the Rays over recent years of stockpiling such starting talent that one day the noise would be deafening as these hurlers begin to pound on and finally break through the Rays farm system ceiling on their journey to the major league level. Also at this time comes the stark realization and ramifications of the Rays current starters hitting their groove at the highest level and other MLB teams seeing that maturity and seeing their future potential rise even higher as their fiscal presence begins to put strain on the Rays fabric, almost to the point of breaking. 

I truly think we will see one, and possibly two pieces of the Rays starting staff traded before the end of July 2013 Trade deadline. This would be beneficial to the Rays by releasing some of that vented pressure both financially and physically so another cog of the Rays expanding pitching machine can take their place at the MLB level. But this current epidemic is this is not a 1-year situation in the release of a bit of this compounded pressure.

Over the next 3-4 seasons we could see an additional 2 or 3 more Rays starters possibly exhaled from the Rays balloon, finally bringing about a bit more room within the organization for the next generation of Rays pitchers to find their own grooves and one day be the focal points of another Rays purge as they block the way for another wave of Rays prospects on their trail of MLB glory possibly by 2017-2018.

GraybeardOn the expanded roulette wheel right now there are at least 3 current Rays names on the tips of MLB tongues that could find themselves wearing a different teams garb sooner than they realize. James Shields might be the guy everyone is pointing to right now, but Jeremy Hellickson and David Price also have to feel a bit of extra pressure and uncertainty as the financial reality comes over the horizon they are either too expensive to sign to extensions, or their management teams will be uber difficult to perform such an endeavor.

Shields right now is at his pitching zenith, possessing the tools and talent needed to push a team higher in the win column while also having at least 2 years of contract (Club options) stability. Hellickson, who has a rising resume that includes a 2011 AL Rookie of the Year award and a recent co-recipient of an AL Gold Glove is quickly approaching his arbitration years, and with an agent (Scott Boras) who detests team friendly contract extensions, Hellboy finds his own name on the lips of MLB suitors. But there is also a golden delight also on the table, but will cost someone dearly to wander into the gambling arena for his services. 

David PriceAfter winning the 2012 AL Cy Young Award, Price possibly sealed his fate with the Rays not based on the fact he will not sign an extension, but his proposed $9.5 million arbitration figure for 2013 already is pushing at the Rays top financial ceiling with another arbitration venture on the horizon following the 2013 season that could possibly push his 1-year salary towards a mark of $11 million plus. But he is the “golden Goose”, who will be pried from the Rays only for some of the best talent, possibly bringing in a unimaginable player bounty to further build upon the Rays player foundation.

Sure you could also include the “Silent Assassins”, also known as Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis into this scenario with no problems, but I think the Rays can use both of them in relief or even fill-in roles over the next 2 seasons, but their own futures might have some unscripted conclusions especially around the Trade Deadline as the Rays look to add or subtract bodies for a post season scramble. Seems odd that a team would even think of jettisoning pitching talent, especially talent of Shields, Price and Hellboy’s caliber, but sometimes it is just time to cut ties, find additional solutions, or just conclude the end is finally here for their Rays stay. 

Tampa Bay Rays v Milwaukee BrewersAs a betting man, I see Hellickson and Shields having the most MLB eyes gazing upon them at this moment, but just as easily if the right pieces get thrust into the eyesight of the Rays, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer or even Matt Moore could also find themselves armed with new contact numbers, plane tickets and be jettisoned towards another locale. That is the true reality here, even if these guys are paramount to the Rays rise in the coming MLB seasons, their Rays existence can never be completely balanced on the Rays always swaying teeter-todder as priorities change almost as quickly.

Rays starters name will be whispered and talked aloud by other MLB General Managers over the coming weeks with some extending offers, trade scenarios and possibly giving the Rays front office cause to pull the trigger and send one or possibly 2 starters away by the opening of the major league camp in February. As the Rays again begin another journey of that shiny steel ball into the wooden circular wheel the Rays are betting heavily on the fact a few MLB spenders with deep prospect and talent pockets will belly up to the Rays ever-spinning roulette wheel hoping to come away as winners.

Wonder which one of the Rays pitcher’s jersey numbers will have the highest stack of coins? 

30 Minutes to Reflect, then Onto the Second Half

By the time I end up posting this on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays will either be celebrating their gutsy performance over the first half, or spending 30 minutes before thoughts turn to the second half, and the chase for another spot on the post season dance card. Expectation were sky-high in April, reality and gravity brought the surreal excitement to a halt with unforeseen injuries and players beginning a Conga line into and out of Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s humble office. Even with a victory today in Cleveland, this 2012 Rays squad will have posted the worst record of any Rays team since their re-incarnation in November 2007 by dropping the “Devil”.

