Results tagged ‘ Pat Burrell ’

Rays trio key to Playoff Dreams

 


Darren Calabrese / AP

Everyone around the game of baseball are starting to realize that the Tampa Bay Rays, who are nursing a 6-game winning streak might be starting hit on all cylinders right now at the right time to make some noise and cruise towards the top of the American League East division. But there is one problem right now with that idea. While the Rays have been one of the best clubs since April 30th (35-21) the division leading Boston Red Sox have also kept pace by going 33-22 during that same span. 

And the Rays have not even hit that cursed point from their 2008 season where they lost 7-straight before the All-Star break. That anniversary will not take place until July 7-13th when the Rays began their losing streak with a home stand ending loss to Kansas City and mushroomed into a debacle in Progressive Field in Cleveland where they were beaten in four games by a combined score of 26-6. Even with their late push towards the top of the division, the Rays are still 4 victories short of their 2008 pace, but it is expected that they can pick up that slack during that July 7-13th week.

In that seven day span they will play play a 6-game home series this season against AL East foe Toronto and three against the Oakland A’s before the All-Star break. You can expect the Rays to not have another 7-game fall like 2008 in this series with the Rays also having their annual “Throw Back” night on July 11th against the A’s. On that night, recording artist Smashmouth will also perform during the Rays Saturday Night Concert Series where the team is currently boasting a 11-0 record during concerts.  So that bodes well for the team going into the All-Star break with some positive energy to contend the rest of the way in 2009.

But what has been the answer here in 2009? Has the Rays really gotten that better even with some late bloomers not getting into their hitting rhythms until June.  Three Rays players have finally found their mojo and have started to produce and show the promise we all knew they had coming into 2009. Some people have speculated that a few of the Rays players might have had outside motives or distractions that have prevented them from achieving great numbers before the month of June. We all know that Pat Burrell was fighting a neck stiffness situation that landed him on the disabled list and even made him take at least two cortisone shots to ease some of the muscle pain at times.

But Burrell did finally come back feeling better and began to show the type of ball player the team was forking out $ 8 million for in 2008. Burrell has gone 7 for 39 with 2 HR, 6 RBI, 8 walks in 15 games since returning from the DL.  The Rays did miss his presence in the line-up for those 29 games, and on last Wednesday night he broke a 104 at-bat and 33 games without a home run streak with a nice shot against his former club, Philadelphia during the InterLeague series at Tropicana Field. 

Most people have voiced the opinion for the Rays to be a force again in the AL East, Burrell has to be the usually consistent 30 homer 100 RBI machine he has been for the Phillies for the last several years.  Gabe Kapler also came to the team with high hopes of posting good numbers as a platoon member in rightfield with Gabe Gross. Before the month of June, Kapler looked more like a shadow of his former self, and some have said that when his family finally arrived in Tampa Bay, he then began to again have total focus towards hitting.


Brian Blanco / AP

This might be a bit far fetched, but it might have a bit of merit to it too. Kapler has been seen during the last two Rays concerts visually smiling and having a great dad-daughter(s) moment on the turf of the Trop. during the event. He even was escorted up to the front stage area by Rays Security for the Pat Benatar concert and you can be sure that was a special moment for him and his girls. But I can tell you as a father that when you have a secure feeling and know your family is safe, you do have a different view on life. Maybe the girls, including his wife are just his “Good Luck” charms, and if they are, maybe we might want to trade him before school starts again in the Fall.

Seriously though, Kapler in his last 10 appearances has gone 12 for 23 with 4 HR, 14 RBI and has scored 6 runs for the Rays. And going up against left-handed pitchers the righty is hitting .324 this season and has hit a stellar .444 during the month of June.  But the amazing part might be his strong InterLeague hitting this year for the Rays as he went .500 for the InterLeague series to pace all major leaguers. He also lead all major leaguers in OPS (.586) and Slugging Percentage ( 1.227) to go along with his 3 homers and 14 RBI during the InterLeague schedule.

But Kapler has been more than just red hot in June. In his last 24 plate appearance he has gone 12 for 20 (.600) with 10 Extra Base hits and a 1.550 Slugging Percentage.  During that span he also became only the third Rays player to home in over 4 consecutive games joining Julio Lugo (4) and Jose Canseco (5). And Kapler is riding a 5-game hitting streak right now. So maybe his girls have a great effect on Dad, and if they are truly the reason for his surge, maybe looking into a local school here in Tampa Bay might be a great idea for the Kapler klan in the Fall.

           
            Steve Nesius / AP

The last of our late bloomers is a guy I always thought just needed some time to adjust and find his stride this season. After having off season shoulder surgery and getting a very late start at Spring Training, I always felt that B J Upton might not blossom or even begin to gel until the end of May. In the first home series this season against the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox  from April 13-19th, he had only a .217 average with 9 strikeouts and 4 runs scored in the two series. He did not look like the same guy who lite up the night during the 2008 American League Championship Series by hitting .321 with 4 HR and 11 RBI.

But in the last 35 games he has gone .319 to raise his average from a paltry .177 he set in his first 34 games of 2009. During that time he garnered a AL Player of the Week honor.  And he was simply magical during the InterLeague schedule this year hitting for a .364 average with 3HR,15 RBI and 11 stolen bas
es. His stolen base mark lead all MLB players, and he ranked second in total hits (28). Upton has hit safely in 13 of his last 16 games  boosting his average to his current .248 mark. He also has 12 stolen bases in his last 18 games, and his 29 stolen bases is ranked third in the American League behind teammate Carl Crawford (40) and Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury (31). 

Upton is finding his stride at the right time at the top of the order for the Rays. Combined with the speedy Crawford, they have posted over 69 steals so far in 2009. And Upton’s home run on Sunday capped the cheery on top as the Rays can boast to have the quickest march to 100 HR and 100 SB before the All-Star break in their 77th game. The shattered the previous record of the 1995 Cincinnati Reds who did it in their 80th game. At their current pace, the Rays are on course for 210 HR and 248 SB, which would be only the second time a team has hit that mark in MLB history.

With these three players beginning to hit their peaks in 2009, the Rays can count on more runs and scoring chances the rest of the season. With already consistent years from Crawford, Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena, the team is beginning to get their engines churning for a post All-Star run at both the team’s second  over .500 season and another playoff push. The Rays have a huge bit of momentum right now coming into the All-Star break, but they need to take that time to recharge and refocus their energies on the fact they will play their AL East foes in 46 of their final 84 games of the season starting tonight.


Steve Nesius / AP

It might seem as a huge goal to have to play 46 games against the likes of Boston ( 8 games), New York ( 10 games), Toronto ( 17 games) and Baltimore (11 games) before the season ends.  But most amazing is the fact that in the entire month of September to October 4th, all but 8 games will be against the AL East teams (23 games).  A 2-game series against the Seattle Mariners at home,3-game road series against the Texas Rangers and another 3-game home series against the Detroit Tigers are the only non-AL East contests in that  entire month to end the regular season.
 

So it is not only time to begin the quest for their second playoff spot, but also the time to begin the rise to the top to try and stake their claim to a second straight A L East crown.  The road is going to be long and hard right after the All-Star break, and the Rays are going to need some help from their other divisional teams to pull off another championship.  During that same month of September, the Red Sox play only 17 games against divisional foes. The Rays might need some added help from the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels who play a combined 10 games against them that month.

With the Yankees currently only 1.5 games ahead of them the Rays have set their sights for the second spot in the division. This is not meaning that the Yankees will not just let the Rays have the division, but they also know that the hard charging Rays might just be the team between them and getting back to the playoffs in 2009.  The Yankees also play 21 of their final 31 games inside their division, which includes a day/night doubleheader against the Rays on Labor Day, September 7, 2009.

 
 
 
The Rays hold their destiny in their own hands right now and seem ready to defend their title. For a short time it seemed like the Rays might take a step backwards, but the recent winning streak has people remembering the 2008 Playoff excitement again in Tampa Bay. So where did I put that AL East Championship cowbell?

Team Unity goes Western

 


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(Sorry my camera is having major focus issues right now)

The Tampa Bay Rays have been described as a huge brotherhood for their closeness and their ability to stand up for each other in the bad times. I went to a Rays speaking engagement earlier this year where Rick Vaughn,the Rays PR guru told the group about a story following the conclusion of the World Series Game 5 plane trip back to the Tampa Bay area. Vaughn and his wife were seated in the same aisle as Rays reliever J P Howell and his girlfriend and Vaughn  was awestruck by the fact that everyone on the plane made sure to come by and comfort Howell about taking the loss for that final game in 2008.  

And the mood on that late night plane ride was sad and muted, but it also had the unique feeling that everyone was also upset that they would not be hanging out with each other  every day after that loss. That is the  wild and special bond and closeness of this ball club that other teams would envy. If you ever really watch them during Batting Practice and even before a game, you see the connection factor that this team has with everyone on the roster. So it is only fitting that they would also plan events and road trips with themes and costumes or wardrobes to fit the occasion.

And that also has a great effect on this club. For to come out for a farewell to family and friends before a road trip dressed to the theme of the trip shows a great bond of unity and togetherness on this team. The team has conducted their own version of “American Idol” during Spring Training inviting anyone within the Rays organization to step up to the mic and sing. They have held BBQ’s and impromptu events throughout the year that is attended by almost everyone on the roster.

And the team also showed up in force for Carlos Pena’s 30th birthday celebration out on Madeira Beach earlier this season. But that is the magical bond that this team forged in 2008 and is still growing more and more this year. Rays Manager  Joe Maddon has even instilled a theme to every road trip this year, with the last one to start off in South Florida to have an all-white theme. The players all showed up in their best dressed whites, which included some very stylish head gear by Gabe Kapler, Carlos Pena and Joe Nelson.


