Results tagged ‘ Tampa Bay Rays ’

Spring has Sprung, But Still no IsoBlox Caps

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Toronto’s J A Happ, Cincy’s Aroidis Chapman, Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy, Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb and recently teammate Matt Moore. A short list, but a list of impressive M L B caliber players who recently have taken rocket shots to their bodies courtesy of a “come-backer” while on the mound.

c4s_2moore032414_12825661_8colMoore’s tangle with a M L B approved white missle happened less than 24 hours ago as a ball came back at him and Moore was able to get his right glove up just enough to deflect the bulk of the energy coming furiously towards his face. Moore left that contest but was seen today having lunch today with Rays Manager Joe Maddon prior to the cancellation of this afternoon’s contest. Moore was extremely lucky and the only true sign of the event is a busted lip and some lingering jaw soreness.

Over the last 6 seasons 14 M L B pitchers have been plucked by batted line drives to their bodies.  Interesting enough earlier this spring M L B did announce a protective cap prototype that had their stamp of approval and had the “thumbs up” M L B P A and M L B executive vice president for labor relations Dan Halem.

“We’re excited to have a product that meets our safety criteria. M L B is committed to working with manufacturers to develop products that offer maximum protection to our players, and we’re not stopping at all.”

It was initially announced the approved cap made by 4Licensing Corporation subsidiary isoBlox would be in-house for all member club and their minor league affiliates to try this spring and be an optional protective item for players to try out and evaluate personally before the season began. I have talked to 2 different members of the Rays organization and so far no one in the Rays spring camp has seen such a cap in-house either as an example or test model.

 

The proposed protective cap is a bit more cumbersome than the traditional M L B cap as it will be a half inch fuller in the front region and an inch thicker near the temples and provide additional padding protection from a line drive of up to 90 mph to a hurlers frontal skull region and protection up to 85 mph for a side strike.

thIsoBlox states the protective material is a “plastic injection molded polymer combined with a foam substrate and is designed to diffuse energy upon impact through a combination of dispersion and absorption techniques.” Not in the release is the fact the new cap will be about 7 ounces while the usual New Era cap comes in at around 3-4 ounces. New Era is to be sent the protective element to be sewn into their M L B approved caps for regular seasonal use.

Wouldn’t you think the best viable way to test if such a protective cap could or would help curtail such injuries or down time for hurlers be in their hands so they could experiment, test it themselves and give feedback so M L B or isoBlox could facilitate a more universally accepted cap model that would appeal instantly to the M L B or minor league pitching masses.

Do we have to witness someone named Verlander, Price, Darvish or Hernandez plucked or possibly severely injured before people awaken fully to the dangers or the possible carnage that can be done by the ball revolving stiches and blunt trauma.  

aroldis_chapman_instagram_1This is just my opinion, but I think Happ, Cobb, Chapman, McCarthy and Moore are extremely valuable assets to their respective clubs and not only deserve but should be afforded every protective options available to them so the next time a ball comes screaming back at them we do not have to worry about their safety. I hated watching both Happ and Cobb put on stretchers and wheeled out of Tropicana Field last season. The recent injury to Chapman and his sub sequential surgery and time loss due to injury puts a further dark cloud above M L B to not only have these caps in-house soon, but before we witness another pitching disaster or possibly an ending of a great career.

 4 of 5 M L B pitchers struck since 2012 have been hit below the cap line. This isoBlox cap is a great step forward, but with it not in M L B Clubhouses this spring as announced, it might hamper the learning curve as some pitchers might have to make their adjustments to such a protective caps in non-game situation or bullpen sessions before trying it out live during a game…..

Sorry M L B, this is a E-10 to me, but can be corrected with just a simple delivery.

 

We Deserve a National Baseball Holiday

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Maybe it is time.

Maybe we are at a pivotal point in our gallant sports consciousness that we can finally take a firm first step in this journey. Make that initial swing towards the process of immortalizing this one special day ever year….. forever.

opening_day_2009_1280x1024-thumb-250x200-2776151Maybe this is the perfect time to get a few important political allies in line to push for possible binding legal legislation to make Major League Baseball’s Opening Day a Nationally recognized holiday.

I know a majority of us already use it as a stealth day of fun, even possibly at the expense of taking a sick day or calling into work with excuses with gaping holes like Swiss cheese. Maybe by making it an “official” day we can come out of the closet and profess our baseball love to the world without ridicule or penalty. Viva la Beisbol!

Is the want to make this day a more than just a symbolic holiday lost on the fact most of us take measures already to cease production, fake sickness or family matter to rush to the ballpark to see that first glorious pitch of the season in person. If it was a defined day on our yearly calendar, then possibly Human Resources Departments or Sales team could coordinate group outings to the ballpark in support of this great day. More fans celebrating this day means more excitement, more revenues, and more special memories

OD2009With a key “fan” of the game currently residing in the White House right now, who shares in our love/hate relationship with the game of our youth, possibly now is the perfect time to consider such an sports-oriented endeavor. Not only does our President, our Commander-in-Chief boldly salute his own deeply-rooted White Sox love, but his yearly invitation to meet the eventual World Champions is a symbol that the highest office in the land has a genuine sense of ultimate baseball respectability.

