Results tagged ‘ Ray Sadler ’

Rays Jots and “Idol” Rays-style Chatter

 



 

 
Man oh man, here we are, another beautiful day in the Florida sun with the smell of Cheese steaks hitting gentile winds coming across the ball park.  I do not mind coming down here and riving almost two hours now to see a game. Ever since the minor league teams began their exhibition games, you can always stroll on over and maybe see  B J Upton getting his licks in, or maybe Matt Joyce getting his legs under him before the season begins.  But, see those two guys again out there running and fielding shows me that the season is upon us, and it is time to celebrate some of the other things going on down here in Port Charlotte, Florida.

 
 
Rite of Rays Spring
 

Today is also the first locally televised broadcast of a Tampa Bay Rays game this season. That is always a sign of the season coming up quickly on us when we see that strapping young lad, Todd Kalas doing reports from the Tiki Bar, the Cheese steak Hut, and also along the railings over the Rays Bullpen and the left-center field Boardwalk area. But it is not until I see that man-fro of Dewayne Staats that I truly know the year is about to start. If you do not know anything about Statts, then you are not a old time Rays fan. Staats has been stepping to the mike now for 32 seasons, and his 11th season covering the Rays. In 2003,  he hit a  high note point in his career when he called his 4,000th  broadcast. He has come a long way since his first timer up at the mike in a MLB booth when he started with the Houston Astros back in 1977.

 

Todd Kalas
 

But today he was seen walking into the booth with the Rays Assistant Pitching Coach/ Broadcast partner Brian Anderson for this broadcast first by the Rays Television Network in Port Charlotte this year. Missing in today’s initial broadcast was new Rays analyst Kevin Kennedy. But seeing both Staats and Anderson standing up there in their dark blue Rays polo shirts brought a level of normalcy to the Spring. It is like the birds returning to Capistrano, it is a rite of spring. But, the true rite of spring was seeing Kalas wandering the sidewalks and Tiki bar seats shaking hands and just being a true Rays ambassador to the crowd of 6,969 who came out to see them play the St Louis Cardinals today.

 
 

Shawn Riggan aka Rays Seacrest

American Idol Rays-style 
 

The location was kept unknown to most fans, but the results were mixed as the Rays held their own version of the popular Fox Television show this week. The judges were not as picky or prim and proper as the regular shows lot, but it was a wild mix of young and old music styles. You had the Latin goddess Carmine Molina ( No relation to the catching Molina’s) as our resident Paula Abdul, Troy Percival maybe playing the picky Simon Cowell, B J Upton as the new judge Karla De Guardio and the veteran Carl Crawford did his best Randy Jackson moves. The pick of the Rays to do the MC duties might be a bit odd to some people, but Shawn Riggans as Ryan Seacrest would make sense to the women fans of the Rays.
 

I have always called Riggans the “Brad Pitt” of the minor leagues, but now that he is considered a quality and able back-up to Dioner Navarro, maybe this is his first jump into broadcasting. Who would have known he could be so personable with a microphone in his hands. It might be the Rays tradition started by John Flarety, who is currently a part of the YES broadcast team. I am thinking this might be his first audition tape to take along with him to maybe follow Flarety and go high in the stands into the booth after his career is over…….The night’s winner was minor league catcher Steven Vogt, who mesmerized the judges with his smooth sounds and ample singing personalities. Coming in a distant second was the musing of fellow catcher Matt Springs and Chris Richard, who channeled a bit of Warren G and the Regulators during their time on the stage. But it was fun by all, and marked another chapter in the fun and adventure the Rays have had in the last year…………We out Dog!

 
 

 
 

Now Pitching Number 19……………..

 

Only during the spring can you have this kind of problem. During the regular season, players  do not seem to mix jersey numbers or play a game of jersey roulette. But during Thursday’s game, we saw two different sides to the usual number 19 of the Rays. We first saw Scott Kazmir start the game and throw a wild first inning where he gave up 3 runs, one a 3-run shot to Ryan Ludwick into the left field boardwalk area. After the first three batters had tacked an early 3-0 lead on the Rays, Kazmir began to settle in a bit, but still got hit two more times in that inning after throwing around 31 pitches. It started to look like vintage 2008 Kazmir.
 