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So it is only fitting that during their road trip starting today to the Western town of Denver Colorado they promote a “Western” look. I am not privy to the fact if anyone is going to dress up like a gunslinger, but hopefully if the do, airport security will also have a bit of a sense of humor when they go through the security check near the plane on the tarmac of St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport.  I can only imagine what some of these guys are going to pull out for such an event. With a few true Texans on the team like Jeff Neimann (Houston), Carl Crawford (Houston) and Randy Choate (San Antonio).

With a majority of this team actually coming out of the western state of California, it might be a wild sight of all these guys decked out in their country western best  for the trip to Denver. Now I have done a blog recently where I mentioned that Rays reliever Joe Nelson is going to do a personal rendition of the Yul Brenner character from “The Magnificent Seven” with a complete head-to-toe black on black ensemble.

I really wish I could be there to even get a glimpse even without a camera of this outlandish event. But hopefully some one within the Rays organization (Skip Milos) will be on hand to record the event for prosperity. I did however get a few other members of the Rays to tell me how they were going to promote the event. Both are members of the Rays Bullpen and have been great enough to furnish me with their renditions of their scheduled outfits for the flight.

Scott Cursi (Bullpen Catcher) is a very businessman like guy. He is very upfront and doesn’t partake in the designer label game that some of the fashion plates on the Rays team might use for this trip. He is going to wear a black shirt with jeans and a pair of black Ostrich boots he picked up on a past road trip. He is also going to go with a mesh straw-like cowboy hat because of the heat in the Denver area. Very practical, realistic, totally Scott Cursi is going as the every day man.

Bobby Ramos is one of the best people you could ever meet and chat with about anything, even baseball. He is also one of the teams hidden fashion plates evidenced by his outfit he gave me for the trip out to Colorado. Most people might know about Ramos love for Salsa dancing and music, but the guy is also a man who enjoys the finer things in clothes. From head-to-toe Ramos might just be the best dressed Rays Coach on this plane trip. He is going to top his head with a Jack Daniels black cowboy hat.

He plans on showing off his Ely white shirt with the black piping. He is planning on wearing black Levis jeans to celebrate the western look, and will be wearing a cowboy “bling bling” buckle around his midsection. He did not tell me if it was one of those bronco-busting Texas sized buckles, but you can only imagine. He will put his feet in a fine set of black Justin boots with silver toe caps for that special “Uptown Cowboy” look.


polishedtwo@Flickr.com

Doing things like this themed road trip traveling party can help bring together everyone on the team. Players like Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler did not get to mesh with these guys in 2008, but they have also come together with the Rays players to form a close knit bond on this team. The one guy who might feel a bit left out on this trip might be Winston Abreu, who comes from the island of the Dominican Republic and might not have gotten a heads up on the festivities today for the plane (Hopefully they will drink Coors Light).

But you can bet maybe Willy Aybar or Carlos Pena will get the recent addition to the Rays roster ready and in style by the time they head to the Trop tonight.  Team bonding is a special time for these guys, and events like this can show outwardly their own commitments to the “Rays Way.”

Kapler is growing on Me

 


Gail Burton/ AP

I have never been one of those Gabe Kapler lovers that dot the Trop from Section to Section. I am for some reason still holding out any love for the guy because of his Boston Red Sox roots, but a home run like the one he hit last night into the first row of the Left Field seats will go far to get me to open my mind to his effectiveness on the Rays. But then again, I was one of those people who questioned his name on the 25-man roster back on April 1st thinking the Rays might be playing an April Fools joke on the fans.

I mean the guy went 9 for 60 in Spring Training for a dismal .150 average that might have gotten most players either a Greyhound bus ticket to the minor leagues, or an outright release from his contract. But the Rays front office and Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw something in the former minor league manager. Granted the guy has heart and an ability to keep motivation strong and focused on the bench, but I questioned the keeping of him over Matt Joyce even a few days ago. Now Kapler has given me a few reasons to even think he might just be another hidden gem that is about to unfold for the Rays. 

He has been flirting below the Mendoza line for a bit of time with the Rays, and his defense has been great at times. But the true fact is in the last two games he has done his best “Zorilla” imitation and has produced at an amazing pace. Sure he has gone 2 for 5 in the last two game with 2 HR and 3 RBI to boost his awesome scale to about a 4 based on the rest of his year.

He had not had even a trickle of a hit or a RBI since he posted 2 RBI and went 1 for 3 against the Cleveland Indians back on May 27th. So you can honestly say he has gone 0 for 11 in 6 games between his RBI chances. But for how long can you overlook a 4 for 42 stint that dropped your average from .235 to its present .183 mark.

But the thing that also endeared me to him was the poise he had last night in the post-game interview with Rich Hererra after Dioner Navarro got him square with his mouth open with a shaving cream pie. I mean he got the teeth, tongue and maybe even a few nose hairs deep and dirty in shaving cream.


Brian Blanco / AP

The flustered Kapler did end his interview because of the incident but gave another one a few minutes later in the Rays clubhouse where he made sure to thank the Coaching staff for their support and belief in him this year.  The guy is a class act from head-to-toe and that gained some more style and bonus points from me last night about him on this team.

And that might not be the best of averages, but the guy is here to maintain more than just a bat in his hand. Kapler is like a player/manager on the bench sometimes. He sits there and chats about the game with the other guys on the bench showing them some of the small nuances they might have missed on the field.

It is a great asset to have to show some of the Ray pitchers and reserve players how small things can blossom into great opportunities for the Rays. But he is on this team as much for his defense as he is for his mental and physical make ups. 

He is tied with B J Upton with 3 outfield assists this season, and has been involved in 3 game-winning or go-ahead RBI this year. Could he just be that type of player who wills himself a good game when he is counted on, or are we seeing a shell of the former Kapler that spooked us when he took the field for the Red Sox in the Trop.  The guy is a classic example of the type of player you want in your locker room. He is always up beat, personable and totally into helping another player with his game.

And that might be one of the reasons he is still here. He is a great bridge between the Coaches and the players since he did a one year stint at Class-A Greenville for the Red Sox in their minor leagues as a manager. And that experience might be a huge plus for him to convey and influence another guy to see a different viewpoint or idea.

But for the longest time, it was Kapler who had the world by his fingers. Few people remember back in the 1998 when Kapler was the Minor League Player of the Year. He was selected for that honor after killing the ball in the Southern League where he hit a staggering 80 extra base hits while maintaining a .320 average.

Because of this honor he got a chance to appear in a K-Swiss shoe print ad as a emerging baseball star for the up-and coming shoe manufacturer. Also of importance is the fact he shattered the Southern League RBI record by driving in 148 that year.  But could it just be that we are seeing the worse of Kapler here at home at Tropicana Field and he is excelling more on the road?

And wild as that statement might seem in your mind, it has merit people. He is hitting  .163 on turf this season, and combine that with his current .150 average at home and you get a generally miserable .118 in the last 30 days for him.

But there might just be a shade of light flickering in the distance showing he can be the producer the Rays sought when they signed him to his $1,000,018 contract this Spring. That odd two digit anomaly at the back end of his contract financial numbers is actually Kapler’s good luck number. But then again, the number “18” in Judaism means “life”. Go figure.  In June we are starting to see a trend where his numbers are starting to rise as he is currently hitting at a .222 clip, better that the overall .080 he has against right-handed pitchers this year.
 

Kapler might not the first person you think of when you think power, or even scoring ability this season for the Rays, but he has been productive wherever he has played in the past. Last season he did post a overall .301 average while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, and we have gotten some good players in the last few years from the Brewers rosters ( Grant Balfour, Gabe Gross). Kapler might not be the best option for the Rays right now in right field based on his average, but he is the kind of guy you want out there to catch that difficult fly ball.

I am opening my eye a bit to the fact he might be a better player than I give him credit for most of the time. Kapler might just end up in a Eric Hinske( 2008) or even a Carlos Pena( 2007) role of being the surprise signing of the spring of 2009. I am going to keep my mind open here for awhile and see what the big guy shows me. But I can guarantee you one thing, you will not see me going against him in a poise down anytime soon.

          
           male-model-agency@Flickr.com


Gabe Kapler Mini Facts

***  Did you know his middle name was Stefan. Some how that makes sense.

*** If Kapler was not a baseball player he might have dabbled in the culinary arts as a chef. He is very nutrition oriented and might just be on par with Pat Burrell with his cooking skills.

*** He has appeared on several magazine covers including Men’s Workout and Natural Development in the past.

*** He hit his first home run of his career at Tropicana Field while in a Tigers uniform against Albie Lopez on April 30, 1999.

 *** Kapler broke up Chris Youngs perfect game with a 8th inning 2-run home run on September 7, 2008.

*** In 2005, he returned to the Red Sox after playing  38 games for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese League.

*** He was put on the DL in 2005 after suffering a season ending injury after rounding second base  after Tony Graffanino’s homer and injuring his Achilles’ tendon.

*** In 2004, the Red Sox went 92-44 when he appeared in games for the team and they went 6-20 when he did not play for them.

*** In a game against the Rays in 2000, while with the Texas Rangers, Kapler tore his right quadricep in the game on May 2nd and went on the DL until June 9th of that season.

 

Fridays Fabulous Fragmented Thoughts

 



Steve Nesius / AP

No Re-joycing in Rightfield


With the activation of Tamp Bay Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell right after the game last night, the team made the corresponding roster move of sending young rightfielder Matt Joyce back down to the Triple-A Durham Bulls. The press release was still hot and wet when the Rays Radio Network broke the news right after the game in their post-game segment. At first this news hit me kind of like a ton of bricks because I truly thought the kid was going to make the transition up here the rest of the season.