From the hamstring drama of Evan Longoria, the fainting spell that possessed Will Rhymes, to the bats that turned to sawdust, the first half of 2012 has been a test of patience, determination and faith both in the dugout and among the stands. True fans have seen this before, but it was pre-2008 when the Rays Republic had to hold their breath as long, and pray to anything and anyone for a simple single victory during some of their awful losing bouts so far this season. Do not fret little Rays campers, for the 2012 edition of Rays complete with their patchwork quilt of fielders and hodge podge of Mendoza Line hitters might not be the defensive unit of 2011, but they have the courage, confidence and vital constitution that was forged in 2008 and is still rock hard today.

That might be the Rays saving grace with their line-up changing as much as the flight board in Chicago O’Hare Airport with rehab delays, hitting slumps for the ages and a defense that looks more like a piece of Swiss Cheese. Even with all these intangibles working against them, the Rays will end the day with an identical 44-41 record as the Cleveland Indians. But hidden just out of view is the travel this team has taken lately that took them from the 4th slot in the American League East standings, to possibly the second spot by nightfall. Even with all the toils and troubles on the field, this team still is in prime choice position heading into their home-stand on Friday to make an early run at solidifying their silver medal position.

When Longoria went down, this team did not fret, did not pout. Instead they called upon new additions to the Rays fight card from Brandon Allen, Drew Sutton, Rick Thompson and finally Brooks Conrad trying to piece together a consistent order both on the field and in the batters’ box. Some pieces of this amended puzzle proved moot, and have been cut away from this team either for good, or onto the Triple-A Durham Bulls roster. Farmhands Stephen Vogt and Chris Gimenez tried to show down home production, but both faltered and again found themselves again staring at the Green Monster in Durham wondering “what if”.

Hitting has been the throne in the Rays side for most of this season as the team will enter today’s contest with a Team Batting Average of .232, which is the lowest average at this point in a season , but then again the 2011 squad entered the All Star break with a .245 average last season and went onto a post season Wild Card bid. And their last 13 games has been especially cruel to the Rays as they have been held to 4 runs or less in 11 of those games, and have hit only .193 with RISP. But hope is shining on the Rays lately as Luke Scott shrugged off his hitting slump demon with two powerful blasts in C-town, and has looked more relaxed and selective in his appearances.

That is a good thing as the Rays Designated Hitter position has looked more like the 9th slot in an National League line-up than an AL powerhouse slot. Scott and Hideki Matsui have not been able to capitalize and make opponents pitchers pay for their mistakes, which is vital for this position. Sure the Rays have been Hit by a Pitch more than anyone else in the AL (36 times), but going into today contest, the Rays are tied with Baltimore for the most K’s (679) in the American League. Possibly with Scott again finding a groove he likes, the Rays DH spot again can bring some amount of fear and power heading into the final months of the season.

Defense has been so bad early on for the Rays they currently have 71 errors with a few innings to play in today’s contest. To put this into perspective, the Rays have had 19 multi error games including today’s game and seen 22 flaws coming out of Longo-land (3B), 14 out of the 6-slot, and 11 from the pivot (2B). For this team to again climb back into the Wild Card race and have any shot of catching division leading New York Yankees, this team has to hone their throwing and again look like a impervious defensive stalwart. This is not to say this team has to be flawless, but they need to be calculated mistakes that can be erased possibly with double plays or sneaky pick-off moves, not be free run scoring opportunities for their opposition.

One part of the Rays equation though has been up to the challenge and has consistently shown they have the field players backs, even if the bats did not respond in kind. The Rays Team ERA of 3.72 (3rd best mark in club history at the break) combined with a club record 676 strikeout heading into the All Star break has been the foundation for many of the Rays 1st half victories. David Price shared the best record in the AL (11-4) and combined with Rays greybeard James Shields, they have sent 214 hitters back to the dugout via the K so far this season. Matt Moore has found his rhythm again, Hellboy is ready to wreck havoc and Cobb is primed to prove he belongs here even after SP Jeff Niemann heals.

We saw another piece of the Rays pitching future come into the spotlight and perform as Rays prospect Chris Archer became the first non-Rays raised farmhand to take the hill as a starter in the long, long time. Archer showed just how valuable he will be for this team in the coming seasons, and Alex Cobb only cemented his reputation not only at this level, but as a solid MLB pitcher.

Expectation were high in April, but even with this fall from grace the last few months, the Rays are in prime real estate to again fight to the last game for another chance to play into October. Even with all the Rays perils, they are only a few well placed wins away from the top Wild Card slot, and with the momentum of their recent win in their old nemesis Cleveland, the Rays should be pumped to against strap on the uniforms this Friday when rival Boston invade the Trop.

