Results tagged ‘ Matt Moore ’

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.

Rays Need to Wipe the Tarnish Off Their “Golden Arms”

Coming into the 2012 Major League Baseball season I do not think there was anyone connected with the game who had any major concerns about the Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching or their overhauled Bullpen. Most proclaimed them to be a pitching staff that was a year older, but considerably wiser beyond their years. From the only over 30 member of the starting rotation James Shields to rookie Matt Moore, the Rays were definitely a young staff to be wary of this season.

But how reality can change. How quickly things can go sideways, produce holes and show the Rays have a few situations, and not all of them have immediate solutions. Things looked up quickly for the Rays “Golden Arms” after sweeping the 2011 American League East champs, the New York Yankees at home. Quickly people were singing the praises of this young bunch of hurlers who seemed to have the midas touch, the “Golden Arms” moniker seem appropriate. Even after a hiccup of only winning one of three against the favored Detroit Tigers, the Rays seemed destine to head into the land of the Lobster and chowder with confidence and a chance.

Suddenly over a 3-game spread the Rays starters looked vulnerable, giving up extra base smashes that usually find a glove, or produce outs. Even though pitches were being placed perfectly in their quadrants, bats met ball almost like they knew it was going to be delivered there, without much sweat or guessing. Instantly eyes and fingers began to watch these Red Sox for clues or suggestions of a more clandestine reasoning for the Rays sudden fall from pitching grace. In an instant the once mystical Rays seemed bewildered and confused as speculation ran rampant that their secret formula had been deciphered and pilfered producing 3 straight dizzying losses to their divisional rival Boston.

The Rays seemed plagued by an aspiration more towards mediocrity than their acclaimed meteoric prediction. In a flash the Rays tumbled from the grace of promise to fall 0-3 and closer to the .500 mark before their ace, James Shields delivered them from the folly of losing all 4 contests to these Bostonians. Some say the difference was a change of habit, a visual game of hide and go seek where Rays catcher Jose Molina would do his best impression of hiding the corner and seeking the calls on the outside corners. Even if the strike zone did gain a few inches, it went both ways, but it did give Shields and the Rays a fighting chance.

You want to dissect the Rays starting staff and look for a fundamental reasoning for the Boston meltdown, but you will not find it. Tongues wagged that Moore was tipping off his pitches, but the same game outcome and hit barrage beset veteran hurler David Price and 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. How could a staff that stifled the Yankees less than a week before suddenly fall flat against a divisional rival they had winning history against in their ballpark. It is not like the Rays came into Boston complacent or sporting a superior record, somewhere the dike developed a leak and not until Shields hit the hill did it get plugged with success.

Some might contribute this strange quandary to the fact of a plethora of afternoon contests on this road trip, but that is the easy answer. The hard answer is this young staff is still maturing at times and can be vulnerable. The real answer is Hellickson and Moore have the abilities to shut down any American League offense, but if their control ticks even an inch off the plate, the Home Plate Umpire might not give that extra inch. That comes with experience and knowing which Umpire might be open to balls skipping the corners and who runs a tight strike zone. Worst thing is on any given night that variable could change without warning or hint.

We all know already if Shields and Price have the motors revving and are on point, only they can cost themselves a victory. Worst thing that could happen to the Rays is one of these two going down, or experiencing even a short span of wildness or ability to sit guys down via the outside corner called third strike. There is a gap between the experience levels of these two and the duo of Hellboy and M&M. Not even sure the tallest member of the silent assassins, Jeff Niemann can put himself into that middle ground at times. Even though the 6’9” Niemann can show the skills of an ace during his streaks, when he is off his game, weird things happen. You might consider Niemann a liability compared to the other 4 starters on this team, but when he is in his groove and popping balls into the strike zone, he looks more like a #3 starter than the back end option at #5.

The Rays starters just have to wipe the tarnish off their “Golden Arms” and again show the wealth and worth of their abilities to get the Rays close games that their offense can overcome and post wins. The Boston series was a debacle by any sense of the word, but this Toronto series might be the true test for the Rays starters. If they can harness themselves and post a winning edge in this first series in Canada, it could be a great launching pad into their home stand and again having people feel “golden” about this starting staff.