Sure he started out like he was going to take names and change minds after hitting two quick hoe runs to make people, think it was “Re-Joyce Time” in rightfield. Even the fact he got two hits off a left-handed pitcher spoke volumes that he had done a bit of the work the Rays asked him to do when he went down first to Durham after spending the first five game up with the Rays while B J Upton was rehabbing after his off-season shoulder surgery. Upon the start of the Sunday game in Baltimore on April 12th he was on his way back to the Triple-A squad ready to work on things and make his way back to Tampa Bay in 2009.  Joyce was upset but understood the situation perfectly and vowed to again be patrolling the outfield in the Trop sometime in 2009.

So when the Rays went to Durham and again brought up Joyce on May 30th, it was a sign to the fans that maybe the team was finally considering giving the kid a fair shake in winning the rightfield job during the season. And he did come on like gangbusters hitting the ball his first few games before finally going through a 0 for 15 slide before he was sent out to the Bulls. He was upset about the news, but took it in stride as he told the St. Petersburg Times last night.””Any time you get sent down, it’s not a good feeling. So you just go back to the drawing board, go back down and scratch and claw your way back up.” Coming into the Angels series, Joyce was 0 for 20 lifetime against the team.

Joyce is heading back to the Durham squad with the intention of “tear it up again” in Durham, and “force them to bring you back up.”  And that is the kind of reaction you really want to hear from a young star who knows he will again shine bright among the lights of Tropicana field. This is not the last time we will see him in 2009, and you can bet the next time he is up here he will try and make it an extremely difficult decision to send him back down again.  Joyce was given some advice and things to work on by Rays Manager Joe Maddon before he left the Rays Clubhouse following their series win against the Los Angels Angels last night.

Joyce will go down to the minors and work a bit on his overall game, including his defense and hopes to again get a chance to make a huge impression this season.  During a few games in the Trop., he seemed to have a problem identifying the ball off the roof in the dome and that might have led to a few defensive problems during his time up here. He did not read the ball well off the bat a few times and the ball made it into the Right-Centerfield gap for extra bases.

That is a simple adjustment and recognition program that can be completed easily in the minors.  But Joyce has been totally supportive of the decision and is looking forward to more playing time and to prove he belongs here with the Rays. Before he was promoted at the end of May, he was hitting .315 with 5 HR and 27 RBI for the Bulls.  He had compiled a 1.000 OPS against right-handed pitching, and a .727 against left-handers. 


AP File Photo

Pedro  Martinez as a Ray?

Oh how Gerald Williams must be all tied up in knots knowing that the Rays might be watching former Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez throwing in the Dominican Republic yesterday. How it must be burning in his stomach that the guy who caused such a ruckus with the Rays back in 200 might even be considered for a pitching option. There are numerous reports that not only have the Rays checked out the aging pitcher, but some monetary figures have been exchanged between the two parties. 

According to Nick Carfardo of The Boston Globe, Martinez had both the Chicago Cubs and the Rays both exploring what it might take to sign the aging pitcher to their rosters. During his workout the former fireballer was throwing about 94 MPH, which is a nice increase in velocity compared to his pre-surgery speed.  Mark Lancaster of the Tampa Tribune said,”I’ve heard that one of the Rays’ officials in the Dominican who has known Pedro for a while just watched him work out, but it doesn’t sound like the team expects anything to come of it.” 

A local Tampa Bay television station even commented on their Twitter page that someone was checking out Martinez. And a pretty credible Rays blog, www.RaysIndex.com was reporting that the team did schedule a second workout for Martinez, which is usually a sign of interest.  When the World Baseball classic tenure of the Dominican Republic team was over during MLB’s Spring Training, it was reported that Martinez was basically seeking a single year deal in the $5 million range. With the MLB season  nearing the 62nd game, that request might have been cut in half to about the $ 2.5 million dollar figure. 

Some might say that the aging pitcher would be a great fit in the Rays Bullpen in some capacity. But considering he would supplant someone currently in that unit, it might be a difficult sell to Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Pitching Coach Jim Hickey right now. But even if the Rays have always kept things like this close to their vest pocket, the history with Martinez might not sit well with long standing Rays fans.  For the same reason most fans were skeptical of Curt Shilling basically saying he would play for the Rays years ago, Martinez might not be a great fit here. Martinez and Don Zimmer also have their own history, but Zim contends that it is ” by the wayside and ancient history.”

The guys still has the desire and the spunk to pitch in the majors, which is great for him. But the guy might not be a great fit into the Rays bullpen, and definitely can not be seen as a starter right now. Things could happen fast and he will be out of the Rays sights and this all will be dust in the wind. But the idea of adding him to our team kind of upsets my stomach. I admire the girt and the determination, but seeing him brawl on our home field, and throw Zim to the ground is enough for me to  print a “VOTE NO FOR PEDRO” t-shirt. Somethings even time can not heal.

             
              smh.com au

Boot Scootin’ Nelson

***  With the Rays getting ready soon to head on out for another road trip, Maddon has picked a “western theme” for the trip out to Colorado to begin their 6-game Inter-League road trip. I am not sure what most of the guys are going to be outfitted in before they board the plane, but hopefully they know that six shooters are not allowed on the plane.

Seriously though, I spoke with Rays reliever Joe Nelson yesterday on what style he was going to pull off for the western theme. He said he was going with the “Yul Brenner circa The Magnificent Seven look”.  Nelson already has the hairstyle, and I can see him in the black shirt and maybe even black leather pants, but I am really going to be surprised if he can find a great back cowboy hat to pull it all together. Maybe he can call Keith Millar, who is with the Toronto Blue Jays for a primer on how to “Cowboy Up” before the trip. I personally thought Nelson might go for the Yul Brenner look from Westworld where he played a gunslinging robot, but after the picture, I can see him in a black hat for some reason.

Season Ticket Gate Upgrade


The Rays instituted a new Season Ticket holder entrance near Gate 3 earlier this season. There is great news that an awning has been purchased that will expand out from the current gate to shelter fans waiting in that line for enter the stadium hopefully around the All-Star break. This new entrance brings you in right at the service desk at Gate 3 for easy access for signing up for the many contests, or getting with a Season Ticket Representative within a few feet of the doors. 

I have used the entrance a few times in the past few months and it is quicker and faster than the present system at Gate 1 where most of the current Season Ticket holders enter the Trop. This also might be a great alternative during the Boston or Yankee series later this year when the general standing area outside Gate 1 gets so crowded and heated at times. It is also a great alternative for the “giveaway” days as the lines will be smaller and less confusion.
 


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Familiar Faces in the Videos

If you are in Tropicana Field before the game and look up at the Jumbotron before the game and think you might have seen me on the big screen during the opening minute of the “Ground Rules”, you are correct. As a member of the “Maddon’s Maniacs”, I was invited for a taping before opening day this year to complete a fan version of the typical baseball rules explanation played 81 times a year in Tropicana Field. I got lucky enough to be in the first segments of the new video both in the first clip where you see me banging my over sized black cowbell ( which is now broken almost in half) and during the first two rules of the video.

I have to give props to the Rays vision crew who did most of the stand-in spots in the video and also had the changes and segmented video shoots done fast and professional at all times. Also have to give some acknowledgments to Eric Weisberg, Darcy Raymond and Sean Liston from the Rays Fan Experience department for their ideas to include the Maniacs in this years action. It was a great time, and I did get in a bit of a pickle about two pictures, but all is good in Rays-land. I hope you see a few of your friends in the video and be sure to stop us and say hello. We will be more than happy to chat with you about the “Maddon’s Maniacs” club or just about our hometown Rays.

M*A*S*H* 33701 Staff

 


Lynn Sladsky / AP

The roster of the Tampa Bay Rays is beginning to represent a television episode of M*A*S*H* 4077th right now. The recent flurry of injuries, both serious and treated with kindness have made this roster change shape in recent weeks. But behind the scenes, the sight in the Rays training room right now might not be as bloody or surgically fixated as the television show, but the drama and the extent of the injuries have made their medical staff one of the true treasures right now in the Rays organization.

Most fans have never heard the names Ron Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr before during most of the Rays telecasts. They are a group of guys who try and stay beyond the cameras and beyond the eye sight of most people in the stands before, during and after most of the Rays games. But their contribution to the Tampa Bay Rays will now have a huge significance on what is going to happen on the field. You see, this trio is the conglomerate that is responsible for the well being and health of the players on our roster. Each one of them is considered the best in their field, and have served the Rays for several season in their respective positions.

With their state-of-the-art training complex and new and proven methods being employed daily, the medical staff is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s take Rays reliever Brian Shouse’s injury first. After his first MRI, it was concluded that he might have a slight tear in his left flexor muscle right off the elbow. This would put the reliever essentially out for some time. But under further diagnosis and further testing, it was ruled that Shouse might have just a slight strain to the region and not need surgery at all. That diligence in finding the correct diagnosis might have cost the Rays the use of Shouse later in the season. Now after rehab and some carefully watched exercise and throwing sessions, he might again be back with the club a lot soon than originally expected. And that is huge as the Rays try and regain their core and take on the task of repeating their AL East title.

As we speak several players are also trying to get off the training tables and rehab assignments to bring some help to the slumping Rays. Designated Hitter Pat Burrell has missed 15 games now due to his neck stiffness. The team has been able to tread water to a 8-7 record since he went down, but his bat is needed to protect Carlos Pena in the lineup. Yesterday in Cleveland, Burrell was suppose to take some special individualized batting practice to see just how far he has progressed in his fight to get his neck situation under control.  The session was canceled after he was experiencing more neck stiffness. The team is tentatively expecting another try at Burrell going to the plate on Friday when they return to Tropicana field for their latest home stand. Hopefully on that day the Rays will have some good news on their ailing DH.

But then you have guys like Rays reliever Chad Bradford, who is right now on loan to the Rays Class-A squad, the Charlotte Stone Crabs for a rehab assignment. So far the prognosis is great for Bradford, and with the Bullpen right now a bit tired and weathered, he just might be ready soon to give some relief to his Bullpen mates.  His last appearance was on May 24th, and he went 1-inning and only gave up 1-hit in the appearance. The Stone Crabs have been victimized lately by weather as their last two game have been canceled due to the elements. But this week they are in Clearwater to play the Threshers, and the medical staff left behind on this road trip will be keeping a close eye on Bradford if he gets into any of these contests.