But unknown to the fans, and even the broadcast team at the time was the fact that Kazmir was a victim of that gastro-intestinal situation that has come and gone all spring within the Rays clubhouse. He did not feel good from the get-go, but wanted to try and take the mound in support of his team. You could tell his off-speed pitches did not have the usual snap, as Ludwick took his slower than usual change-up long and deep in that first inning.  Even during the second inning, a hanging slider was hit over the boardwalk in right field and into the restaurant patio area for a solo shot. In the third inning, he faced the minimum three batters, getting a double play to help matters after he hit Yadier Molina in the foot with a bad breaking ball.
 

For his four inning of work today, Kazmir gave up 8 hits and 5 runs, with only 2 strikeouts. It was not vintage Kazmir at all, but considering he was under the weather, I can give him a mulligan today. He has looked good in his other two appearances this spring, and you knew that a set back was going to happen to each of the starters at some point this spring. So this was Kazmir’s “gimme” for the spring. After his outing, Kalas interviewed Kazmir, and you could see by his face that it lacked color and he did not have that usual confidence or Kazmir charm going for him today.
 

But then again in the top of the ninth inning , the Rays faithful saw another number 19 take the mound for the home team. But this time it was not the leftie, but a rightie who was wearing the telltale Kazmir number. Now granted, the minor leaguers do wear the same type Rays B P tops in their camps also located on the adjacent four regular size field here in the Charlotte Sports Park. But couldn’t the Rays have done what the Red Sox, and even today’s opponent, the Cardinals have done and just send the guy out their without a name on the back of a “19” jersey. I had to get the old binoculars out and strained to see that the guy on the mound was actually the Rays 2002 46th round pick, Jino Gonzalez.
 

If you have not heard a lot about Gonzalez, then you must not be a Montgomery Biscuit fan.  You see, he spent most of his 2008 season with the Double-A affiliate where he appeared in 37 games last season earning a record of 2-4. He also started 11 games for the Biscuits and went over 87 innings picking up 68 strikeouts last year. but here he was today, helping the big club fight off the Cardinals in the ninth inning to try and secure a chance for the Rays to get back into this game.  He ended up only going 1 inning today, but he quickly took care of  Cardinal Joe Mather grooving a nice breaking ball on the inside corner for a called third strike for the first out.
 

He then tried to get the same pitch in on Brian Barden, but hit him in the stomach to give up his first major league base runner. He then pitched Tyler Greene tight inside to get him to hit a short bouncer in front of the plate that Gonzalez quickly picked up to throw out Braden for the second out of the inning.  After another hard pitch in on the hands of Brendan Ryan, he got him to op up the ball towards the backstop and Rays catcher Steven Vogt held onto the ball for the final out of the inning.  It was an impressive outing for the minor leaguer, and might have opened some eyes about his future with the team.

 
 

 

Short Page Scribbles :

 

Now not only does Elvis, the English Bulldog of Pat Burrell have a locker with a nameplate, but the young son of Rays closer Troy Percival also has that honor in the Rays clubhouse. The 10-year old was given a space by Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland today, and the first thing hanging in his locker was his customary “401.2” jersey. But I guess that is better than the locker room setting for both Ray Sadler and Jon Weber, who have seen all the people around their assigned lockers either get sent to the minor league locker room, or moved to other areas of the clubhouse. But you can be sure
that they too might have to vacate the lockers soon, with one of them hoping to actually have a chance to take their gear to Tropicana Field for the season.

 
 

Something was very usual today around the ballpark. The Rays usual Juggs radar gun seemed to be a bit off today as it showed a slow breaking pitch by Rays Reliever Brian Shouse going 96 mph to the plate. It even tallied a slow 12-6 curve by the Cardinal’s Ryan Franklin going 99 mph.  Who knows what is up with the gun, maybe a ball hit it and the calibration was smacked right out of the stadium piece. Hopefully it will be taken care of before the next game so we do not have a random 102 mph reading hit the scoreboard and freak out a few of the Rays faithful.
 

B J Upton got his first live batting swings in today over the Minor League section of the complex. He did not fair well, but was happy to finally get the bat off his shoulder and swing at some live pitching in a game situation. He did not get to take the field, as he was designated at the DH for the Triple-A squad game today. But his 09-2 performance can not be discounted as he was seeing the ball great and just seems to have his timing off a bit right now. Upton told the St. Petersburg Times that,   “My biggest concern was swinging and missing and seeing how it felt,” Upton said. “I took my normal swing and I didn’t feel anything, so it’s another roadblock we’ve passed. I really had no idea how it was going to feel, and to finally get it out of the way it feels good.”  It is just great again to see him in uniform and ready to take a bat in his hands for the Rays. The timetable is still in place for him to be ready by the time the team returns from their first road trip of the year to Boston and Baltimore. But for him to make his 2009 debut in front of the home crowd might just be what the doctor ordered for Upton.
 