Did the Red Sox Signal Corps Find Success?

They’re just really hot right now,” Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times after Thursday afternoon’s 3rd loss in a row to the Boston Red Sox. “It’s almost like they knew what’s coming almost. They’re on every pitch. They’re on the fastball. They’re on the breaking ball. They’re on the change-up. They’re on everything right now. They’re really locked in.

Doesn’t take a baseball genius to decipher a little bit of hidden meaning in Maddon’s comments. But maybe Maddon is on to something. Sure stealing signs has been around since the invention of the game and unless you use a video tape system or other technology that can give you in-game information, Major League Baseball will turn it’s eye away from the situation. If you have every notice during Rays game, one of the Rays starters, and usually Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi will both keep an accurate account of the game stats, type of pitches and their results for future analysis.

This can be used in the future for predictions, but is not plausible for in-game use. Some thought the Rays pitching staff might be showing “tells” or tipping off their pitches during the Boston series. Seems a bit far-fetched when you consider the Rays sent hurlers David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie Matt Moore to the hill in the first 3 contests, and they did not seem to exhibit any visual “tells” in the delivery, arm slot release or facial movements. There are 3 valid reasons the Red Sox might have gotten the upper hand on the Rays this series.

First off, Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine is an astute student of the game who also caught for many years and knows the art of trying to both conceals and transmit false signals to prevent the stealing of signs. A smart Manager would have someone down near the back-end of the dugout watching in at the catcher, possibly seeing similarities, constant familiar movements or even a flash of a painted nail to signal the true intended pitch.

Just as quickly that player could tip his cap, stand up, clap his hands or do any number of audio or visual patterns to signify a certain pitch being thrown to the plate. This is not an illegal activity, but does seem to hide within the large gray area of the unwritten rules of baseball.

A great second indicator that the Boston brood might be fishing for signals is the fact the Red Sox brought in former Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to be their primary backstop this season. Do not forget, it was this same Red Sox organization that gave @ShopHouse10 his first decent chance and taste of MLB life as a Red Sox prospect. Got to think the Red Sox have grilled and formulated a game plan in advance with information on pitching patterns and possible signal combinations so to get a bit of an edge against this young and talented staff.

This is also not illegal, and is a rather commonplace occurrence after a player leaves one team and joins another. But a catcher knows all the nuances and particulars of a team’s signal calling process. Even if the Rays changed their system this Spring, there is still leftover signals, patterns and small tell-tale signs that could trigger an all out discovery or disclosure of a team’s battery signals.

Still, Boston could have done their business the hard way and just watched game film from this Spring as these 2 squads played each other 3 times with the Red Sox coming away with wins in all 3 contests. Valentine could have had his off-the field staff tear down game tapes looking for patterns, “tells” or even a system that developed out of the constant movements of the Rays catchers this Spring and possibly into late 2011. He could have done it by dissecting the Rays Spring patterns, taking a slice of Shoppach’s past knowledge and sprinkled in a bit of his long history both as a spectator and catcher in the MLB.

Or maybe it is just as simple as Valentine figured out the Rays common “indicator” signal that all 3 of the Rays catchers from Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton to Chris Gimenez might have used when a player was on base. The “indicator” is usually one or two patterned finger or body movements made to try to throw off someone stealing signals, but if discovered, or if the pattern is somehow revealed throughout a contest, it can be a green light to the First and Third Base Coaches to alert hitters to what might be coming.

Even a calculated and synchronized system of random catcher movements and finger motions can be dissected within the scope of the game, possibly making the catcher the one giving up a “tell”. Even though it is illegal to videotape the concentrated area of the catcher for possible signal interception, the Centerfield camera always gives a perfect view into the heart of the plate, and signals can be deciphered quickly.