I’m going to take a page from Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra book and forget this first half in 30 minutes as soon as the Rays exit the turf at Progressive field and become excited and enamored with the second half and all its possibilities. This Rays team is one that is built for the long haul. With Longoria set to possibly still be out to mid to late August, and Matt Joyce possibly missing the 10-game home stand to start the second half, again faith, a slice of good luck and possibly a few bats finding the ball could help this team until their offensive brethren again don the Rays sunburst.

30 minutes has since elapsed since my first written word, time to forget the first half and stand ready, willing and able to help this team push a few squads out of their way in the second half of the season….or die trying.

 

I Forecast Moore Moments Like This

Kind of amazing that in the span of less than 3 days, the Tampa Bay Rays have provided their fans with complete opposite results, and even thrown a bit of pitching brilliance into the mix. We all knew Rays rookie Matt Moore had the goods to pull off a miraculous outing,and he delivered more than we all anticipated. Kind of ironic a first inning hit by a speedster ruined a chance at Moore getting his own piece of history.

I mean who does this 5′ 9” Marlin Donovan Solano’s think he is pushing the No-No out of the equation? Did this fellow rookie like Moore have to provide the solo single moment of Miami pride in just the second at-bat of the first inning. Well if you search further and see Solano has only gone to the plate 28 times so far in his rookie campaign and has produced a .393 batting average, we have to be thankful the guy doesn’t have down the alley power.

Interesting that a small adjustment in his game plan against the Marlins tonight might have paid the most dividends for Moore:

A week ago when I faced them, I think I threw 3 or 4 curveballs the entire game, so today was just a little bit of a different look for them. I feel like I had a good feel for it (curveball), especially in the 4th,5th,6th and 7th innings when I was throwing it for strike one. I’m not necessarily looking for a swing right there but I am looking to get ahead in the count; a little get-me-over to start 0-1. It was definitely nice to have another pitch to have them looking out for.

I was talking to a visiting MIA fan in the bottom of the 1st inning and he remarked his team has seem to make it a habit of being “slump-busters” for their opposition this season. If you are having a bad time hitting, you have to hope a visit by the obliging Marlins is on the horizon. I have to be honest here, with their off-season pick-ups and their potential, this team should not be dwelling in the deep waters of their division. Still, the Rays have seemed to de-bone the fish recently, and we still have 2 outings to go in the seasonal Citrus Series.

With the Rays victory last night, they can take claim officially to the 2012 Citrus Series crown. Seems fitting a team whose stadium is sponsored by a citrus juice manufacturer (Tropicana) and based in the Tampa Bay area (Bradenton) hoist the Vitamin C enriched go-go juice. Interesting note, this gives the Rays their 4th title in the last 5 seasons. It’s not a dynasty, but I’ll raise a glass of Rudy Red or Tangerine to this squad.

Moore was on-point tonight, throwing good solid pitches, not conforming his strike zone, and basically showing that he might have finally turned the corner and put his sub-par previous outing to bed. Moore might not have gotten that elusive masterpiece, but it is hard to find fault in almost anything he did tonight. I mean the guy threw the 9th 1-hitter in Rays history, and the 6th under the tilted cap (Trop). Moore became the first Rays hurler to hold a team to 1 hit or less in 7 innings since former Rays P Matt Garza threw the only No-Hitter in Rays history back on July 26, 2010 versus the Detroit Tigers.

To be honest, Moore has been slowly finding his way back to the top of the pitching mountain. He has picked up a win now in all 3 of his last 3 starts after only posting a solo victory in his first 10 attempts in 2012. And Moore has put the work into his 3 wins going at least 6 innings in his last 4 starts after failing to get to that mark in 5 of his 6 previous starts to his pitching victory streak.

To really cement this achievement further as concrete proof Moore might have turned the corner, the Rays offense has scored 28 runs in support of Moore in his last 3 trips to the mound compared to the same total of runs in his first 10 starts of the season. When your team shows that kind of confidence and outpouring of run support, you got to believe the winning spirit is contagious.

Most people focus on the high velocity of Moore’s fastball (averages over 94 mph), but his weapon that probably paved the way for this great moment was his elusive curveball. Rays Manager Joe Maddon put it best when he stated:

“How about the curveball strike? That was a really big difference once he settled in and I loved the fastball. But I like the fact that he commanded his breaking ball without trying to overthrow it, making it too good of a pitch and then it started becoming a strike. Now they (hitters) have to honor the fastball and breaking ball mentally. That makes it difficult. So once he got into the groove with the breaking ball strike it made it a little easier for him”.

