Results tagged ‘ Roberto Hernandez ’

Could the Rise of Moore and Cobb Make Price Late July Trade Bait?

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You have to think the recent deep valley that Tampa Bay Race ace David Price has found himself so far in April is an unfortunate blip in his otherwise stellar Rays career marks. That fact Price is still winless after his 5th start of the season has some wondering if Price might indeed have more to worry about in late July than how much water to give super pooch Astro.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-151626-443With his recent slide backwards some chirps have been growing louder that Price could find himself on the opposite end of more than a few trade rumors come July, and possibly find himself throwing his late season starts in a National League park. Of course it is too early to fully dive deep into such a move, but with his recent struggles and the younger members of the Rays rotation posting wins and numbers that have the Rays Front Office giddy for the future, the proposed arbitration salary mark for Price might make him expendable a lot earlier than any of us truly imagined.

201304062105759248969-p2Because the Rays 4 and 5 starters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have stepped up considerably during the time of Price’s unfortunate pitching streak and have miraculously contributed to 7 of the Rays total 10 victories. In all, the Rays starting staff has notched 9 of the Rays 10 wins, with Rays closer Fernando Rodney getting the other victory. But with Moore and Cobb escalating their game, it kind of makes Price a little bit of extra weight especially since he is projected to be the Rays highest paid pitcher EVER possibly this Winter.

I truly expect that sooner rather than later the Rays will swap Moore into the 3 slot currently held by free agent signee Roberto Hernandez, and I would not be surprised if the Rays might also have Cobb tag-along right behind Moore and possibly take over the 4 spot with Hernandez descending to the 5th spot in the rotation. This is nothing personal to Hernandez, it is the pure fact Moore and Cobb have adjusted and matured to the point they would be solid at the 3 or 4 slots in the rotation for the rest of the season.

CarchCombine all of this with the success a few of the Rays top hurlers have had at Triple-A Durham, and you could see a considerably young explosion of talent rising up in September to claim attention and possible spot for 2014. Chris Archer who most thought might push possibly push Hernandez to the Bullpen this Spring has a healthy 3-1 record after 5 starts and has struck out 25 hitters. Jake Odorizzi might sport only a 1-0 record, but he also has sent 30 International League hitters back to the bench in his 25 innings.

It is not like I want to see or propose the Rays look for alternatives to Price come late July, but more and more the quick maturation process displayed already by Jeremy Hellickson, Moore and Cobb might hasten the Rays Front Office’s conversation to possibly find a suitor for Price who could possibly bring in a slew of great prospects, possibly a top catching prospect and maybe even a young Third Baseman currently at the High-A level who could mature in the Rays system and be a fit if and when Evan Longoria possibly becomes a Designated Hitter or possibly a First Baseman as he grows into the gray parts of his recent Rays “lifetime” deal.

price032713_8colThis is hard to write and even fathom since Price is such a likeable guy and has been more than generous with his time on and off the field to the Rays Republic. But as we all know, sometimes you have to make adjustments, let go of real talent to bring your own club’s level of competition to a higher level and bring in the right pieces to run the machine for several seasons.

This scenario of Price possibly leaving the Rays earlier than anyone expected might have its origins in the pure fact the Rays young pitching talent has shown reason for the team to possibly even think the unthinkable and imagine this team without Price leading the rotation come August 1st. But sometimes when the talent level rises as high as it has in 2013, no one is guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster, sometimes not even a proud and fan popular Ace.

Great Luck and Solid Game Prep Have Moore Looking Pretty Perfect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has Niemann Thrown His Last Rays Pitch?

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In reality, it sucks what has transpired over the last few months for Tampa Bay Rays SP Jeff Niemann. He fought and went down swinging this Spring in his battle for the Rays 5th rotation slot with former ace Roberto Hernandez. And as the “Tall Texan” went toe-to-toe with Hernandez, he somehow developed a glitch in his pitching delivery that forced his velocity to decrease to alarming levels.

niemann032713_8colIt is like Niemann had to go through his own trial of Job this Spring before it was finally revealed by the Rays Medical staff that Niemann needed some R&R, or possibly surgery to repair the damage that reared its ugly head this Spring, and now might have cost him more than just the 2013 season.

You have to think this “down time” during his surgical rehab might be the final curtain for his Rays tenure, especially as Niemann will again go through the salary arbitration process this Winter, and with the advancement of the young talent down at Triple-A Durham, there might not be a place for Niemann on the Rays past the 2013 season. Of course this is just speculation right now that the young budding staff will remain healthy in 2013, but for all purposes, Niemann probably threw his last pitch ever as a Rays this Spring.