In the end it is a part of the game until you have hard concrete proof to the contrary. Considering Valentine and Shoppach could have brainstormed before the series began and when the indicators might have been discovered, the rest came fast and furious. But you want to think it was just an offense coming alive and no ulterior actions that hindered the Rays pitching staff this series.

But a clear indicator that possibly the system was compromised came to light today as starter James Shields held the Red Sox to a 4-hit shutout to break not only the Rays losing streak, but possibly the tale of the stealing signs. No matter if the Rays got duped by Boston this series and they did figure out the patterns and signals, it just goes to show you that not all information can be tied to a computer, a spreadsheet or even a video. Sometimes the human eye can figure out the game just as quickly and turn it into an advantage. I hope no signs were stolen, but who would fess up if it was true?

 

Great Lakes Give Moore the Cold Shoulder

Weather effects everyone differently. Some players crave the chill factors that dip towards the freezing point while others bundle up tighter almost resembling the Michelin Man as they wrap their bodies in an extra cocoon of thermal goodness with only parts of their face visible. I bet Tampa Bay Rays rookie starter Matt Moore would have loved to resemble the Michelin Man instead of standing on the hill in Comerica Park as the Great Lakes gave their own brand of home-frigid advantage.

The Detroit Tigers pitching staff have become a bit acclimated to the possibilities of a early season revisit of Winter in early April. They have come to relish and welcome the chilly breeze that can potentially make their opposition’s fingers feel frozen at the tips thereby losing a touch of feeling the ball as it leaves your hand thereby hurling the ball more in a “mechanical movement” than by physical touch.

I can definitely see the aspects of a frigid Detroit weather dealing Moore a rude awakening possibly playing into his noticeable control and velocity problems. Moore could only add a few MLB allowable accessories like a thermal undershirt with limited pitching sleeve length, a MLB-issued, not the”Elmer Fudd” style Rays cap with warming ear flaps. Hopefully Moore got a tad of added warmth from a pair of thermal long johns under his uniform. But Moore shunned the Fudd accessory.

But even with these heating elements, the temperature game can get into your head quickly and will not leave, even with a bit of warmth while sitting in the dugout. This type of weather definitely plays with your mind both physically and mentally. It can quickly take a bite of your planned mode of attack, especially if you are thinking more about the chilling wind whipping past your skin and not the hitter standing warm in the batter’s box.

When temperatures begin to sit around in the 40’s, the slightest increase in wind can cut across your exposed face like a sharp knife, effectively taking you out of your game mode and you subconsciously begin to think about the chills, the aches, the feeling of muscle tightening even as you await the signs from your catcher and you might begin to worry a bit more about your fingertips circulation. That can lead to throwing the ball instead of pitching it to the plate as the fingertips lose a bit of feeling and you begin to lose a bit of control or velocity for fear of giving up a Home Run or possibly hitting a batter.

Not sure if this happened to Moore, but if it did, it would explain a lot of what happened to him during his daytime start on Tuesday. It has happened to many a ballplayer before Moore, and will happen to plenty in the future. It is just a facet of the game that rears its head this time of the year in the Northern core cities and you have to adjust to it or it overtakes you and you make costly mistakes. I know from just watching Moore face during the game on camera, his mind did flutter back and forth a few times, possibly after a chill went up his pant leg or up his exposed arm. But he hung in there, grinned and wore it like a trooper and got valuable knowledge for the future.

It was also Moore’s first start of the season, and there is nothing to worry about, he overcame the plight and will be eager for his next time to take the mound. The factors of Moore’s abnormal start could have been a mixture of the chills, the anxious nature of his first 2012 start, or just an unfortunate blip due to weather on Moore’s radar.

Whatever the case, it is past, Moore is healthy and we move on to warmer venues for his next start…hopefully. When you hold Spring Training in areas with the core temperatures switching between 60-80 degrees, then add the factor that you play your home contests in 72 degree splendor, biting lower temps have a way of getting into your mindset, even when you sit on the bench wrapped like an MLB mummy between innings.