Another guy who is suffering from bad timing is Shawn Riggans. Earlier on in the season, Riggans went down with a bout of shoulder tendinitis and was set down for a few weeks before he was again allowed to participate in a throwing program. He went through the  throwing program set up by Barr and was ready to again try and hit a rehab assignment with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits.  Riggans went on up to Alabama and joined the team, but was quickly taken back off the roster after a sudden pain in his shoulder after throwing a pick-off attempt to first base during a game. He was sent to renowned doctor James Andrews in neighboring Birmingham, Alabama. After son consultation and recommendations from Andrews, Riggans was on his way back to St. Petersburg, Florida to again try all over again with the rest and relaxation program for a while. He is hoping to again be ready for a throwing program by the first week of June.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

Ron Porterfield probably had one of his worst days recently during Sunday’s Florida Marlins versus the Rays game. In the ninth inning of that contest, the Marlins Chris Coghlan came into second base to break up a double play opportunity and struck Akinora Iwamura in the left leg while it was still planted firmly on the infield clay. The result of the moving Coghlan into the rigid Iwamura made for one force taking damage on the other. Iwamura instantly went down and was in obvious pain on the infield. Porterfield rushed out their immediately and tried to ease the pain of Iwamura. The hardest part of this job might be the instant recognition of a bad situation and remaining cool and calm during this time is extremely difficult.

You could see on the replays during the injury time-out that Porterfield was not trying to stretch the area out or even attempt to have Iwamura stand based on the visual extent of the injury. He immediately asked for the crash cart to be brought out onto the turf and Iwamura was transported off the field to the rear of the Visitor’s Clubhouse area. At this time it is Porterfield’s job to ease the suffering and pain of Iwamura and give reassurance.  You have to guess he already had a opinion on the extent of the injury and was doing everything he could to mask the emotions and the conversation more towards positive elements. 

Iwamura was on crutches by the end of the game putting no pressure or force on his left knee region. He was then put in a car en route to St. Petersburg where a MRI was to be conducted this past Monday morning. He was not there when the results came in from the MRI in St. Petersburg as he was with the team in Cleveland for their four game series there before finally coming back to Tropicana Field. The results of Iwamura’s MRI showed that surgery will be needed to repair the ACL and a slight bit of damage to his MCL ligaments.

This will put him out for the rest of the 2008 season, and some speculate it might be his last time to put on a Rays uniform. But a planned surgery in the next two weeks after the swelling goes down and it is optimal to operate, Iwamura will get fixed up locally by Dr. Koko Eaton.

Later in that same ballgame, they again got called back onto the field after Dan
Uggla’s stolen base attempt. On that play, the Rays starting shortstop Jason Bartlett put his left leg in front of the base to attempt to make Uggla go to the outside of the base. Instead, Ugglas came in spikes first and clipped Bartlett on the top of the ankle, which resulted in him going down fast to the clay surface.  Again the medical staff went out there and performed some quick aid to relieve Bartlett of his obvious pain at the time. Bartlett did refuse to come out of the game and finished the contest and was getting more treatment as the team was packing up for their plane ride to Cleveland for the next series.

In Cleveland, it was decided because of the conversation with the medical staff that Bartlett should rest the ankle for a few days. Some say he could have played through the pain, but considering that Bartlett is a key element of the team again playing for that divisional title, precautionary measures were decided by Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the medical staff. Bartlett sat out the Monday game against the Indians and was set to have an MRI to check for further damage in the region. 

Because the MRI revealed a sprain, it was advised by the medical staff that rest and staying off the ankle would further the healing process. We all know that Bartlett would want to play, and might just do a good job even with a gimpy ankle. But the consideration of his total health was in order. A healthy Bartlett could help the team pick up the needed wins to regain some places within the division. If he re-injured it, or made the injury more severe, his participation might be hindered significantly the rest of the season.

Then you have people like Barr, who have designed the rehab programs for players like Fernando Perez while he is on the DL to increase his mobility and keep him in shape while he waits for further word on when he can begin a throwing program of his own designed by Barr. With his baby blue cast off his wrist you would think that the injury might be over and he can again take full baseball activities. But the wrist area is a delicate region that can be injured again quickly if the injury is not fully healed before a top workout begins. Perez was recently transferred to the 60-day DL, and it is thought he might not be on either a rehab assignment or playing before August 2009.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

The training/medical staff of the Rays is considered one of the best in baseball.  So who are these guys, and why should we be glad we have them on the Rays. Well, let me see if I can give you some insight to why we are lucky to have this trio in Tampa Bay.

First let’s start with the team’s Strength and conditioning Coach, Kevin Barr. In 2009, Barr will be presented with the Nolan Ryan Award, sponsored by Life Fitness. The award named after the Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, honors an outstanding strength and conditioning coach in professional baseball. The Nolan Ryan Award recognizes the coach whose accomplishments, in the opinion of fellow members of the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS), reflects an exemplary dedication to strength training and conditioning. The award also recognizes the recipient’s professional and personal accomplishments as well as his integrity as a strength and conditioning coach.

You might recognize him more for his time spent out on the field during Batting Practice in the right field corner with the pitchers’ helping them both do stretching exercises and running drills. He also can be seen on the first baseline just before the game when the players come out to stretch before Rays games. He is one of the only people out there at that time not in a Rays uniform, and can be easy to spot. He is a key element to the consistent health and rebuilding of the Rays roster after an injury has been sustained by a player.

Most people confuse Paul Harker with a player since he is tall and built like a player. But it is his duty to assist Porterfield in any needs before after and during the game to prepare the Rays field players and pitchers for that days game. Harker joined the major league staff after serving for three seasons as the Rays Minor League head trainer.  He  first joined the organization in November 1996 as the trainer for the Class- A St. Petersburg Devil Rays before serving as Triple-A Durham’s trainer from 1998-2002. Prior to joining the Rays organization, Harker worked in the Seattle Mariners organization for six seasons. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association.

But the guy most people know by his smile and his personality is Ron Portfield, the head honcho in the Rays medical corps. Porterfield is afraid to put a glove on and catch a bit with rehabbing players, or to just be a sounding board for a player trying out a new pitch or delivery. He is on one of the busiest people before the game for the Rays, and his training table area is also a hot spot for conversation and group conversations before the Rays games. Porterfield, spent his time as the team’s Major League assistant trainer before finally getting the top spot in December 2005. He joined the Rays organization in 1997, serving as the Minor League medical and rehabilitation coordinator for six years. Porterfield originally came to the Rays from the Houston Astros, an organization he joined in 1987 after he graduated from New Mexico State University.

In 2004, Porterfield was a member of the medical staff that received the Dick Martin Medical Staff of the Year Award from Baseball Prospectus. Porterfield’s intense computer research and commitment to helping Rocco Baldelli in 2008 get back to the field last August helped earn Porterfield the 2008 American Sports Medicine Institute Career Service Award.


So as you can see, the Rays have a well educated and knowledgeable staff to prevent and treat any aliments that might come up during the Rays contests. With new technologies and treatment systems being discovered daily, it is also their job to wade through the  published  treatment paperwork and computer postings to find the best injury solutions for the Rays players.  The commitment and the stamina displayed by these three guys should be commended.

They are the first line of defense to keeping these players on the field, and the last ones to insure they are ready again to play for the Rays. It is a tough job, and one that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, but it is what they love, and what they are extremely good at doing. And we are lucky to have them here in Tampa Bay.

 

Does the “Code” need a revision?

 

             
              www.bernsteinbooks.com


A few days ago, Cleveland Indian catcher Victor Martinez took exception to the Tampa Bay Rays base theft B J Upton stealing third base with his team up 9-0 at the time. He sighted that it was against the “Unwritten Rules of Baseball” to condone or attempt such an action. After the Sunday afternoon game against the same two squads Rays Manager Joe Maddon thought the “Unwritten Rules” needed to be revised since the game is faster and more powerful then the older version. We sometimes forget that baseball is a game built on the traditions and aspects set forth over 150 years ago.

Everyone has heard about the “Code” or “Unwritten Rules” of baseball. They might have been passed down to you by a coach, a parent , or maybe another player if you played ball beyond the High School ranks.  While the code has been around for a long, long time, it is still a taboo subject to some in the game. In fact, some players are pretty uneasy to even chat about them “on the record” to reporters or even bloggers.  For if they even talked about a set of parameters or even rules of conduct within the scope of baseball, they admit there is a set of rules. This might be the real Pandora’s box we read about as kids.

The code seems to be built more on the game within the game concept. It can be viewed as a system of intimidation, retaliation and retribution between the hitters and the pitchers mostly.  It goals is to keep the game on an even playing field, with no see-sawing of emotions or action within the scope of the contest. Some say that the “rules” have their true basis is the fact of fear, or the fear of pain upon a transgressor of the rules.  I have to admit, when I was in college and a 95 mph fastball would come in close on my shoulder or near my knees, it took everything I had in me to stand tall and not bail out most nights.  So for me, the fear of injury or pain is a basis of the penalty for abusing the code and trying to circumvent the unwritten rules.

But who is really right here?  Who out of these two defenders of the game was in the right here? Well, actually, they both seemed to have great cause for their opinions to be the supreme guidance that day. The unwritten bible that stood the test of time in early baseball until probably 1950 was envisioned because of the low scoring contests and a more gentlemanly aspect of the game. Just as in life, baseball at that time seemed to be based on the puritan aspect of the game, and not the aggressive natures of some players to make an offensive explosion of the contest.