Throwing even more darkness on a hopefully return by Niemann after his rehab to returning to the Rays is the fact until he begins throwing possibly towards the end of the 2013 Rays campaign or during the Winter, there will be nothing but doubt and wonder if Niemann can regain not only a chance of playing again for this team, but get his velocity to a point that would warrant a longer look by the Rays staff in retaining him via the arbitration process.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red SoxWe all know that the Rays value depth in their pitching corps, and possibly the only future path for Niemann to find a spot on this team’s roster past 2013 might be in his newly defined role in the Rays Bullpen as a long-reliever. Even in this instance, Niemann window of opportunity has dimmed a bit as the club did not get to utilize him in this new role and subsequently it would be a gamble on the Rays part baring a complete recovery to set a-side possibly $3-4 million dollars for a player who has question marks attached to them.

We all know Niemann has already completed the surgery portion of his recovery, but now comes the hard part for both sides as time will elapse and both the Rays and Niemann wait patiently until he can again begin some sort of throwing program to regain his strength and show progress or relapse capacities. I have gotten to know Niemann pretty well over his Rays years from his early rehab in the minors, the multiple Rays events he has attended.

I have confidence he will do whatever is needed to again step upon the clay of a MLB squad and throw that ball with vigor and vitality. I want to be confident Niemann will have a place, but the business of baseball might decide his fate and not the relationships and friendships he has established as a member of this team.

The worst thing is it might not be with the Rays name emblazoned upon his chest as the team might have to part ways with a guy who has embodied and lived his MLB career as a Rays and epitomizes the values and character needed to be a member of this franchise. 

 

 

Roberto Hernandez Could be the Linchpin to Several Rays Spring Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Tasty Tidbits About Some of Our New Rays

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I do not know how many of you are like me and anticipate the release or even first glimpse of the upcoming season’s Media Guide. I get a bit antsy about the time the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide is available for purchase, and I carry it with me for always as a quick statistical reference guide and to feed some of the fan base’s appetite for tidbits of information about their favorite Rays.

And the 2013 edition of this grand publication is a few weeks away from general purchase, but I’d like to now give you a small tasting menu or sampling of some of the great items stashed within it’s covers this season. Most of the things I will divulge today will be tidbits of information about new players added to the Rays 40-man roster acquired via Free Agency or by trades this Winter. So without further ado…it’s time to learn something about the new guys.

536932_10200613596644364_1626184466_nYunel Escobar

*** Will become the 8th Cuban player to grace the Rays roster, and the first since C Michel Hernandez.

*** In 2012, Escobar compiled a .982 Fielding Percentage, the 4th best among MLB shortstops and committed a total of 12 errors.

*** He is a childhood friend of Tigers C Brayan Pena and the pair got the lucky chance of being teammates in Atlanta.

225304_10200613591004223_614110924_nRoberto Hernandez

***His parents are farmers and comes from a family of 3 brothers and 3 sisters. When he is not working out in the off-season, Hernandez can be found working the cattle on his family’s spread in Yamasa in the Dominican Republic.

*** Interesting enough, he pitched with former Rays closer Roberto Hernandez on the 2007 Cleveland Indians.

312446_10200613582084000_380179301_nKelly Johnson

*** At some point in 2013, Johnson and Escobar will take their spot in the Rays middle infield for the 3rd different team. They have been double-play duos with the Atlanta Braves, Toronto BlueJays and now barring injury, the Rays. Only former MLB stars Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino have beaten that 5-4 duo mark as they started at those positions for 4 different teams during their careers.

***Johnson was drafted by the Braves as a shortstop, but made his MLB debut as a outfielder. After recovering from Tommy John’s surgery, Johnson learned the ropes at Second Base and has played primarily at that spot ever since.

*** Johnson was the Central Texas High School Player of the Year back in 1999 as a Junior.

285284_10200613544643064_2080324597_nJames Loney

***Was the Los Angeles Dodgers nominee for the service-oriented Roberto Clemente in 2008 and 2010.

*** Is an avid bowler and hosted the Dodgers Dream Fund Bowling Extravaganza the past 3 seasons and he is not even the best bowler in his family. That honor goes to his younger brother Anthony who has rolled a Perfect Game (320). Loney also donated $7,500 to dedicate 2 bowling lanes to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles so kids battling cancer could spend a night bowling with the Dodgers and their families.