 
 

Photo credits: 1) RRCollection
                       2)  http://www.FSN.com
                       3)  http://www.Stpetersburgtimes.com ; (
                       4)  http://www.Bradenton.com ( Tiffany Tompkins )

Rays beat Pirates in First Night Game of the Year

 
                      
 
I can tell you it has been a wild couple of days here in the old Renegade lair. I went to the game, as we all know on Sunday and my laptop worked pretty well during the draft. I was able to save my copy and only had to add the photos and the credits and it would be done. Well I charged the new little toy up and took it again to the game on Monday night to Bradenton and did my blog doing play-by-play with that game too. But when I got to the house, my new toy decided to act like a spoiled Christmas toy that stops working 24 hours after the kids play with it for the first time.
 

I was scared I might have gotten a virus or maybe even fried the hard drive already.  But I took it into a friend’s computer shop on Tuesday and he told me that there was  small cache of missing files that went along with Window Mail that would prevent the sending or even the opening of mail on that application.  Somehow the computer itself decided to deep six itself into the deep deep green of the cyber seas. So I took it to the store where I bought it, and they had a Tech Department. I told them how I had two word files and two recorded files on the computer, and I needed to extract them before I gave them the unit to send back or try and fix for me. I decided I just wanted to exchange the unit, but that I could not access them because of the touch pad and the odd files being missing in action.

 
Well, they attached a exterior mouse and got to the two Word files and downloaded them onto a disc for me that day, and I finally got Sunday’s game online tonight. I was only using the WIFI to connect to the Internet and check mail and do comments update left on my blog.  I had not tried to use the Mail system either on my Windows or Yahoo account until Monday night. But for some reason, and it had a time stamp of Monday afternoon, the files were missing that could coordinate those requests. He told me that maybe there was a glitch in the system at the source and during a update it might have erased it by mistake. So now I had to fear that a exterior source could swallow up a chunk of my internal programs.

 
 I asked if I did anything wrong here, and they stressed that sometimes things go wrong before we get our computer and usually programs inside them correct the situation , or at least alert you to a damaging scenario. I did not get a warning, a “Danger Danger Will Robinson” or any type of Bells or Whistles. But with the Cowbells around me the last few days I am not hearing all that well right now. Anyways, they happily replaced the unit and also threw in a 1 year maintenance program free of charge. Who say customer service is dead? But considering I paid about over $ 700 dollars for a top of the line system that will be obsolete by December 2009, I liked the gesture. So here I am finally getting Monday night game on here at 2 am on Weds.  No jokes, the things I do for my baseball love is sickening sometimes ( Not really, but it does tickle).
 

 
Rays 6, Pirates 4
 

 
During the second game of this home-and home series with the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two days, the Tampa Bay Rays have seen their offense and their relievers show some polar opposites in plus and minus situations. Today would mark one of the first night games of the season for the Rays and they now know that the season is just around the corner. With less than 21 days until the ball goes to the plate for real, the team can  now focus on their seasonal objectives and get ready for the second run at a divisional title or pennant. Starting for the Rays today will be their number four starter, Andy Sonnanstine. You know the thing I love about this guy is that he is the consistent member of the rotation in 2008. If it was not for a stroke of bad luck in late August and September, he would have lead this team with over 15 wins last year. No one has ever done that as a Ray, much less a guys less than the number 3 starter for the team.

 
 
               

 

Pittsburgh will take the field wearing their St Patrick’s Day green caps because this is their last home game before they hit the road tomorrow to play the New York Yankees in Tampa. On the mound for the Pirates will be Paul Maholm, who is predicted to be one of the front runners of their rotation this season. Leading off for the Rays tonight will be shortstop Jason Bartlett.  Maholm gets an 0-2 count on Bartlett before he get s nice call over the outside corner for a called third strike  and the first out of the game. Gabe Kapler then comes to the plate and hit a hard grounder to Adam LaRoche, who takes in the ball and throws to Andy LaRoche at first base tonight. Evan Longoria then swings at an outside breaking ball for a swing strikeout and the Rays are retired 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning.