In a sense, Maddon is also correct here. Some of the rules put in place long ago have to be revised or drooped because of the offensive nature of the game today. We are not taught to “never give up” or to ” fight until the last out.” With that outlook on the game, some of the rule seem a bit too tight and have no wiggle room for interpretation at all. It might seem odd now for Martinez to scream about an older rule that was based more in the era of 5-6 run total scoring games compared to recent blasts of over 21 runs a game. Maddon make a good point that some of the games “Unwritten Rules” do need a bit of revision or tweaking.  

                             
                              www.pauldickson.com


So here we are in a duel between the physical player and the situational manager. Who is right, or are they both wrong in their assessments of the current rule system? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they are both right to a point. Martinez is using the older rules to basically foster up a sense of entitlement over his actions during the weekend series against the Rays. While Maddon is trying to instill a new aggressive set of parameters for his own team that currently go against the grain of some of the older rules. So where do we draw the line? Where is it that we can make the changes or even attempt to even bring to light some of the outdated and antiquated rule that beg for a makeover. Well, first let take a gander at some of these older established “unwritten rules” and you be your own judge, jury and executioner on them ( I am not putting the rules in any order, just going to throw out a few for your viewing pleasure).

Unwritten Rule:
Do not steal a base late in a game that isn’t competitive.


This might be the rule that Martinez was referring to when he accosted Upton about his stealing of both second and third in the sixth inning of a 9-0 game. But what is really the basis of this rule is the “winning squad” doesn’t partake in additional embarrassment, not the team trying to get some runs and make the game competitive. If your team is winning by a lot of runs, so many that it looks like the game is pretty much over then stealing a base is just rubbing it in. Unfortunately since it’s an unwritten rule nobody is clear of the rules. How big of a lead is too big? How late in the game is too late is established by the beholder. In this case, I think Martinez was grasping for straws and should have just let it go, but bitterness can be a bitter pill to swallow.


Rienhold Matay / AP

Unwritten Rule:
Always back up your teammates in a fight.

This rule also can into effect during the Rays vs. Indians series. But what is more concerning is the fact that before the benches did clear, that Martinez was verbally accosting Maddon with profanity and comments that do not ever get voiced to a manager. That is also a section of the “Unwritten Rules” that coaches, umpires and team officials also have their own section of codes and rules for the players to follow accordingly. Martinez failed in this attempt. Some say baseball teams are like gangs. When a fight starts t
hey all run out and each take a side and face-off.

Unfortunately the posturing is suppose to be the effect here, not the actual throwing of punches or gang-tackling that some brawls evolve into in baseball. 
Pat Burrell running to look for baseball pants and a jersey  to wear on Sunday is a classic example of this rule. He was on the training table getting treatment and came out onto the field in his B P  jersey since he could not find his game jersey at the time.

Unwritten Rule:
Never bunt to break up a no-hitter. 

 
If an opposing pitcher just has your number that day and can even get to a point of a level of perfection against your team, you should honor that event, not try and throw it under the bus to establish your own agenda. I’ve never understood this unwritten rule. What if there is not a no-hitter and the score is 3 – 2 in the ninth and the losing team tries to bunt. If that isn’t considered a cheap way to try and win the game then why is bunting a cheap way to end a no-hitter?

But I do see the respect and the aspect of preserving the integrity of the pitching duel, so I would also consider it a disgrace to try and bunt to end a no-hitter by another pitcher.

Unwritten Rule :
Do not show up the pitcher after hitting a home run.

I think that this rule is going to get more and more intense in the next few years. As relievers and pitcher also adjust to emotional outbursts on the mound, the actions of the hitter have to stay consistent and not provoke a bean ball or an intentional pitch high and inside at a hitter. This unwritten rule could also be known as the don’t do what Sammy Sosa used to do after a dinger rule.

When a batter hits a home run it is considered rude to jump up and down and celebrate or to watch and admire your homer. I  can understand this rule in the course of a game, but if it is a game-winner, I think I could take a bit of a breather knowing it is a classic event and let the batter slide a bit on it as long as it is not a long linger and a comment or look towards the mound after the ball clears the wall.


Reinhold Matay / AP

Unwritten Rule:
If the opposing pitcher hits one of your batters then you must retaliate and hit one of their batters.

Sometimes there is a reason for a pitcher to take offense to a hitter at the plate. Plucking a hitter is a part of the game, and most hitters know it is going to happen to them in their career no matter if they are respectful or not, it is a part of the respect factor. Most of the time, a hitter knows it is coming, but sometimes pitchers can take an incident from far leftfield and run it into a personal vendetta. The other team has insulted us now we’ll show them!

Pitchers are so accurate, to within millimeters, that they can place the ball with pinpoint precision exactly where they want it. If a player gets hit in a certain spot, and the situation is ripe for payback, then there is no doubt as to whether or not a bean ball is just that, versus a mis-thrown wild pitch. That’s the ballplayer’s intuition, or sixth sense, taking over. And here is another thing: If a batter gets nailed with a 95 mph fastball on the fleshy part of his thigh, he had better not act like a baby and start rubbing it. No way. He should suck it up and be a man by simply “walking it off” on his way to first base. Period. A batter can never let a pitcher know that he hurt him with a pitch, that would be a psychological advantage and a clear sign of weakness. The code forbids it unless he is knocked unconscious or bleeding bad enough to warrant some medical attention.

So here we have listed a few of the “Unwritten Rules” that most of the fans might already know. There are really tons of pages of antiquated and outdated rules that do need to be readdressed and maybe modernized to support the current and future of the game. But it is not my place to sport the revolution of the rules . That has to be done within the confines of the sport itself. By the members of the teams, managers, umpires and even the guys who line and grade the turf and clay. But isn’t it a grand notion to know that a set of rules or a code is in place to keep the respect and the admiration of the game within guideline for all of us to enjoy.
 

So the next time you and a friend are in the stands remember, it is against the “unwritten rules” to discuss a no-hitter. You can cheer and want to see this great spectacle happen on your home turf, but to mention it is considered a curse, and also a bad omen not only for your pitcher, but for the sport itself. But if I had to put a quick summary of the code, it would be a simple fact of respect. Respect for the players, the history of the game and the respect of the opposition. In a true one sentence line, it is the players’ sacrificing personal glory for the good of the team.

Could Maddon have planned this Mistake?

 


RRCollections

I have to say that the lineup card fiasco yesterday stirred up its own pot of controversy as we sat there in the stands for almost 15 minutes not knowing what was going on at home plate. We could see Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge constantly bickering and arguing a fact from just beyond Dick Vitale’s seat, but even the loud and proud Vitale probably could not have figured this fiasco out in less time. It is not the intention of the Tampa Bay Rays to try and shore up their defense by putting both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist at the same position.

But you do have to give it to the Cleveland bench for not saying a thing before the Rays took their first time out in the field to solidify Wedge’s argument that Longoria should be tossed off the lineup card in the 3-hole.  It was a measure of stealth that they let the Rays get their 3 outs then protest the line-up card to basically make this an old school National League versus American League game. By showing the error to the umpire crew the Indians did in fact get Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine put into that third spot for the ballgame. But little did they know that Sonnanstine was a .400 hitter and could stroke the ball with authority. Because the Rays play basically a NL-type game with a designated hitter most nights, the loss of Longoria did not take a huge bite out of the Rays scoring machine.

You would have thought it would cause all kinds of havoc and make for a very one-sided contest, but in reality, it boosted the Rays bench confidence in their team, and also got the other Rays pitchers to want to also take a few hacks at the plate. One television camera even caught Rays starter Scott Kazmir taping up his bat on the bench maybe hoping for a pinch-hitter role in the game. But what soon seemed like a huge injustice to the Rays turned into a plus as Sonnanstine put down an incredible bunt to get a fielder’s choice when the Indians instead went to second with the throw to get the speedy Carl Crawford. But later in the contest, Sonnanstine would make the Indians pay with a nice stroke to leftfield that had Ryan Garko doing circles out there in left field.

But for some reason, the post-game interview with Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw him take complete blame for the line-up blunder. He said it was basically his signature and that he was responsible for the error and that no one else’s fingerprints are on the decision to submit the wrong lineup card before the game. Okay, I am not a huge fan of conspiracy theories or even the mixture of intelligence and character building in reference to his team. But if I was, then Maddon is a true genius. For some odd reason I see his smiling face not at all too upset on the reversal of losing Longoria, who even got up off the bench and penciled in Sonnanstine’s name himself before putting on a sweat top and sitting on the bench.


RRCollections

How much of a true warrior statistician would you be if you pulled the wool over the eyes of not only your team, but the opposition.  I truly think that Sun Tzu would be proud of Maddon right now. I think he meant to do that yesterday. For some odd reason it makes sense that starting on Friday, his pitchers would again be taking the plate in Inter League contests against the Florida Marlins. Here we had the best hitting pitcher on the Rays having to take hacks today against a guy making his MLB debut.  It doesn’t take a wise man to see that the simple fact of Sonnanstine hitting can give the Indians a false set of confidence in at least one quick out in an inning.

It also doesn’t seem too far fetched to think of Maddon as using this “error” as a tool to motivate his pitchers who are now chomping at the bit to get time at the plate. That makes for more focused Batting Practice swings by the pitching staff, plus a bit of covert action by showing the pitchers’ one of their own going 1 for 3 with an RBI in Sundays win. I can see Maddon sitting in his office trying to devise his own “Trojan Horse” situation to boost not only the confidence of his pitching staff, but for his players to believe again in 2009. After the rough start to the season, and the last two nights emotional and building confidence levels, this move could make them take on a army of Transformers.

I sat down near the Bullpen and even joked about Joe Nelson and Dan Wheeler getting some hacks today at the plate. But in the back of my mind, I knew that Sonnanstine might get three chances, and by then it would be the seventh inning or beyond and the bench could be put into action. The last few days I have seen several members of this pitching staff take to the batting cages, and some of them have more focus than last season. So if Maddon did indeed do this to instill a sense of magic and power to his pitchers’ they got the message loud and clear. For the pure fact that he is the last one to see that lineup card before he gives it to either Dave Martinez or Tom Foley to submit, you have to think they also check it out while walking out there.