***Just like former Ray Carl Crawford, Loney came out of the Houston RBI baseball program and was a huge supporter of the Los Angeles area RBI program while with the Dodgers.

*** Loney is a former First Team Baseball America All American team member as a utility player and his Lawrence E. Elkins HS squad had a 30-1 record and was ranked #1 in the nation during his tenure there.

484976_10200613589284180_923822037_nMike Montgomery

*** As if being a piece of the puzzle in a trade for SP James was not interesting enough, Montgomery used to be in the stands at Hart HS baseball stadium where his father taught algebra and Women’s Golf and watched a young James Shields pitch. Second great occurrence between the pair happened a week after the Royals and Rays trade when Montgomery met Shields during a ceremony retiring his old # 33 at Hart high.

*** During his Senior year at Hart, the baseball rotation included Montgomery and Trevor Bauer. In another odd coincidence, Bauer got traded from Arizona to Cleveland days after Montgomery’s trade from the Royals to the Rays.

482527_10200613596284355_1745899257_nWil Myers

***Became just the third player ever to be awarded the Baseball America, USA Today and Topps Minor League Player of the Year award in the same season. The other two were Josh Beckett and Andruw Jones.

*** The Rays Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls have a unique ticket opportunity called the “Wil He,Won’t He”. The package contains 3 distinctive Bulls games: Opening Day (April 8th), Fourth of July, and Fan Appreciation Day (Aug 24th) plus a voucher for an additional game of your choice if Myers not start the season with the Bulls.

*** Myers was selected as the #2 Best Pure Hitter prior to his MLB Draft by Baseball America and is considered only 1 of 10 players in the last 50 years to hit over 35 HR at Class-A or above before the age of 22.

548849_10200613544003048_1367108645_nJake Odorizzi

*** Odorizzi is an avid gamer which will fit in well with the Rays Clubhouse featuring uber gamers Evan Longoria, Alex Cobb and David Price. Maybe we will see a future tandem of Longo and Odorizzi doing raids on “Call of Duty” online during the season.

***Was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, a Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-American, a Rawlings Perfect Game All-American, and a member of the USA Today All-USA Team back in 2008 while sporting a 14-0 record, 0.10 ERA while leading Highland (Ill) HS to a state title.

Well, I hope this small bit of information gives you a bit of comfort and confidence we obtained a pretty select and special group of guys this Winter. The Rays 2013 Media Guide is chock full of more interesting information and stats on all the Rays players, minor leaguers and staff with career and personal notes. I hope everyone gets a chance to either browse through one this season or purchases one for their home archives. 

Fans get to Decide the Final Rays T-Shirt Design

 


               

It is not often anymore that the Tampa Bay Rays ask the fans for any suggestions or even help when planning their promotions. So it was a delightful surprise and a great addition to my Labor Day holiday weekend when I got an email from someone within the confines of the Rays brain trust asking if I would write about the upcoming Fan Favorite T-shirt design to be given out to Rays fans before the Friday, September 24th game against the Seattle Mariners.


Even more important, it will be the last available T-shirt promotion from the Rays in their Friday Fest promotional series, and what better way to close out the seasonal series than offer a Rafael Soriano designed T-shirt. By the time the T-shirt will be given out to fans, Soriano will undoubtedly be the Rays single season saves leader needing just 3 more saves at this moment to pass long time holder Roberto Hernandez for the crown. Interesting enough, with last night’s save against Baltimore, Soriano has firmly tied for second place with 41 saves with former Rays closer Danys Baez.

It is simply just amazing the way Soriano has come onto the Rays this year and solidified the closer’s role and boosted the confidence of everyone, even the fans when the ninth inning pops up. So it is more than fitting that we have a Fan ballot that will decide which of the three designs Rays fans truly think optimizes the player who has shut the door on opponents with authority this season. As usual, the first 10,000 Rays fans will be presented with the collectible T-shirts when they enter the stadium.

All three designs center around the common thread of the message “Dominate Late”, which is simply the way Soriano has taken to task his role against the American League this season. And being one of the top contenders for the American League Cy Young Award with his performance shows just how effective he has been in his role this season. All three designs also have another common element in that Soriano in all three will be striking his post-game pose of saluting to the heavens after the last out of the game.

But from there, all three have their own distinctive differences. So let’s take a moment to look at all three designs, then I will conclude with a link for the Fan Ballot and we can all cast our votes for our favorite designs.