 

 
Sonnanstine ends up with his warm-up tosses and  faces Nyger Morgan as the first Pirate hitter tonight. Morgan hit a long fly ball to Justin Ruggiano in center field for the first out. Freddy Sanchez, who is playing second base tonight then comes up and hits a soft grounder to Ray Olmedo at second base. He takes the ball and quickly throws it to Willy Aybar, who is manning first base tonight for the Rays. Nate McLouth then hit a swirling ball of the end of his bat that drops in front of Bartlett, but he can not get control of the ball in time to get the swift outfielder. McLouth is on with an infield single.  On the third pitch to Ryan Doumit at the plate, Dioner Navarro can not control a breaking ball in the dirt and McLouth scrambles down to second base, and into scoring position for the Pirates. Doumit then misses a great breaking pitch by Sonnanstine for a swing strikeout.
 

 
 
One of the wild thing about the stadium tonight is the green bases. That is right, the usual pearl white bases have a green paint job tonight in honor of the Irish holiday tomorrow, but there is no green beer in the stands.  Maholm again take the mound for the Pirates and faces Pat Burrell for the first time tonight. Burrell quickly strikes out to put one out on the board for the Rays. Aybar then comes up and hit a grounder to Sanchez at second base, that he quickly gets over to LaRoche in time for the second out.  Ben Zobrist then comes up and hits a single into center field for the Rays first hit of the night.  Dioner Navarro then comes up and hits a ball straight to Jack Wilson at shortstop and he flips the ball to Sanchez to complete a 6-4 force out of Zobrist to end the Rays chances this inning.
 



 

Sonnanstine again came out for the Rays, who will have St Patrick’s Day off and will probably spend the day working out at the complex. Tomorrow also marks the first day of the minor league players beginning to play inter-squad games with other teams to get ready for their season. The first batter to the plate this inning is Adam LaRoche. He hit a sharp ball towards third base that Longoria takes in stride and quickly throws to Aybar to secure the first out. Jose Tabata then comes up and is  a victim of Sonnanstine’s off-speed pitch for a called third strike, and the Pirates second out. Craig Monroe, who has been pretty successful on the base paths this spring then comes up and hits a long fly ball to Kapler in right field for the third out of the inning. It is an easy 1-2-3 inning for Sonnanstine and the Rays.
 
 

 
Maholm again comes out in the third inning and the sun is setting here in Bradenton, Florida and we get set for our first time under the lights this year. Ruggiano comes up first for the Rays and gets walked by Maholm to start off the inning. Olmedo then hit a sharp grounder to Sanchez, who tosses the ball to Wilson who then throws a strike to first base to get a nice 4-6-3 double play on the Rays. With two quick outs, Maholm is in control and get Bartlett to strike out for the second straight time tonight to end the inning.
 

Sonnanstine comes out again for Tampa Bay and first faces Andy LaRoche. He then hit a ball up the middle out of the reach of Bartlett and Olmedo to lead off the inning with a single. Wilson then comes up and hits a weak grounder to Olmedo, who turns and fires to first bases because LaRoche is almost to second by the time he gets the ball in his glove. Morgan then hit a sharp ball towards Aybar who get the ball and tosses it to Sonnanstine for an easy 3-1 put out. The Pirates now have a man in scoring position and two outs in the inning. Sanchez then hit a ball down the third baseline past Longoria that travels to the corner for a RBI double. LaRoche scores on the play and gives the Pirates an early 1-0 lead in the contest. McLouth however hit a grounder to Olmedo that he easily get to Aybar to retire the side.

 

Maholm then comes out again for the top of the fourth inning with his first lead of the night. Kapler is the first batter he faces and he drive a ball towards Adam LaRoche at third base that he misplays and over throws first base for an e-5 on the play. So that give the Rays a base runner to lead off the inning. Longoria then hit a ball off the end of his bat high in the air over second base, and Sanchez takes it in for the first out of the inning. Burrell then comes up and hit it towards Adam LaRoche at third base and he begins a perfect 5-4-3 double play to get the Pirates out of the inning.  At this point in the game, the Rays only have a single hit by Zobrist in the top of the second inning. 
 