But for the fact that no one questioned it before the middle of the first inning is in itself a bold move by both benches. It could have been decided that Longoria’s name not being put under the “DH” moniker was just a clerical error and he would have been inserted anyway. But the umpire crew did its job and made the right decision. With a bit of luck, and skill it worked perfectly into the Rays favor. This is not to mean that Pat Burrell has been replaced by a pitcher, but it is a great thing to know that the pitchers want to contribute at the plate too now. That can lead to all sorts of plays and chances for this team to get additional bats in the lineup in the coming Inter League games.

I can truly see the mind of Joe Maddon cooking up this scenario and even making alternative plans in his head if it did not work well. That is why I like Maddon. He is one of those managers that actually manages during the game. Situational hitting, double steals and also watching for routine flaws in the other team is his style of play. Maddon is a great lover of the strategies and moves of the game. I am really thinking he just played the best joke on all of us, and only himself and maybe his Coaching staff know the truth in this matter.


Rienhold Matay / AP

So for now, the Rays as a “NL” team are 1-0 in the season. We will find out just how good this play of events evolves when on Friday night the pitchers again take to the plate in Miami.  Not to truly say that the Rays skipper did do it on purpose, but if he did, it would be one of the best coaching moves to motivate a sector of your team since the bat sc
ene in “Bull Durham”. Sonnanstine is now in the history books, and the Rays turned a visual mistake into a confidence-boosting exercise. Sounds just like something Maddon would cook up in the kitchen too.

 

 

 

Bird is the Word Last night

 

                Orioles 7,      Rays 5

           
                   Mike Ricigliano/www.baltimoresun.com

During last night’s game, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds kept going through my mind.  You might remember the scene where they were stuck in the gas station and the pumps were about to blow up and the anxious and terrified adults were looking for options, but none came to their minds. That is the same rationale that was floating through my head after watching seven innings of the Tampa Bay Rays scrambling for answers and coming up blank.

I mean I could have only had to watch the game from the first pitch just past 7 pm until American Idol began on Fox Television at 8 pm, and I would have seen all the Rays offense in that contest.  I know there were more scoring chances in the game after that huge second inning, but the Rays did not execute or even seemed to have the ability to provide any additional show of consistent offense after that inning.  The wildest play of the night had to be on a fly ball hit by Ben Zobrist and a wild game of “catch me if you can” in centerfield by Adam Jones and Ty Wiggington.

That play was a negative Web Gem all its own. Jones came in for the ball and Wiggington stood to his right to watch him glove the ball for an easy out. But instead we had a Three Stooges (Wiggy was playing the part of Curly Joe) routine where Jones misplayed the ball and it popped off his glove and smacked Wiggy in the chest and he had a chance to be the hero, but the ball finally fell to the grass.  For his efforts, Jones did get an error on the play.

From the third inning on tonight the Rays only got five additional hits in the game. Unfortunately the Rays did provide the Orioles defense with 2 strikeouts and two double plays in those last 7 innings to secure their 14th win of the season. Missing were Akinora Iwamura and Pat Burrell from the Rays lineup tonight. Rays Manager Joe Maddon had decided to give Aki the night off since he has been working extra hard recently and did play extensively  and looked a bit fatigued coming off the field after the Red Sox series. And Burrell has been battling a neck situation that had come and gone for the last week or so.

Considering this might have been a perfect match up for Burrell tonight, one has to wonder if the Burrell injury might be a little more than advertised by Maddon. And it is a shame he could not even use him as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning when George Sherrill, the leftie closer for the Orioles was on the mound. Both Sherrill and Hendrickson might have been great pitchers for Burrell to get some needed hit and confidence at the plate from in this game. Hopefully, we can see Burrell again at the plate in Wednesday nights contest.

 
Nick Wass / AP

Rays Did Have Offense..Early

As I stated before, the top of the second inning was a great display of what the Rays can do against a struggling pitcher. They seemed to be putting pressure on the jugular in that inning and never let Hendrickson get any reprieve until Carlos Pena finally flied out to Nick Markakis to end the inning. But the damage was already done by then by the Rays, who had a 5-1 lead at that point. In that inning Gabe Kapler hit a nice sacrifice fly to deep left field to score Willy Aybar, who had singled to lead-off the inning. It was Kapler’s first RBI as a Ray.

Dioner Navarro then hit a RBI-single up the middle to score Jason Bartlett, who had doubled down the third baseline earlier in the inning. B J Upton then walked to put men on the corners with Carl Crawford coming to the plate. Crawford, who had doubled in his first at bat, took a hanging breaking pitch and hit a 2-run double to deep left that Orioles leftfielder Felix Pie tried to dive for, but came up short.  Evan Longoria then extended his RBI streak when he put a pitch off the out-of-town scoreboard in rightfield to drive in Crawford.

Carlos Pena then hit a long fly out to  Nick Markakis to end the inning with the Rays now up 5-1. In that inning, the three outs recorded against the Rays were also hit balls.  But a few great thing did happen for the Rays. Crawford moved past Aubrey Huff with his 2 RBI in the inning to become the All-Time Rays RBI Leader for the young franchise. And Longoria, after the Orioles announcers were debating if he could keep up his RBI pace, hit his ball off the scoreboard with the next pitch. Longoria is still the MLB RBI Leader, now with 45 on the year.

               
                Nick Wass / AP

Sonny is No Longer Money

Man how it pains me to write that last line. I really like the lunch pail work ethic of Andy Sonnanstine. I can see that he has the drive and passion to go out there ever five days and throw until his heart gives out, or his arm falls off. But when is enough going to be enough here. At this time last year he had a 4-1 record, not the 2009 version that sports a 1-4 record with a inflated 7.27 ERA. Is there something wrong here, or am I just be too critical of a guy we had total faith in last season and might have a few struggles on the mound in 2009.

I am not a Pitching Coach, so my opinion is based solely on what I see and what I know about pitching, but there is something tell tale about him in 2009. I am not saying he is tipping his pitches, but something is tipping off the hitters more this season than in 2008.  Or could it just be something a simple as he is not re-inventing himself a bit every start. Maybe the team Volvo has finally hit the point where team have scouted him so much they can even tel
l when he is exhaling now.

That does happen in the pitcher’s career, and they have to re-adjust or re-invent their pitching style to confuse and make hitter get back off their heels waiting for his breaking ball. I am not going to call for a change just yet because it might be fixable, but it will have to be fixed at this level and he can not go down to the minors and work on it. It either has to be done up here, or he might just be on his way out the door in Tampa Bay. Coming into the 2009 season, you looked at Sonnanstine as a consistent pitcher, but so far in 2009, that consistency is based more in the negative than positive so far.

Last night, he lasted only two innings, or 69 pitches before getting the hook with the Rays behind 7-5. Every one of the Orioles runs were attributed to Sonny last night. That second inning only paled in comparison to Hendrickson’s by two great plays by the Rays outfield. If not for those plays, the Orioles might have tacked on two additional runs.  I know the minds in the Rays dugout are spinning right now trying to figure out what to do with this situation.

Like I mentioned before, it could be a simple mechanic adjustment like Scott Kazmir, or it just might be the end of Sonny’s run as a start with the Rays. Either way, the bleeding has to stop. The Rays had a killer inning in the top of the second and had no reason to have to stand out there and see all their hard work go bouncing by them in the bottom half of that inning. Change has to happen……….either good or bad, but it has to begin starting today for Sonny.


Nick Wass / AP

Wednesdays Wild Writs

****  The Rays got a huge boost from their outfielders’ in the bottom of the second inning.  After Designated hitter Lou Montanez hit an RBI-double to right-centerfield. Greg Zaun hit a single to rightfield that Gabe Kapler quickly got a hold of and sent a rocket to Dioner Navarro at home to easily get Montanez trying to score. The ball was a one-hopper that came up to Navarro perfectly to secure Kapler’s third outfield assist of the year. That ties the part-timer with Carl Crawford for the team lead.

The second outfield assist came from centerfield as B J Upton got Cesar Izturis and second base for his first outfield assist of the year. Upton, who was the Rays leader in outfield assists in 2008 with 12 assists. This play, along with Kapler’s earlier assist in the same inning, kept two more runs from scoring for the Orioles in the second inning.

**** Every one was curious what had happened to the missing left fielder for the Orioles in the top of the fourth inning. It seems that during the bottom of the third inning after Pie had struck out looking against Grant Balfour, he reportedly was sent to the University of Maryland Hospital complaining of stomach discomfort and after a CT scan, he will be in the Orioles dugout for tonight’s game.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley was not aware of the situation in the top of the fourth inning and went into the Oriole’s clubhouse looking for Pie, but had to send out Ty Wiggington to play left field for the inning. “We thought it was just a temporary thing, that he had a stomach ailment or virus, upset stomach,” Trembley said. “I went to the home plate umpire and told him and he said, ‘I’ll give you a couple minutes.’ And I told Wigginton to get ready and Pie couldn’t come back, so that’s why we had to make a change.”

Pie, who is hitting .180 right now  has essentially lost his starting left field position to Lou Montanez after being brought over from the Chicago Cubs in the off season to shore up that spot in the outfield. Ex-Ray Joey Gathright was recently traded also from the Cubs to the Orioles for infield/outfielder Ryan Freel. Gathright does have major league experience, and could be a nice speedy option in left field for the Orioles to consider for the position.

**** I give Sunsports some credit for at least giving us the audio feed from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as they were trying to fix their video problems last night. We got to hear the pre-game voices of Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats as they ran down the match-up and only missed Upton long drive to the 364 mark in centerfield, and Crawford’s ninth double of the season. We got back into the 20th Century right as Longoria began his first at bat of the night, which ended up being a liner to center field to move Crawford to third base.