               
  
The first example of T-shirt to be voted on has a distinctive blue and white image of Soriano as he give thanks to the heavens, then is punctuated by the word “Dominate” in what looks like a classic Old Style Serif, with the word “Late” set maybe in a Latin-inspired Norte Dame Roman Blackletter font. Striking also in this design is the way they included Soriano’s name within the black border under the word “Late” to accent the word.

What is also striking about this design is the way the artist made sure that all the prevalent material of Soriano’s signature and his jersey number were added below the border to pull your eyes towards that section of the T-shirt. Also interesting is the “TB” logo nestled right below his right knee. Another fine touch is the positioning of the Lion symbol upon the left side of Soriano’s jersey number. This is the second time this season a symbolic animal has been positioned upon a Rays giveaway T-shirt. Most might remember the regal Griffin design earlier this year on the James Shields inspired T-shirt.
           
              
  
The second design is basically just a normal back and white silhouette set upon a white T-shirt with the lettering being set in a simple but commanding Cleartype font, maybe in the a Cambria or Candara styling. What is simply unique about this rendition is the way the lettering of the phrase “Dominate Late” is just a bit off tilt in both words and give that forceful punch to the T-shirt. Another nice addition to the T-shirt is Soriano’s name running up the right side of his image on the T-shirt with his first name in a normal font, with his last name set in bold lettering.

This time the rambling “TB” logo makes it appearance up above the “T” in the word “Dominate” up near the clavicle region of the T-shirt. It is punctuated here with the same signature Soriano puts on baseballs underneath the “E” in “Late” complete with his jersey number in his own handwriting this time. It has a more “homemade” feel to it than the first design, and in some ways seems a bit less powerful. But the black and white design is a different approach than the Rays have done on most of their T-shirts this season where they have used color and graphic to make the words explode off the white T-shirts.

                

The third design seems to be more in the line of what the Rays have offered this season to their fans during their Friday Fest promotions. It is again accented by three dominant colors in the design, with a Carolina Blue accent basically whitewashing the image of Soriano and making it pop out a bit from the white fabric. Again we have the same pose by Soriano on the one side of the T-shirt with the “Dominate Late” this time all set in the same font style and consistent on the middle of the T-shirt.


In this design, the “TB” logo makes its appearance upon the center spot on the T-shirt just under the written phrase. What is so remarkable on this design option of the two corresponding lion figures facing outward flanking Soriano’s jersey number “29” that is topped by a regal crown all also set in a Carolina Blue color that pronounces boldly off the T-shirt. The last feature is another baseball style signature of Soriano’s set right below the Carolina Blue regal insignia based in a darker blue color to accent it on the white T-shirt.

So there is a small accented preview of the three Fan Ballot selections that will be online right here for everyone to vote on before they are distributed to fans on September 24, 2010 before the Rays take on the Seattle Mariners. An added dimension to the Rays final T-shirt voting process is that you can vote up to 25 times for your favorite design, so vote often for your favorite and who knows….We all could be wearing your choice on September 24th!
 
 
 
All photos used in this posting today are provided by Raysbaseball.com

Lefties are Right for the Rays

 


Ed Zurga / AP

After tonight’s game Dewayne Staats of the Rays Television Network informed us that Rays leftie J P Howell tied a Tampa Bay Rays record by saving all three games in the three game series against the Kansas City Royals.  Add onto this the fact he tied that record with the Rays ex-closer Troy Percival and you see just how unusual and special this was for both Howell and the Rays. Add another layer of awesomeness to the record is the fact it is the first time a Rays Bullpen member had ever done it in the Major League park.

Not the Rays past relievers like Roberto Hernandez, Danys Baez, Seth McClung or even Esteban Yan had the chance to take three from an opponent in a major league park. Percival made his mark back in 200 in a series against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Disney complex, not an approved MLB park. Sure the series was moved there for a three game series to promote the Rays culture into the center of the state, but how many people remember before we took our balls and bats and went to Montgomery, Orlando was our Double-A home.

But here I go rambling off the page. What I want to stress here is that before Howell and Randy Choate made their marks saving  14 total games so far in 2009, the Rays Bullpen has not has such a distinctive “leftie” feel to it. That is not to mean that in 2010 the Rays will feature a “rightie” specialist instead of the usual leftie guy. Heck, I think 2009 is thew first time in team history that we have some legitimate left-handers not named Miller who can toss the ball effectively for the Rays.