Sonnastine does not come back out for the bottom of the fourth inning and the Rays send out reliever Brain Shouse. For the night, Sonnanstine went 3 innings and gave up 3 hits and a single run and two strikeouts. The first batter to face Shouse will be Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit. He hit a hard ball toward shortstop the handcuffs Bartlett and he can not get the handle on the ball in time to get Doumit. He ends up with an infield hit on the play. Adam LaRoche then  gets fooled on a sidearm breaking pitch from the Rays leftie for the first out of the inning. Tabata then hit a double down the right field line and puts both men in scoring position with one out. Monroe then hit s a ball to Bartlett that his only play is to first base and Doumit scores on the play.  Andy LaRoche then walks to put two men on base again for the Pirates. Wilson then hit a bouncer back to Shouse on the mound that he throws to first base to get the third out if the inning. At this point, the Pirates have a 2-0 lead on the Rays.
 

Maholm again comes out for the top of the fifth inning and faces Aybar first in the inning. Aybar hit a ball towards McLouth in center field for the first out.  Zobrist then hit a high fly ball to Tabata in left field for a quick second out in the inning. Navarro then comes up and hit a ball towards Wilson at short stop that he can not get a good handle on and  he is on the outskirts of the infield when he attempts to try and get Navarro at first base. He is awarded a infield hit and the Rays have a base runner with two outs. But Pirate Manager John Russell has seen enough and goes out to relieve Maholm with Dave Davidson. For the night, Paul Maholm went 4.2 innings and gave up only 2 hits and got 4 strikeouts for the Pirates. Ruggiano is the first Rays batter to face Davidson, and he quickly hit a ball to LaRoche, who fired to Sanchez at second for the force out of Navarro to end the inning.

 
The Rays send David Price to the mound in the bottom of the fifth inning. This is Price’s second appearance of the spring. the first batter to face him will be Morgan. He hit a solid liner towards third base that is snared by Longoria for the first out.  Sanchez then hit another ball towards Longoria that he easily scoops and tosses to Aybar for the second out of the inning. McLouth then walks to give the Pirates a base runner with two out. With Doumit again at the plate, Price ends up throwing a wild pitch and McLouth advances to second base on the play. Doumit ends up hitting a ball to Ruggiano in center field to end the inning for the Pirates.

 

Davidson again takes the mound for the top of the sixth inning. Olmedo then walks on 6 pitches and steals second base during Bartlett’s at bat. On the next pitch, Bartlett hit a ball down the third baseline past LaRoche for an RBI single. Kapler the  comes up and is walked on 5 pitches to put men on first and second with no outs in the inning. At that time, Russell again comes out and takes the ball from Davidson. In comes reliever Brian Slocum to pitch for the Pirates. To this point, the Rays have scored a run, and have gotten two walks and a hit in the inning. With Longoria at the plate, the Rays call for a double steal and both Bartlett and Kapler move to third and second base  safely on the play.
 
 

Longoria is also walked and the bases are loaded with no outs in the inning.  Burrell then comes to the plate and gets an RBI without hitting the ball as Slocum also walks him for the second straight walk of his outing and ties the game for the Rays.. Aybar then hit a hard shot to Adam LaRoche at third base for the first out of the inning, but he scores Kapler to give the Rays the lead in the game, 3-2. Zobrist then comes up and is walked to again  to put another runner on base for the Rays. Navarro then hit a shot down to first base that Adam LaRoche take unassisted for the second out of the inning. But on the play, Longoria came in to score to put the Rays  up 4-2. Ruggiano then came up and also walked to give Slocum 4 walks in the inning. But Olmedo hit a fly ball to Tabata in left field to get Slocum out of the inning. But the Rays had scored 4 runs on 1 hit and 7 walks in the inning.
 
 

Price again took the mound for the Rays in the bottom of the 6th inning with the first lead of the night.  He gave up a lead-off ground rule double to Adam LaRoche that was touched by a fan down in the right field wall ( wearing a Yankee hat ) area right before the Pirates Bullpen cut-out.  the ball would have been at least a double, but if the fan had not touched it, he could have stretched it into a triple. Tabata then struck out swinging for the first out of the inning. Monroe then hit a ball  that one-hopped to the wall in the gap in left-center field for an RBI double. Andy LaRoche then walked to put two Pirates on with one out. Wilson then came up and struck out swinging to give the Pirates one more out in the inning. Morgan then was called out on a called third strike and Price got out of the inning only surrendering the lone run.  But the Pirates pulled back within one run 4-3.