**** After the game, Todd Kalas interviewed both Aubrey Huff and Kapler about their feelings on the recent demonstrations by players and pitchers in the league. Huff told Kalas that he had ” gotten several text messages”.  I still thin it is a bit humorous that Huffdaddy had to wait two years before he got a chance to rub that fist pump back at Joba Chamberlain before Sunday;s 3-run homer. But it was Kapler’s comments that showed the best representation of what most of the league might be thinking on this subject:
 

“Personally,my standpoint is is that if the fans enjoy it.  And it is good for all of us, and as long as it is not, you know, completely over the top and out of line, I think that anything that makes puts fans in the seats, ends up paying all of our salaries. media folks included, So I do not mind seeing a little bit of showboat or something good roots out there.”

I think Kapler has a great grasp of this whole situation having played with the Boston Red Sox for several seasons, then taking off for the Japanese League, which views cheering and also displays of showmanship completely different than in the United States. Then he comes back to the MLB and managed in the minor leagues for a year before deciding in 2008 he still had the desire and passion to play the game.

Classic Rays versus Red Sox Game

 

               Red Sox 4,       Rays 3


Michael Dwyer / AP

This One Did NOT Hurt As Much

Every season you have games that will come down a test of wills at the plate. In last night’s game, Jonathan Papelbon won this first face-off of the season against the Rays. But even if you are a Red Sox or a Tampa Bay Rays fan, you had to enjoy this game for the pure pleasure of it being a ever-changing affair from the first pitch on. There was everything you want in a featured baseball game on ESPN.

You have the tale of the struggling hitter, the emotional pitchers from both teams, the outfielder who replaced a former Fenway legend who is making his own legacy, and you had a scattered amount of hits and runs to keep everyone interested until the last out. Heck, even the ninth inning pinch-hit by Carlos Pena had me at hello. Coming into that at bat, Pena was 1 for 3 against Papelbon with a home run. There was that instant anxiety that Pena, the MLB home run leader could take any pitch yard on him.

And there was the fact that Papelbon is usually at his best in this kind of scenario. Even with the count 3-2, you had to imagine what was going to happen next in this game. The only thing that spoiled it for me was the strikeouts. I know I am being a bit critical here, but I wanted to see the Boston defense step up and show their teeth or their obvious weakness tonight. When Dustin Pedroia left the game with a gimpy hammy, you knew the pressure would fall upon the Red Sox shoulder even harder to win this first series from the troublesome Rays.

But in the end, it was the flamboyant closer thrusting his fists and doing his best Joba Chamberlain impression. I am only hoping that the next time a Ray hits a homer off Papelbon, he gets the same greeting as Joba after Aubrey Huff took him yard on Sunday. This was the Rays 20th game against the American League East opponents , with two more on tap before they finally greet another A L Central opponent at home this next coming weekend. I mean let’s think about the game in a really abbreviated form.

The Red Sox ace, Josh Beckett had given up 25 runs and 44 hits since his Opening Day win over the Rays in Fenway. He had blossomed to a 8.13 ERA. He was ripe for the picking, and the Rays did not take full advantage of a guy who was having trouble with his fastball. But that is the game. You never know where your offense or your pitching will be at any moment.

The game did begin with a classic National League style run production after Carl Crawford got on base with a slap single to Mike Lowell at third base. Pat Burrell hit a nice slow rolling RBI-single to deep left and Crawford did what you have to do when he scored on the play. He bowled over Jason Varitek like we were taught in Little League. It was not a locomotive collision, but it was the classic side punch to get him off the plate and send a message slam. The Rays wanted this game, and even a great catcher was not going to stand in Crawford’s way tonight.


Michael Dwyer / AP

And what was even better, Willy Aybar, who gracefully pushed a catcher in Minnesota and cost the Rays a run in a Rays loss got a front row seat to it. Aybar now can see with his own eyes what playing the Rays way really means. You go all out no matter what…..even into a catcher. You might remember in Spring Training 2008, Elliot Johnson blew Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli to the backstop with a massive slam. Ironic that it was also seen as a catalyst by the Rays of the potential and the power of this teams confidence in 2008.

I hope the message got through to people on that bench. The emotion and the confidence is still within that roster, they just have to physically bring it to the surface, and the win will pile up again for the Rays. I heard a guy last night complain about B J Upton’s lack of aggression at the plate. Well, if he had really seen his last 10 at bat this series, you would see the slow evolution of his swing and that he is not long for a huge game. He needs to outwardly display that confidence, then the team will also respond accordingly.
 

People do not visualize that Upton is a key component in the Rays machine.  Without him 100 percent on-board and showing his abilities, this time is running on 7 cylinders. Great illustration of this was Upton’s blast down toward the leftfield corner in the fifth inning for a double. Then Crawford hit a bloop single in front of Jason Bay for an RBI single. With that RBI, Crawford is now tied with former Rays Aubrey Huff for the team RBI record ( 449). But if Upton needs to have a example of what it takes, he only has to look towards the On-Deck circle to Crawford.

Earlier in the year Crawford was beginning to slump a bit, but now he is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. And to add to that fire is the fact he is also the most feared man on the base paths right now. Of course in Boston they throw a few well phrased adult superlatives with his name, but that comes with success. Considering the fact that there are three players who have not hit their stride yet ( Dioner Navarro,Pat Burrell, Upton), this team is only 3-games below .500 right now. That is only 3-games off last years pace, and we have a harder schedule in 2009.

So we leave the confines of Fenway with out first losing series of the year against the Red Sox.  But this time, even the Red Sox Nation have to agree that this series was one of the best in the history of these two divisional rivals. Not just for the Rays huge win on Sat., but for the close games that could have gone either way with a few breaks. The best thing about this ever growing rivalry is that it is not going to die down anytime soon. Both teams are loaded in the minors, and they both will find incredible ways to beat the other team today, tomorrow and in the immediate future.


Michael Dwyer / AP

De-Fense, De-Fense

For some time, one of the biggest improvement over the Rays in recent years has been their commitment to their defense. Well, you have to give a huge amount of style points to the Rays last night, because their defense kept them in this contest. For one of the first games in recent memory, the Rays did not complete a single double play on the Boston hitters. But then again, the Rays defenders did keep their base runners to a minimum  thanks in part to a former Ray.

Nick Green has been removed from the Rays system for a few years, but he still has a fond place for the Rays. I do not think that was on his mind when he tried to stretch two single into doubles last night, but the Rays will thank him for the outfield assists and the outs. The first one came in the third inning off a hard hit ball bouncing off the Green Monster in leftfield that Crawford took fast and threw hard and true to the base to nab Green for Crawford’s team leading third assist of the year.

But then again in the fourth inning Green again tried to test his former infield teammate Ben Zobrist when he hit an RBI-single in the fourth inning to rightfield, and Zor-illa turned and fired a strike to nab him for the second time tonight to also get his second outfield assist of the season. Bartlett did not have to move an inch to take Zobrist’s throw in and tag Green in time to end the fourth inning on that play. I think the rest of the American League can attest to Upton and Gabe Gross having the rocket arms on this team, but Crawford and Zobrist will get their shots to disprove their own detractors this season. 

But the Rays defense was not perfect tonight either. Crawford almost got the Rays into early trouble when he overthrew to second base on a double by Jason Bay in the second inning. The ball went high and wide from Bartlett and the Rays had to scramble to get it before Bay knew what had happened on the play. But the Rays did have a helper in some of the defensive troubles tonight. The Red Sox secret weapon for years has been the Green Monster.

Several times in the game the wall made its presence known and take simple balls off it and transform them into directional switching ricochets that made the Rays scramble a bit. But every team has that home field advantage, but in Boston, it is a huge green painted wall that grins every time a ball hit it.


www.tbo.com

Pink Cleats almost become Verboten

I actually love the fact that MLB celebrates the holiday of Mother’s Day the way they do every season. I mean I remember a few years ago if you bought a certain dollar amount in the Team Store you got a make-up bag and small pillow embroidered with the pink ribbon and the MLB logo. Well, my  mother had passed in the last year, but I gave the pillow and the case to my daughter’s mother and she loved the thought, but she is a hockey fan. Oh well, such is life.

But the fact that the teams were a sea of pink wristbands and stretchable bands everywhere on their arms and wrists was amazing. And the pink bats were out on force with players suing them throughout baseball on Sunday. And with those bats being collected again and being offered on MLB.com’s auction site will bring in more great amounts of funds for the possible final solution to this  cancer that has taken so many of the people we love and know from our lives. 

Among those who are expected to wear the pink Reebok cleats are twelve players from the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, as well as the game’s umpiring crew and the entire Red Sox staff including Manager Terry Francona. Players “getting their pink on” include David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox and Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour and James Shields of the Rays, along with other players from both teams.

But I love the fact that MLB and the MBL Player Union finally let the player where those Reebok cleats with the pink striping in the game yesterday. There might not have been a huge display of the pink shoes, but thanks to Rays reliever Joe Nelson, it might not have even happened if not for his insight and call to the union about the exclusion of the shoes. You see, Nelson doesn’t get a pink bat, and his armbands can not adorn his body and arms on the mound. All he would have had to honor his mother-in-law that day would have been the glue able ribbon on his uniform top.

But after consulting the union and getting a ” we will work it out” response from the union on the Reebok situation, he was able to put on those pink striped cleats and show his support for this awesome cause. The original reason that the cleats were forbidden to be worn on the field was an outside of MLB sanctioned charity getting the proceeds from the future auction of these shoes. By the union and MLB taking into consideration the multiples of players and families that might be effected by exclusion of this display of support and honor, I commend MLB and the Player’s Union for their quick and positive actions.  The charity to be honored with the cleats is the Avon Foundation for women.