To illustrate this, right before the All Star break Howell surrendered his first earned run since April 23, 2009.  And even during that slight moment of vulnerability, the Rays lefties both had a bit of trouble for the first time this season.  Overall, the entire Rays bullpen has thrown to 2.34 ERA since their implosion for 9 runs during that must forget game in Cleveland on May 25th. Even with their moments of normalcy this season, the Rays relievers are currently tied  for the best Bullpen ERA with the Boston Red Sox Bullpen with a 3.35 ERA in the American League.  And not too shabby is the fact that places them within the top 3 Bullpen ERA in baseball right now.

But this blog is about the guy who seem to not get the right levels of respect for what they do. I understand this totally being a leftie in everything but throwing myself. Society tries to change you the minute you pick up a pencil or ball and throw with the southpaw grip. But within time, if the teachers and coaches nurture the leftie, he can become a wanted man at the higher levels of baseball. And right now the Rays have two of the better examples of the leftie revolution in Howell and Choate. Both of them have been magical this season, and Choate has done it at the time the Rays needed a viable option when Brian Shouse got injured.

But at the forefront of all of this is Howell, who could have given up after having a disastrous career as a starter and gone onto other things in his life. But he took a chance and became one of those valued leftie relievers as has grown into one of the most confident and effective of that often ridiculed bunch. Coming into todays game, Howell holds onto a 2.01 ERA and has now converted his last 7 save opportunities.  Before he took the mound again today against his former team, he had only surrendered one earned run to them in his last 16.2 innings.



Chris O’Meara / AP

Except for an unusual Howell outing on July 8th against the Oakland A’s where he let 3 earned runs score against him, before that contest he had a 17 appearance scoreless streak from May 31st until July 8, 2009.  But the real key to all of this is that it came right before the All Star break in which on July 12th against those same A’s Howell gave up only his second home run of the season to Mark Ellis late in the game. That could have played hard on most relievers going into a 4 day lay-off for the All Star game, but Howell used it as fuel to the fire and came out ready to go in Kansas City. Howell had been a pleasant surprise in 2008 elevating his game and his usefulness to the Rays.

So when Troy Percival went down with another injury and Rays Manager Joe Maddon decided to go to a closer-by-committee approach you hoped he would give the California leftie a shot. That came early in the season, but Howell had not adjusted his game yet to get those last 3 outs. He talked with teammates Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour about the pressures of the job and their pluses and minuses before it finally clicked for him. Now he might be the most feared leftie closer not named Fuentes in the AL. His slow curving breaking ball and the movement on his upper 80’s fastball teases hitters until he gets them with his change-up that dips severely before it hits the heart of the plate.

And he is the former leftie specialist for the team when Trever Miller decided to take an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals this winter. He did not look comfortable in the role, but the Rays did bring in another leftie for the first time to help Howell out. Brian Shouse was initially brought in to be the total leftie specialist, but got rocked a bit early in the year, He adjusted and then began to dominate on the mound before he went down with a left elbow following a stint on the mound on May 24th where he gave up the game winning hit to Ross Gload in the Marlins 11th inning victory over the Rays.

Before that injury, Shouse had held left-handed hitters to a .235 average against him.  This was a little elevated from the usual .210 mark he had maintained during his career against left-handers. But before his injury 15 out of his 19 appearances had been scoreless, and he had become the oldest Rays to win a game when he threw 2/3rds of a scoreless inning against the New York Yankees. Shouse (40) also one of only three Rays players to ever take the field for the team over the age of 40. The other two were Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff.

But even if this is his 19th year of professional baseball, Shouse will again get a chance when he returns off his rehab assignment. The Rays want to see him again take the mound on consecutive days before they make a solid decision on the leftie. But currently he is just down the road a spell in Port Charlotte playing for the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs. He is scheduled to make his second rehab appearance tonight when the Stone Crabs  visit the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Maddon had said before today’s game in Kansas City they might be making a decision on Shouse by the next home stand.


Steve Nesius / AP


That would make the team look long, hard and deep into the prospects of either trading current leftie number 2, Randy Choate or hoping he gets through waivers.  I truly can not see the leftie getting through waivers and get sent back to the Durham Bulls. So the logical scenario is a trade to a team seeking some leftie action for possible prospects. And Choate has made a great case for staying with the Rays too, but the Bullpen is a bit overcrowded right now. For the Rays to even entertain the option of three lefties, someone would have to go on the Rays bench.

And Choate has put up some great numbers since being called up on May 25th. During that time he has appeared in 28 of the Rays last 46 games. He is also tied for first in appearances in the AL since his call-up.  Like Howell, up until the last series against the A’s at home he had not surrendered many runs. In the July 11th contest he gave up a 2-run homer to ex-Rays Adam Kennedy. It was only the third homer ever by a leftie against him in 328 chances and only the seventh total homer given up in his career.