Chalk this up as a “needed” experience that Moore can put into his memory banks and use as fodder to prep for if the same scenario rises in the future. No amount of coffee, hot chocolate or heated Gatorade can overcome the rips of icy wind that cross your face while you are standing alone on the hill. It is a part of the game that is older than all of us, and will dictate game outcomes long after we leave this Earth.

Moore will be fine, I think he has banked and processed the moment and is more than ready to face the aspects of playing during extreme temperature differences, possibly hitting the mound with a demeanor as cool as a cucumber next time.

 

Hair Today….Gone Tommorrow… for a Great Cause

Some say Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made more than a few headlines for his follicle hair coloring statements over the past few seasons. From his steady head of gray to John Cash black to a more subtle but pronounced medium brown this Spring, Maddon has made his hair fashionable.

On Thursday Maddon’s “ hair moment” or in fact his “loss of hair moment” will proceed over an event that has seen it’s list of participants grow by the hour. Over 26 members of the Rays are set to see their locks fall to the ground and be swept away as a symbolic gesture of support for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Dubbed “Team Rays” on their website, Maddon will be not only leading by example, but following the road set forth by another Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning F Vinny Lacavalier.

This is the same organization that Rays starter Wade Davis showed such support for in 2011 as he let a young cancer patient shave his head as he sat in a chair over the Rays dugout after the conclusion of a Sunday game. That was only one participant, and the crowd was amazing. Think of the magnitude knowing over 25 members of the team and the Rays staff will also sit in the chair and have their locks fall to the grass in support of this effort.

Rays participants set to join Maddon in the barber’s chair before the Rays Thursday afternoon contest in Port Charlotte include Rays pitchers: Davis, James Shields, Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Ramos. Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, Brandon Gomes, Matt Torra, Albert Suarez, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa and Rays rookie sensation Matt Moore.

Not to be outdone by the pitchers’, the entire Rays catching corps will also have their time in the leather chair as Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Mark Thomas,Stephen Vogt, Robinson Chirinos and follicle-challenged Craig Abernaz will see their hair fly away in the Charlotte Sports Park wind before that days contest. Also making an appearance in the chair will be some of the members of the Rays right-side of their infield: SS Reid Brignac, 3B Jesus Feliciano, INF Elliot Johnson, plus Rays outfield members Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer and the “Legend” himself, Sam Fuld.

A few well-known figures in the Rays coaching staff will also need more sunscreen this Spring as Third Base Coach Tom Foley and Bench Coach Dave Martinez will also be supporting this great charity. The Rays front office will also have a few hit the chair as Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Brian Auld, Sr VP Mark Fernandez, VP of Branding and Fan Experience Darcy Raymond, Sr Director of Corporate Partnerships Aaron Cohn,Manager of Corporate Sales Jake Hornstein and two Directors of Corporate Partnerships, Richard Reeves and Josh Bullock.

I think the paragraph on the pcfcutforacure website under “Team Rays” speaks volumes on why the team is so focused and excited about the event:

This is about being there for the kids and their families. We want them to know they are not alone. It’s a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through. We have a saying posted in our locker room that says ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ As we go forward with this campaign we are doing so under the flag ‘Fortune favors the bald.’ As an organization, we are proud to support organizations and institutions like the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) and the Moffitt Cancer Center.”

This is the kind of event that bonds a team. Unified with a common thought and goal, it can be a great starting point of the Rays taking another step not only in their development as a team, but as a great inspiration to other teams around the MLB to follow suit. I commend Maddon and his troops for their commitment, their outstanding community involvement and support, and most of all for donating what some see as a status symbol but they see as only hair and a visual stamp that they support this organization.

If you want to help support this cause with a donation of your own, text CUT to 50555 or go to pcfcutforacure.org. Just as every snip of the scissors is a chance to change a life, every text can also be life-changing for someone.

 

 

Rays Fan Fest Autograph Times

I promised a few of you I would post the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest autograph participants and their relative time online as soon as humanly possibly. Well, they came out earlier today and of course I was in the middle of working for a living. So without further ado, here is the tentative autograph time for the Rays players to sign at this years Fan Fest.