Most of the time this kind of decision-making can not be made on the fly. For the league and the union to step up and get a fast resolution and supportive stance will be a huge win-win for them in not only the public’s eye, but in the players too. Way to Go MLB and MLBPA for your insight and gracious admittance of this sign of support for guys who do not get to go to bat, or hit the mound during the game. You know their mother’s love you for it.

Just to let you know, the Florida Marlins also received batting gloves and cleats from Easton this week to wear on Sunday during their game against the Colorado Rockies. These items are also going to be made available in a future auction to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Marlins stars Hanley Ramirez, Luis Gonzalez and Cody Ross, who wear Easton goods during the season will be the highlighted players wearing the pink-hued accessories. It is just a great thing that so many of the games best have taken the time to honor not only their mothers’ today, but a chance to eliminate a horror that plagues women daily all over the world
.

Longo goes Long-O

 

                 Rays 6,       Red Sox 2


Chris O’Meara / AP

Red Sox Amnesia

Is it me, or did it seem like the Boston Red Sox came into this series forgetting about the recent history between these two polar opposite record teams. Did the mighty Red Sox forget that before coming in on Monday, the last time they stood in Tropicana Field was to watch the Rays celebrate their advancement to the World Series. It close but no cigar for the Red Sox. So as Red Sox Nation is now throwing their hands up in the air wondering what is wrong with their team, the answer is quite simple and easy to digest. These two teams have scouted each other to the point they know what breakfast cereal to have in the clubhouse. They might even know the collective birthdays and anniversaries of every one on the two teams staffs too.

This is becoming a vital rivalry. It is not to the level of the dreaded Red Sox versus Yankees yet, but it can be if they let it grow and mature. Right now the Red Sox faithful treat this series only like a bump in the road, not a legitimate contender. Sure there is the wordspeak that they do not take the Rays lightly, but do their actions match their words……Not yet. This series had all the drama and the suspense of their other 7 series this season, including one where this unknown squad from St. Petersburg dared to come into Fenway Park and win two out of three games. Boston is beginning to believe in the rumors and the half-truths about this team.

They know the Rays can play baseball, they just have to believe it is at their level right now. For some reason they seemed to be thinking it is 2000 or earlier, and this is still a bunch of rag tag second-tier players seeking that last chance to play professional baseball outside of the minor league system. The Rays have grown, just like David Ortiz’s waistline to become more of a burden to these guys from Beantown. But lest we forget, after tonight, not only have the Rays now beaten the Red Sox in 4 of the 5 games this year, but here in the gentle burg, they have lost 12 out of the last 14 games. Make more sense that they would want a case of simple amnesia when they hit the tarmac at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Rays are being Pests Again

I was amused last night when a Red Sox fan behind me was jawing about the Rays and their base runners annoying the Boston starter Justin Masterson. I find it really humorous that he was sitting their complaining that our guys were trying to steal bases and not just take what the defense is giving them at the plate. I wanted to turn around and just give it to him by stating that it is an aggressive style of baseball that your own Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedoria love to play, but they have to be on base to get steals. Instead I just glanced up at the scoreboard and saw that beautiful 6-2 score shining bright.

But that is something that the Rays have done the entire year. They have been aggressive some times to the point of running themselves out of innings and scoring opportunities. How many times have Rays fans looked at that TV screen or the base paths at the Trop., and cursed a play or two because of the lack of concentration by a base runner. But that is going to be the style that we are either going to sink or swim with in 2009. It has had its moments of failures, like when B J Upton or even Carlos Pena get caught in “no-mans land” between the bases and have to almost concede an out. But then you have moments like during the last home stand against the Chicago White Sox where Akinora Iwamura was also caught between bases and some how got his hand into second base ahead of the toss to steal the moment and keep the White Sox from getting that easy out.


The aggressive style will either help or hinder you, but so far in 2009, the arrow is pointing more into the help column. Coming into tonight’s game, the Rays have a combined 189 stolen bases. That is currently tops in the American League, but there are teams nipping at their heels like the Texas Rangers ( 187 ) and the Cleveland Indians ( 184 ). The rays aggressive system has caught the eyes of other teams too now, and they are adapting their own set of parameters to their own offensive battle plans. Even the Florida Marlins, who are tied with the Rays for the MLB lead with 189 stolen base have adjusted their game to include aggressive base policies. This is the style of play that is evolving in baseball. Small ball is back in a big way, and the Rays are the leader of the pack.


Consider in the last two nights, both starting pitchers have been taking extra time and slowed their wind-ups and throws to the plate hoping to catch the speedy Rays out of position and get some easy outs and erase base runners. For the most part, it is not working, but they are getting their chances. In Thursday nights game, only once did the Rays attempt to steal a base of Josh Beckett. Carl Crawford, the Rays head theft took third base off of Beckett and back-up catcher George Kottaras in the bottom of the fourth inning. It was all made possible by a double by Crawford. The aggressive nature of the Rays is not going away, and teams are beginning to experiment with ways to combat these pests on the base paths.

All in all, the Rays have been caught stealing six times in 2009, which is pretty middle of the pack. The only team that has a lopsided stolen base to caught stealing ratio right now is the Toronto Blue Jays, who have stolen 11 and been caught only once. Take last night’s game into consideration. Masterson also began to make slower movements on the mound and also threw a few sidesteps to combat the Rays base runners. It had its moments, but the Rays still attempted their steals.  Crawford and B J Upton both got steals of second last night, but the Rays also got caught twice last night.
In their game of base larceny, you do get caught some times.

Gabe Gross got pegged at third base by Kottaras in the sixth inning. Upton got nailed at third base also, but in the bottom of the first inning. Even when they know the Rays are going to attempt steals it doesn’t matter to this young aggressive squad. They do not do it for the sake of the larceny, they do it for the pure fact that it disrupts the pitcher and can cause havoc in the mind. And that is a pure Joe Maddon trademark….The mind can win or lose games for you.

   
    
Chris O’Meara / AP

Does Tim Tebow Wear Longoria Underwear?

I found it funny the first time I heard that line that superman wears Tim Tebow underwear. The Florida Gator quarterback seems to be able to do what ever he feels like it in a game. I am getting the same vibe about Evan Longoria this season. He has just finished the fourth best April batting average by a second year player who won the Rookie of the Year award by belting a grand slam off the Boston Red Sox to send Red Sox fans either to the beer stand, or home. But people seem to forget that Boston put him in that position. If Masterson has been able to get the inning over with quickly, there would be no “Longo” chants bellowing in the Trop. Heck, if he had been able to do his job, there would not be a “6” spot on the scoreboard. But the second year player is quickly putting himself up there with some great names to be considered again for dominance at the plate and in the field.

Sure the guy did not have a killer night at the plate, only going 1 for 3, but that one made the difference in this ball game. That one hit puts him solely into the lead for the American League RBI race with 28 for the season. And coming up behind him is team mate Carlos Pena with 25 RBIs. But that is not the only category right now that Longo is showing dominance. He is also the current Slugging Percentage leader ( .736 ) and also the doubles leader ( 10 ). The kid is beginning to get a cult following around the league, and no more chants of “Eva” have been filtering down from the stands. Maybe that is because Eva could never have a year like this.

And if you think about it, the Rays third baseman is in a perfect position right now. He has Crawford and Upton in front of him to help in RBI’s, and he has Pena and Pat Burrell behind him to force pitchers to pitch to him. He is sitting in a great spot to explode with number unseen in a while for a second year player. And with this emergence, he should get more than his share of votes for the All-Star game in St. Louis this season.  With Longoria and Pena setting up the first Rays duo to ever produce at this level consistently for an entire season. The potential of this duo is off the charts, the reality is that the Rays will go as far as these two can take them in 2009.


 
Chris O’Meara / AP

Sonny is not Sure Money

Last year at this time Andy Sonnanstine was sitting pretty with a 3-1 record and a 5.28 ERA. He had begun the season as the number three starter and was making his sixth start of the year on April 30, 2008. He would win that contest and become the first Rays pitcher to even win four games in April, plus tie the mark for the best record of any month by a Rays pitcher. Life was looking grand for Sonny.  But what a difference a year can make in a pitchers’ life. It is not that he is throwing the ball any different, or even is off the mark by a wide margin. small little things have seem to plague him this season.

His breaking balls is not producing the awesome bite or even plus or minus it had in 2009. This is not for lack of him throwing it in the same manner. He is still throwing it with good mechanics, maybe the league has caught up to him. He is never going to win your teams pitch speed record, or even make a run at a 10 strikeout night, but he has been so consistent for so long with the team that if there is a problem, it is amplified beyond the mound. This year is just an off season for him. He is losing the count he used to get easily with his breaking balls. Not for lack of it hitting the plate, but for people hitting him better this year.  

Take last night game for example, He went out there and did the basic Sonny routine of getting balls hit at people. You know nice easily routine ground outs and great fly balls that can be caught without episode. But for some reason, this season that formula has been broken at times and he has been subject to big innings. In the third inning last night it was single by Pedroia and a double by Kevin Youkilis that set up trouble for him. He ended up issuing a walk to J D Drew on 4 pitches. He then did the same for Jason Bay to plate the first run for the Red Sox. In the past, with two outs in the inning, he would have served up a nice ground ball to get the Rays out of the inning. But maybe hitters are wise to him now and are waiting him out at the plate.

Whatever the reason, the one run third inning for the Red Sox did not break the bank for him tonight. Mostly because two pitches later Mike Lowell grounded out to get him out of the inning.  But that with standing, this is a different Sonny on the mound this season. Maybe he traded in the “Volvo” mentality for a sporty new compact model, but it is not working for him right now. But I do not have fear in me about this. Sometimes a pitcher has to rediscover his stuff at points in the season. Maybe in 2009, he is having to do it a bit earlier than anticipated. Whatever the reason, Sonny has to regain that killer instinct that served him so well in the beginning of 2008. This team is going to need every pitcher to go out there and think they have a win every night. If that doesn’t happen, they might see themselves sitting in the Bullpen, or worse this year.

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