And to add more value to his possible trade market scenarios, he is a non-roster invitee who would not cost and arm and a leg to financially support for any team that might fancy another good left-handed option. Plus he has gone 4for 4 in save opportunities this season, the first time in his career he has ended into the ninth inning to save a game.  Choate has done everything asked of him by the Rays and has been effective from word one for the team.  It would be a total luxury for the team to find a spot for him to stay on the roster, but because of the success he has had while here with the Rays, he would be going to a great opportunity to get more time on the mound in the major leagues.

So within a weeks time the Rays will have to make some decisions on two of their three leftie Bullpen members. Howell is safe and secure and will not be going anywhere, anytime soon. But either Shouse or Choate will have a new uniform on their back maybe by August 1st.  Gut reactions have Shouse staying with the team and Choate getting an opportunity maybe in the National League for a team trying to steady their Bullpen. Maybe even another trip out to the Diamondbacks to reunite with his former teammates.  But no matter what happens, the Rays will have a safe and secure left -handed  presence in their Bullpen.

Right now in the AL, the names of the solid left-handed closers start and finish with the names of George Sherill of Baltimore, Fuentes, and Howell. With the rising stock of Howell, the Rays found an internal option that has been effective to their closer problems. With the combined efforts of Shouse and Choate this season it made it easier for some fans to let go of Miller as he went on with the Cardinals. With this not being a perfect world, the Rays will have to let one of their southpaws fly away to another team. 

The only question now facing the Rays is just how much can each of these guys take this season on the mound. Both Howell and Shouse are headed again for career marks in appearances and innings pitched this season.
Will the young Howell stand in front and lead by example for this team, or will the 40-year old Shouse rise above himself one last time. Either option or a combination of both of them sound great to me.

            
             Brianshousefanclub.com

Also check out this Brian Shouse fan website made up while he was with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. http://www.brianshousefanclub.com.   I am not sure, but I kind of like the Terminator photo over the Santa one. You be the judge…….

 

   

Introducing Levon Washington to Rays fans

 



AP file photo

Maybe I do not get it. Maybe I am missing the entire idea of the draft when you take a player who is rehabbing an injury in the First Round of the draft.  And the funny part is that the Rays have known about the injury the entire time having had the kid here a few weeks ago with his parents to do some ground work on even considering him for the Rays. He has even told the University of Florida coaching staff that he is going to try and get signed as soon as possible so he can get right to playing for the Rays.

Oh, and did I mention he is a distant cousin to Rays former slugger Fred McGriff who was sitting at the Rays Draft table in Secaucus, New Jersey and probably was the one to telephone his relative and give him the great news. But there is some unusual things to go along with the announcement of Gainesville native Levon Washington as the first pick for the Rays in 2009. Did I mention he is coming off an  shoulder injury? The kid does have a pedigree that puts him just inside the top 30 prospects in baseball according to Baseball America, but even with his athleticism and speed, there is a huge amount of danger involved signing him as damaged property.

He is rehabbing nicely right now, with a total prognosis for no sustained problems after the injury heals, but the thought is to get him signed and maybe used as a Designated Hitter in the Gulf Coast League for the rest of the year so he can be ready in February 2010 for a full season team. Really?  Is that too soon, or is the injury maybe a slight smokescreen that kept some teams away from the guy before the Rays took him with the 30th pick. And even if they did get a steal at 30th, does he have Carl Crawford speed, or maybe more like Gabe Kapler speed.

These things are major considerations for the Rays to think about before signing Washington sometime this week. Oh, the kid is above eager to get down to the Trop and talk money and get into playing for the team, That is a great thing to hear, that a player wants to play for the Rays. For years it was more like a disappointment to even be considered by the team, but after 2008, players are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and wondering if they might be the key to the next emergence of the team towards the playoffs in the future. 

Oh, did I forget to mention that MLB.com did not even have a scouting report on the kid to place under his name on the website right after his selection. But that is not the curious thing to me. That is the fact that MLB.com had him listed as an infielder, while ESPN.com had him listed as an outfielder when the listing hit the Internet about 8 :30 last night. Now that is fine if the team pulled the rug out from under a few teams and selected a kid that flew under the radar due to his injury, but even high schooler Todd Glaseman, who was picked in the third round with the 108th pick had a small scouting report  on him listed at MLB.com.