Moore tonight showed us all again the brilliance we knew was trapped inside his pitching arm. He showed a sharp mind of using a secondary pitch that was breaking and crossing the plate with accuracy and consistency and put the Marlins in “ thinking “ mode at the plate, wondering if they would be facing Moore’s hard heat, or wait on a mistake curveball that never seemed to materialize tonight. Backed by an impressive offensive explosion, Moore not only got the support he desperately needed to secure a win, he got a combined great defensive effort which had been lacking lately from this squad. All in all a superb night from first pitch to last. Definitely one for Moore, the Rays and their fans to savor for more than Maddon’s usual 30 minute window of celebration.

We Need Moore Matt and Less Dudley

Someone’s got to say it, or at least write about. This subject has been at the tips of more than a few Rays Republic’s members tongues recently, and I know we have all thought it amongst ourselves. Are we seeing the “real” Matt Moore on the mound?

Even though he has shown a few strikes of brilliance in 2012, just seems a tick off, a centimeter high or low in his delivery and is not showing his usual total cohesive self on the mound. From the whispers of Moore giving indicators as to his pitches to the plate in Detroit and Boston, to his last outing on May 6th that yielded a highly ballooned 1-game ERA of over 15 because of 8 Earned Runs and some control issues.

So far Moore’s stats so far in 2012 is making him look more like a pitcher on the verge of being sent down than someone hoisted up as an early odds-on favorite to give the Rays their second consecutive American League Rookie Of the Year winner. Who in their right mind would have predicted Moore would have 18 walks to go along with his 38 strikeouts at this point of the season. Who would have imagined Moore wouldn’t get to the 6th inning in 50 % of his previous 6 starts this season.

When the Rays front office signed Moore to an extended contract this off-season, it hushed a lot of the chatter early on if he would be sent back to Triple-A Durham because of the threat of him pushing the MLB Service Time clock earlier than the franchise had expected. So when the Rays announced Moore would slide into the 4th slot in the rotation, no one thought this present danger or situation would ever rear its ugly head and we witness Moore strolling off the mound looking a bit dazed and confused instead of his past controlled demeanor.

With Moore’s upcoming start against the Orioles in Camden Yards on Saturday, could he either have a short leash, or be given the chance to finally thrust himself out of his dark place pushing away his current 5.8 walks per 9 innings, or 1.6 Home Runs per 9 innings, which both are scary numbers for a rookie with Moore’s talent level. Could this be the best test for Moore as a Buck Showalter-led squad will wait patiently for Moore to hit the strike zone, and if he makes a mistake, deposit it in the seats as a gift for a bird fan.

If Moore struggles will the Rays finally say out loud what some of us have been thinking for so long, that possibly the team should have let Moore hit Triple-A until mid-May and develop his rhythm and confidence before thrusting him at the 4th slot and letting the MLB wolves thirst for a Moore mis-placed morsel. I do not know about you, but I think this rookie has magic in him, it is just somehow being bottled up or coming out of his hand a bit crooked right now. 

How soon we forget Moore started the 2011 season in Double-A Montgomery before hitting Triple-A for the first time on July 22nd, then was promoted to the “big club” on September 12, 2011. Moore only had 9 total starts in Triple-A before Moore was presented a Rays uniform and thrust into the spotlight against the New York Yankees 10 days after his promotion (Sept. 22nd). Moore threw a total of less than 500 minor league innings before he hit the hill for the first time in the majors last season. Kind of wild that Moore took the hill 3 times in 2011 before the post season, after less than 100 minor league contests.

Maybe what Moore needs is just a short time down on the farm, re-adjusting, getting his confidence back, proving again his 2011 late season heroics are the true foundation of his pitching style and his awkward start to 2012 might just be a combination of more video film available on him now and possibly his pitching tendencies are becoming transparent to some rival staffs. I mean the guy does have minor league options, and it is not a long-term solution, but possibly just a month or so, possibly until the All-Star break re-constructing himself then coming back with a vengeance is just what Moore needs right now.

 I have hope that Moore finds his way, possibly as soon as this Saturday’s contest and that we can shelf this kind of chatter. I truly think Moore is a special talent. Not for his strikeout ability or his calm demeanor on the hill with adversity smacking him around like a rag doll. I think the rookie has a long and productive career ahead of him, but every once in a while a pitcher hits a stumbling point, a road block in his road to success and maybe Moore has be rewarded his early on in his career.

 I want to be wrong, I want Moore to be able to give celebratory chest bumps, smile from ear-to-ear and enjoy his MLB experience…Maybe this Saturday will be his defining moment finally turning it all around against another great young club of patient hitters, or could Saturday be another in a line of moments where we wonder who this shell is on the Rays mound, and who kidnapped the real Matt Moore, and what we need to do to bring him back again.

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