Do not forget, if you want to participate in the Exclusive Signing Opportunity ($200-500), you have until midnight tonight to make your purchase for this special event away from the usual hustle and bustle of Fan Fest.

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Ryan Reid Tim Beckham Jeff Keppinger Ricky Orta Kyle Farnsworth
11:30 – 12:30 p.m. Brandon Guyer Burke Badenhop Robinson Chirinos Brandon Gomes Matt Mangini
12:30 – 1:15 p.m. J.P. Howell Matt Joyce Wade Davis Sean Rodriguez Jose Molina
1:15 – 1:45 p.m. Evan Longoria Don Zimmer Jeremy Hellickson (open) (open)
1:45 – 2:30 p.m. Chris Archer Carlos Peña Desmond Jennings Alex Cobb Matt Moore
2:30 – 3 p.m. B.J. Upton (open) (open) James Shields David Price
3. – 4 p.m. Luke Scott Fernando Rodney Cesar Ramos Jose Lobaton Josh Lueke
4. – 4:45 p.m. (open) Nevin Ashley Romulo Sanchez Stephen Vogt Craig Albernaz
** Schedule subject to change

Moore’s Extention Provides Some Fiscal Stability for Rays

Finally the Tampa Bay Rays have done something positive in the team-oriented arena besides sending Double-J John Jaso to the Emerald City this off-season. The fact the Rays again signed, sealed and delivered another one of their meteoric rising stars by securing the services of southpaw pitcher Matt Moore until possibly 2019.

The deal might seem a bit minuscule compared to the recent quarter of a billion shelled out for new heavenly Angel 1B Albert Pujols, but it gives Moore a bit of financial stability, but also a huge jolt of confidence the team is behind him 100 percent. Sometimes a small financial boost and stable foundation can do more for a pitcher’s confidence than a new pitching grip.

Then again the Rays have become more comfortable over the last few years to giving their rising stars a chance to firm up not only their bank accounts, but give the team a stability in salary escalation that can be monitored with clarity. Some would say the deal Moore made with the Rays will have both sides smiles for a long, long time.

Kind of funny to me that Moore had to think about this deal for a second: “I had to basically make up my mind, was it worth it. I feel like the risk is being shared on both ends and I’m happy where we are.”

Moore is just the latest in an increasing line of Rays budding stars like James Shields, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Wade Davis to see the team approach them and construct a package that suits both sides of the equation with fairness and stability. According to ESPN, Moore’s contract will be the highest guaranteed dollars and potential earning for a pitcher who has less than 2 years MLB service time.

Moore vaulted past Oakland SP Brett Anderson and Rays rotation mates Shields and Davis who all signed their own exclusive contract extensions after their first full MLB season. That is itself bodes well of the strong opinion and scouting confidence the Rays have in their budding star that he will surpass his 2011 excitement, possibly pushing out someone in the Rays current starting rotation.

The deal also puts the idea of the Rays habitually watching Moore’s MLB service time clock tick away before they can either bring him up to avoid quickening his salary arbitration clock. The deal is definitely a “win-win” on both sides of the coin.

Moore gets a solid $1 million in salary until after 2015, then Moore will begin an ascending odd-numbered salary climb of $3 million (2015). $5 million (2016) and a possible $7 million salary in 2017 when the Rays will begin a 3-year club option phase where the club can decide on his last 3 contract years at a combined $ 26.5 million with a huge buyout of $2.5 million in 2017.

Consider for a moment the magnitude of this contract offer of $39.75 million over 8 MLB seasons. That is just under $2.5 million off the team’s 2011 payroll of $42,171,308. That is a clear and concise affirmation of the Rays commitment to their young left-hander. Oh, let’s not forget, Moore even pocketed a clean $500,000 signing bonus prior to the Press Conference.

Moore might be the first in an expanding list of players within the Rays fold who might have a chance over the next few years to invest their skills long-term with the team and have a nice financial windfall to back their further Rays commitment.

I wonder if Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations has Jeremy Hellickson and his agent as his next new speed-dial number, I know I would.

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