Doug Finger / Gainesville Sun.com

Okay maybe I am a bit bitter that two great catching prospects were still on the board and the thought of an injured player being picked in the First Round sounded more like  a Dewon Brazelton than Tim Beckham type pick. But the fact that R J Harrison is so psyched that this kid was still on the board might be a better indicator of his possible potential for the Rays. ” There’s a lot of things we like,” scouting director R.J. Harrison said told the St. Petersburg Times. “First of all, he’s a premium athlete and y’all that have been around here for a while know we like that kind of athlete. He fits right in with the kind of players that we’ve signed in the past. He’s a well above average runner and we really like his bat. We think he’s going to hit, and hit for a high average. … We saw an advanced young hitter.”

Granted the Rays might have seen a pile of unclaimed gold at the bottom of the First Round, but could his rehab after tearing his labium and spending most of his high school senior season as a DH and not in the field been a deterrent to his high selection in this draft.  “We didn’t go into this blind,” Harrison said. “It’s just a matter of time, and getting him back to full strength. He’s made good progress already on his rehab, and when he gets with us and gets with our people that will only make it that much better.” Okay, I understand personally that Ron Porterfield and the Rays medical team are the best in the game, but did we have to take this kid in the money round?

But with that aside, he might not have been there at the 78th pick in the second round, so I am going to reserve 3/4 of my judgment on here right now and wish the guy a speedy recovery and hoping he does sign fast and furious so we can get him into the “Rays Way” as soon as possible. But why is it that Andrew Friedman, the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations just learned of the six degrees of separation concerning McGriff on draft night? If we had done our so-called background and knew everything about the kid, we would have also seen the correlation of the McGriff family bloodlines. 

Of course this made no matter to the Rays. They were not selecting him for his bloodline, which Friedman confessed he did not know about prior to Tuesday night pick.  When the St. Petersburg Times asked Friedman about the six degrees of separation he stated, “I learned it on the way over here (to address the media),” Friedman said. “R.J. said he heard it the other day. Fred told him again when R.J. called him to tell him the pick. Certainly can’t hurt and hopefully it can help us in the recruiting process.”  And this was a kid the scouting department has said the Rays have been watching for two years ( according to the Times). 

They had even had him at their homefield to do a short impromptu workout and nothing about the Rays-Washington correlation relationship came to light. They talked with his parents, and they did not divulge the family ties. Come on here, you mean a proud parent did not boast about their kid to a scout, in their home MLB stadium. It is a miracle people!  Even though the kid is eager to get signed and maybe even get into a Rays uniform as soon as possible there are two words that might hinder a quick and sure-fire signing for the kid. Does the name Scott Boras send chills down Friedman or Matt Silverman’s spine right now. The kid is represented by the anti-christ of agents.

This is not to say that the client will not get a speedy and quick resolution to the situation. The client( Washington) is eager and anxious to get his professional career underway and has not hinted of going to even enroll at the University of Florida, even if he does have a scholarship waiting for him right now. He is not posturing for a prolonged stalemate, or even
giving out any negative vibes that you got when the Rays selected Delmon Young a few years ago. Hopefully everything will go peachy keen in Rays-land and we can get this kid to the GCL within a month or so to begin rehab and his playing career.

http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/player.swf?mediaId=4065422

I am not against the Rays getting a bargain, or even a steal in the First Round by finding a talent that people are overlooking due to a circumstance like a shoulder injury. It is just the fact that it is like trying to roll a “7” and the odds are against the player most of the time. I hope he heals and becomes a great player for the Rays, but I am going into this First Round signing with a bit of hesitation people. I mentioned Dewon Brazleton before in this blog.

There was a guy who was a project pitcher from the get-go and did finally make it to the major leagues before finally falling from grace and out of baseball by 2008. The last place I saw Brazleton was at the 2008 Little League regionals in Gulfport, Florida helping to coach the All-Star team from Tennesse.  Here was a guy selected by the Rays with the First Round with the third pick in 2001 Draft and he is now out of baseball looking in at the game.
 

That kind of puts the baseball draft into true perspective for me.  Of the Rays First Round selections prior to Brazleton’s pick, only Rocco Baldelli and Josh Hamilton are still playing baseball at the major league level. Paul Wilder, Jason Standridge, and Josh Presley ( third Round) are out of the game. Presley was selected in the third round after the Rays lost picks to compensation for the signings of Wilson Alvarez, Dave Martinez and closer Roberto Hernandez. Day One is over for the 2009 Draft, but the murmur and the hum still can be heard amongst the Rays fans as to the selection of Washington.