 
Darryle Veal came out to pitch the top of the seventh inning for the Pirates. Adam Kennedy got a single to left field to lead-off the inning for the Rays. Veal then walked  Ray Sadler to put two men on with no outs. Gabe Gross then hit a long fly ball to McLouth in center field, but it was not deep enough for Kennedy to advance on the play.  During Michel Hernandez’s at bat, Veal threw a wild pitch and both Sadler and Kennedy advanced a base on the play. Hernandez ended up being called out on strikes to give the Rays their second out of the inning. Morgan Ensberg then walked to load the bases for the Rays. But it was short-lived as Reid Brignac hit a foul pop-up to Adam LaRoche at third base for the final out of the inning.

 
Price again came out for the bottom of the seventh inning and Luis Cruz lead off for the Pirates. He ended up sending a Price change-up back up the middle for a lead-off single. Jeff Salazar then hit a ball to Ensberg, who took over for Longoria at third base and he threw to Kennedy at second to get the force out.  Rays Manager Joe Maddon then came out and replaced Price with Randy Choate. for the night, Price went 2.1 innings and gave up 3 hits and a lone run, but also had 2 walks and three strikeouts. The first batter to face Choate was Robinzon Diaz. He hit a single up the middle to advance the runners, but they did not test Ruggiano’s arm in center field. Garrett Jones then came to the plate with two men  on and one out. He hit a ball in front of the plate that new Rays catcher Nevin Ashley took and threw to Chris Richard for the second out. Both men advanced on the play.  Tabata then hit a ball to shortstop that Brignac threw to Richard to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

The Pirate then sent Jesse Chavez to the mound for the top of the eighth inning.  Ashley lead off for the Rays and walked on 6 pitches. Jon Weber then hit a towering shot to right field for a two run homer to put the Rays up 6-3. Richard then hit a liner to Tabata that he did not have to move to field for the first out of the inning. Kennedy then struck out, but the ball got away from Diaz behind the plate, but he regrouped and threw to first to record the put out. Sadler then hit a ball down towards third base that Neil Walker took in and threw to Garret Jones to end the inning.
 
 

Choate came out again for the Rays in the bottom of the eighth inning. Monroe was first to the plate and hit a single to left field to start off the inning.  Walker then struck out on a nice breaking pitch from Choate for the first out of the inning. Brian Bixler then was called out on strikes to get two quick out on the Pirates. Morgan then hit a ball sharply towards Brignac that took a high bounce near the side of the mound and he could not control it in time to get Morgan at first base. So the Pirate now had men at first and second with two outs. Cruz then came up and hit a ball towards Ensberg at third base. He took the ball and stepped on the bag to complete the force out of Monroe to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

Jeremy Powell came out for the top of the ninth inning. the first Rays to face him was Gross, who hit a ball down to Jones that he easily took and stepped on the first base bag for an unassisted out. Hernandez then walked on 6 pitches to give the Rays a base runner. Ensberg then struck out swinging to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Brignac also hit a slow roller towards Jones that he easily took for his second unassisted play of the inning for the third out.

 

 

The Rays Rule 5 Draftee Derek Rodriguez took the mound for the Rays trying to preserve the win for the team. The Rays will have to make a decision in the next 20 days to either return Rodriguez to his former team, or try and find a spot for him on their 25-man roster. they could also offer him back to his old team and then work out a trade to keep him in the Rays farm system. First up in the bottom of the ninth is Salazar who hit a fly ball to Ruggiano for the first out. Diaz then comes up and rips a ball down the first base line past Richard and it hits the wall and bounces out to Sadler in right field for a double. Jones then also hit a RBI-single down the line past Richard for his 8th RBI this spring. Tabata then hit a ball towards Brignac that he flips to Kennedy to get Jones. With Tabata on with a fielder’s Choice, the Pirates have a man on base, with the tying run at the plate. Steve Pearce then  hit a ball towards Kennedy, but the ball is rolling slow since Pearce shattered his bat on the play. Kennedy easily get to the ball in time to throw out Pearce and end the game with the Rays taking it 6-4.

 
 
Photo credits:          1) RRCollections
                                 2) Associated Press ( Keith Srakoci)
                                 3) Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
                                 4) Associated Press ( Tiffany Tompkins )
                                 5) www.Bradenton.com 
 
 
  
 

Rays Run and Gun Outfield

 

 
 

For a last couple of years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been one of the models people have used when they are considering re-tooling or acquiring players to fill their outfield slots. the team has used its draft picks and trades to fortify their outfield to be one of the youngest and fastest in the major leagues. And along those lines, they also have two of the best snipers in the outfield at gunning down runners from any angle or position.  And the Rays have truly done it from the draft and the trades they have made in the last several years.

 
This first piece of the current Rays puzzle arrived in July  20, 2002, when Carl Crawford made his major league debut for the Rays. All this guy did his first five years in the majors was increase his batting average and rule the bases in the American League. His speed has kept catcher and pitchers at bay since he first stepped onto the bag at first. In his first 7 years in the majors, Crawford has 1,111 hits and 84 triples. That figures out to 12 triples a year and around 159 hits a season. And you do not want to even try and consider what he has done on the base paths. Okay since you really want to know, how about 302 steals, or an average of  43 a season.

 
He might not have the strongest arm in the league by any means, but if the ball is in the air, there is a good chance he can get to it before it falls to the turf. He has one of the quickest reads in the league, and has demonstrated his ability to leave his feet to make plays countless times on ESPN Web Gems over the past 7 seasons. He is the 2-time All-Star who hit a monster homer in the 2007 All Star game in A T&T Park. He is recognized by his peers and the media alike as the cog that turns the wheels in the Rays outfield. With his two injuries in 2008, he did not spent his usual time in the Rays outfield last season.

 

 

His hamstrings and quad muscles seem to not play well on the turf at Tropicana Field. And an odd  finger injury shelved him for the last month of the 2008 year. A tendon on top of one of his fingers some how torn away from the tendon and it would flip and flap when he swung his bat. He tried to play through it, but it was no use. He finally opted for surgery, and made it back to the team in time to help the Rays in the 2008 playoff run. This off season he consulted a trainer to focus on his hamstrings and quads and strengthen this region and also learn better stretching and  observe more adaptability to the stresses of playing on turf. He is feeling better than he as in a long time coming into the Spring Training, and his 2 triples in a recent game shows he is here to play in 2009.

 

With left field pretty sewn up for the year, we turn out attention to center field and the budding star that decided to try his hand outside of the clay and grass regions of the infield for his place in this squad. B J Upton has become one of the rising young stars in the outfield because of his graceful effort  to gain ground an hard hit balls and make plays on them seem effortless and without stress. His long strides make him look like he is not running at full speed as he closes in on strongly hit balls even towards the gaps in the Trop. Some question why he plays so shallow in the outfield, but if you have watched the way he tracks the ball, you know he has the closing speed to get almost any ball hit within his range, at any time.   What is great about Upton is the fact he wanted to try out this new position.

 

That fact that he has had a few problems adjusting in the past have also been mirrored by the fact he has a rocket in his right arm and can throw out anyone, anytime, from anywhere on the field. His play is still a work in development, but it is rare for a ball to be out hit to him in the field. His arm was fully on display in 2008, when he gunned down a total of 12 base runners in 2008, third in the American League.  But where he is going to make the biggest impact in 2009 will be at the plate. Upton got off to a great start at the plate in 2008, but after suffering a separation of his shoulder in a series with Baltimore early on in 2008, he struggled a bit at the plate the rest of the year. But near the end of the year he found his stroke again and started to put up some power numbers that were very evident during the Rays playoff run.

 

 

During the 2008 off season, Upton underwent shoulder surgery to correct his problem and has yet to participate in Spring Training games for the Rays. He has been a recent participant in batting practice, but no tentative schedule is in hand for him to be back in the Rays lineup before April.  But the absence of Upton from the lineup has given certain Rays players time to show their stuff in hopes of securing a fourth outfielder spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Justin Ruggiano, who the Rays got in a trade for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson back in 2006. Ruggiano was the “player to be named later” of that trade.  His ability in the outfield has proven useful in the last year as he was the guy the Rays turned to when Crawford went down with his injury on September 19 of a groin injury.

 

He might have played only 7 games at the major league level in 2007, but his catch off the bat of Rod Barajas late in the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at home will be remembered for a long time. He went full bore into the left field wall catching the ball just as me hit the plastic of the outfield wall.  His bat was not his strong point during the 2008 season, but so far this spring, he is hitting .269, with a .423 Slugging Percentage. He has combined for timely hits and  has 2 stolen bases this spring.  He will probably get a long look by the Rays after the recent injury to Fernando Perez.  Ruggiano might get the call to start the season with the Rays during the first road trip as Upton gets in game shape to take over after the Rays return home on April 13th.
 