This is the first true draft that will have Friedman and the Rays new Scouting staff’s fingerprints all over them. With their successes of the past, and their eye for detail, you have to take a “wait and see” premise right now with their first three selections. But there is a long way to still go here with the later round continuing today with more possible surprises in hand for the Rays and other teams in the MLB. Oh, and there are still a few great catching prospects out there guys……….just a short hint there.

Rays Bang Out 5-Game Winning Streak

 

Blue Jays 3, Rays 5

 

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Trivia Fact for the Night:

 

The first All-Star game television telecast took place on July, 11,1950.

 

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 1998 DVD cover art.                                The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 1998 DVD cover art.

                                    

                                 The Good,The Bad,and The Ugly

 

                                                The Good

 

The Rays have currently been on a very impressive Disney adventure. They are a combined 5-0  while visiting this “magical stadium. It is the only stadium besides San Diego’s Petco( 3-0) where the Rays are undefeated.  The Top honors tonight are a total Rays’ team effort.. So with that in mind, let’s start off with the Rays scoring machine in the bottom of the 6th inning.

 

Down 3-0 early, Rays catcher Dioner Navarro got thing started with a double to left field. Jason Barlett then reaches base on an infield single to second. The Rays Carl Crawford, who has now hit in 10 straight games to raise his average to .286, hit an RBI single to shallow centerfield to score Navarro.

 

B J Upton then walked to load the bases for the Rays. After a Carlos Pena strike out, Rays rookie Evan Longoria  produced a 2-run RBI single to right to tie the score at 3-3.

 

Recent hero,  rightfielder Eric Hinske then blasted a shot to right to score B J Upton and the Rays led 4-3. At this point, the Toronto starting pitcher Roy Halladay  had thrown over 30 pitches for the inning.

 

Honorable mention “Good” guys:

 

*** Evan Longoria made a veteran throw from deep deep in the hole at third to get  speedy Blue Jay Shannon Stewart. Longoria backhanded a ball on the back of the clay and threw a lazer to first to get Stewart for the second out of the game.  It was a classic ESPN moment for the rookie.

 

**  Speedy outfielder Carl Crawford recorded his 75th triple of his young career tonight. Carl hit a ball to deep centerfield that one-hopped to  the wall. Crawford is one of only three people to ever have over 75 triples in his first 1,000 hits.  Garry Templeton (76) and Lance Johnson (73) are the other members of this exclusive club.

 

*  Rays closer Troy Percival is in a unqiue club right now. Percival all alone in 11th place in the All Time save category after posting his 3rd save of the year last night. Troy currently has 329 saves, one more than former Ray Roberto Hernandez. All of Percivals saves have come in the American League, second only to Yankee Mario Riveria (448 saves).

 

                                             The Bad 

The only “Bad” play I can come up with in this great game was the very veteran move and confidience of our Rookie at third.

 

Evan Longoria is not playing like a rookie in any sense of the word in the field. His throw from the back of third was a classic play that will be in the Rays end of the year highlight reel for sure.  It caught a speedy Shannon Stewart by one stride for the out at first. It is a classic Ray moment, and hopefully one to get Rays fans excited for his long career with the club.

 

                                                  The Ugly

 

What was really ugly in this game was the Jays Matt Stairs second homer off starter Jason Hammel. Stairs hit a monster ball that clearly was out on  initial contact. What made it more “ugly” was the fact  he produced all 3 Blue Jays RBI’s on his two blasts tonight.

 

His second homer did not only go deep to right centerfield, but it bounced out of Champion’s stadium over the wall and the television production trucks in the parking lot. 

 

Another “ugly” posted, but in as positive spin is the rsurgence of the Rays Bullpen pitchers. The Rays bullpen is currently number one in the majors with an impressive 2.61 ERAthrough 20 games. Last years bullpen ERA through 20 games was an unimpressive 6.11 ERA, and were ranked 29th in the majors.

 

 

Former Rays of the Night:

Everyone in Boston remembers the slow start of 2007 for Julio Lugo. He went in a early hitting funk and was an average shrtstop for the first half of the season. But this year, Lugo is hitting .338 and contributing nightly to the Red Sox success on the field. Julio went 2-3 last night with an RBI.

Lugo also contributed two  great pivots in the  two double plays executed by the Sox last night.

 

Up tonight is the Rays finale at the Disney complex this year.

 

They will take a 5 game winning streak at  Chamion’s stadium in the game against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays will have Andy Sonnanstine on the mound, The Blue Jays will counter with Dustin McGowan.

After tonight, the Rays will return to Tropicana Field for a  3 game homestand  against the Boston Red Sox.

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