Fernando Perez has everything the Rays love in a out fielder. He had blazing speed on the field and the base paths, and he hit with intelligence. He came up late in 2008 and rallied the Rays with his base running abilities in the playoff run. He got 14 starts in 2008, 10 in center field for the Rays. In 2008, he was picked by Baseball America as being the fastest man in the International League. There was some talk around the dugout that he might have been able to supplant Gabe Kapler for the Rays right-hand platoon partner with Gabe Gross for right field in 2009. But his recent wrist injury will side rail him for at least three months with a dislocated wrist. This will put an end to the chatter in the stands  for him to break camp with the team in April. With Perez in the lineup, the Rays would have had the fastest outfield in the majors.

 


 

If you consider that Crawford stole 25 bases and Upton had 44  last year. Then if you factor in the 5 bases Perez stole in 23 games ( could be a total of 35 bases in 161 games) , you might have a trio who could steal over 125 bases in a single season. That would make the team threat anytime either of these three hit the base paths. But before his injury, Perez also was not lighting up the Spring Training scoreboards with hits or stolen bases. He might have only had 19 at bats, but he is hitting a lowly .211, with 2 stolen bases this spring.  But another face had emerged out of the darkness and might be on the Rays radar right now.
 

In a recent two-game home-and-home series against the Boston Red Sox outfielder Jon Weber was trying to make a name for himself on the base paths for the Rays. In that series he garnered 7 RBI’s in two games, with a timely home run and a 3-run dingle. Weber has been very effective in the field this spring and also is hitting .364, with 10 RBI’s and 5 stolen bases. He is making an outside run at making the Rays decision difficult for him to be sent down to Triple-A this year based on his spring numbers. But if his numbers are making the Rays salivate for their depth, the recent slump of Gabe Kapler is making them question his signing. 
 

 
Kapler was originally thought to be the right-handed part of the right field platoon action for 2009. But he is having and awful spring where he has only  1 hit in 18 at bats for a lowly .064 average. He has been great in the field, but the Rays need consistent power and hitting from that spot in the lineup this year.  He is one of the guys that the team is struggling to come to grips with on if he is just a slow starter, or if he might not be the right fit for the 2009 team. There is no question in his desire to play, but the hitting has to be there to make their decision easier this spring. But the left-handed piece of the combo also is not having a great spring, but he is contributing.
 

                 
Gabe Gross, who the Rays acquired on April 23, 2008 for minor leaguer Josh Butler, played in 78 games for the Rays in 2008. His bat and his outfield play were the reason for many of the Rays late innings triumphs, and his arm became a great weapon for the Rays. In one game against the Seattle Mariners at home, he was the first player to gun down Ichiro as he tried to stretch a double into a triple. He also combines to throw out a total of 5 base runners, which was second on the team. He is currently hitting .308 after getting off to a rocky start this spring.  He is currently tied with Pat Burrell for the team lead with 6 walks this spring.  Gross will be with the team this season in right field barring an injury. Who will be his combo mate might still be up in the air.

 


Another name that could be fit into the mix is super utility man Ben Zobrist. In recent games he has been a late inning replacement in center field as a insurance policy this year. He has regained an awesome power stroke and could be another guy who could help the team get over the first week absence of Upton by filling in for him until the home stand. No one can discount his abilities in the outfield where he played 3 games there in 2008. Last year was his first playing the utility role and he appeared in the outfield a total of 12 times in 2008. But his new power might be his ticket to getting more playing time this coming season. He hit 10 homers in only 189 at bats. This is a new addition to his game, which has always included solid defense on the diamond.

 

 
So the Rays are pretty set in the outfield in 2009. There are other names that have made huge strides for the team in spring training this year, but they might not get a chance to break camp with the big club. Another name to keep an eye on is Ray Sadler, who is currently playing a lot if the outfield for the Rays and is hitting a nice .316, with 3 homes and 7 RBI’s. But he probably a guy looking in from the outside of the current outfield package. All indications show that the Rays will have a great outfield in 2009. There is talk that Upton might have his breakout year this season following his off season surgery. He is capable of a 30-30 season, but his swing and his power will need to stay consistent during the year. Crawford, who feels fast and truly healthy this spring might also spell doom for catchers and pitcher this season.  This unit has a huge upside of potential, and they  might be the trio of outfielders’ to be feared both at the plate and in the field this year. But for the Rays to even consider making a run at their 2008 record, or another shot to the post season, this outfield unit has to play above its 2008 level. 

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: Associated Press Photo Corps. http://www.gettyimages.com, http://www.tbo.com.

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