Now if we can just corral a minimum of 26 United States Senators who also possess the same passion and admiration for the game, we will be well on the way to securing historic legislation. As Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston) so adamantly screamed in “For The Love of the Game” when Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) was lying on an ER gurney after cutting his pitching hand profusely, “Is baseball not America’s game!”.

Congress needs to acknowledge officially that the American image is firmly planted with roots on the clay and grass baseball field of this Nation, not just subject to apple pie, hot dogs and Chevrolet.

Flag2009As a baseball community and as a Nation, we should embrace the active thought of a celebrated day solely devoted to “America’s favorite pastime” A sport that doesn’t discriminate on ability, sex, race or even physical limitations. From T-ball, Miracle Leagues all the way to “The Show”, the escalation of the game only breeds warmth and admiration along with the true essence of the American spirit.

We could then outwardly celebrate on this day and support a game that has taught so many of us the rules of teamwork and of binding and bonding together for a common goal. We could celebrate our finest youthful moments again on a yearly basis with a sea of new baseball friends.

Baseball already brings out their own brand of ceremonial pomp and circumstance on this day, but why not include the rest of the sports nation into the fold for a National celebratory moment.

Sure there is still NBA and NHL games on tap, but the first week of April is about the bat and the ball. Of a Spring season of change and possibilities closing with the anticipation of 162 games played between defined chalk lines on pristine grass and immaculately turned clay infields. A game fought with distinctive individual skills, But defined within the team concept. A perfect storm of sports competition.

It deserves a day all its own, red lettered and circled on every calendar in this Country.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay RaysFor this country to celebrate a day dedicated to the sport we know has a long and historic alliance with the United States both at home and abroad, it is a testament to aspect of fair competition and the essence of the American dream. Sure it may be a child’s game played by adults making a boatload of cash, but the childlike expressions on the faces of the players show daily it is not only about the competition, the pride and the admiration of this simple but complex game of chance.

Starting tomorrow maybe we can all collectively voice our opinions on possibly immortalizing forever as a country, baseball’s Opening Day. The time is right for such a couragious venture. We have a President who adores the game. Members of the United States Congress who have either played the game as children, young adults or at the M L B level.

Ground level support is definitely there for all of us to individually and as a Nation showcase our own passion and respect we have for this game that celebrates strength, integrity and unity on the field. Be it Major League Baseball, minor league affiliate or even Independent Baseball, this glorious day should have the added spice of being officially announcing our continuous love for this game to the World.

The game has been exported around the World with leagues springing up during every imaginable season of the year devoted to this great game. It is time now to give a big chuck back to the game by getting it the recognition it should have had previously.

BDD_BO_allstar_71409_gett.jpgWe have the chance now with a President who flaunts his long distance alligence, even wearing his South Side Chicago squad’s colors at his current Washington DC address. In President Obama we have a firm example of loving the game from afar, keeping tradition strong no matter the miles or trails and tribulations, of supporting your “hometown” team openly and proudly, even in a polarizing town like Washington DC.

No matter if you are in the Northeast,Florida, Pacific Northwest or So Cal the passion for your team travels with you and you are open to express that love, even in enemy territory like a Yankee fan in Boston, or a Dodger fan expressing their love in San Francisco. The game transpires all kind of boundaries and deserves a day all its own.

Aubrey was right when she shouted that in “For The Love of the Game“. Baseball is America’s game and now it is time to put it firmly up on it’s pedestal where it belongs, as a National Treasure.

Ramos and his Versatility Deserves a Chance at Rays 5th Slot.

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Some would say throwing your ball cap into a ring with several other MLB caliber players is a “no-win” situation. That in doing so you might seem a bit of unsure of your part in the Tampa Bay Rays brain trusts ultimate plans for you, but I disagree with that train of thought.

I actually think the decision reached by southpaw reliever Cesar Ramos is not only bold but a calculated move and shows to the men who make these kind of decisions that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to put his name on a Rays 25-man spot come Opening Day, even if it means abandoning their pre-set agenda of him being the long guy out of the Rays Bullpen.

cr2It also shows to me Ramos wants to garner the same type of versatility and game situational thought process that makes a utility player like Sean Rodriguez an invaluable piece of the Rays game day puzzle. By Ramos going back and trying to stretch himself out again as a starter, it could give the Rays not only another leftie starter, it could ultimately solidify his slot as the Rays long innings eater out of the Pen as well as a spot starter without having to bring someone in from Triple-A Durham in an emergency scenario.

Making yourself an invaluable piece of the Rays machinery has led to a longer Rays tenure for Rodriguez, and it only seems natural for Ramos to also want to secure additional roles or situational ideas with his name imprinted upon Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mind.  By wanting to take a chance on the Rays 5th rotation spot, even in the short term until Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson come back sometime in late May, Ramos is showing his versatility, willingness to take on challenges as well as show he wants the ball every 5th day this season.

Sure it might only be a gig for 7-8 starts then back into the Bullpen frame of mind, but it can project not only the confidence he has in his pitches, but if the Rays did elect to hand the ball to Ramos, it shows they too understand the commitment whether long term or short is one the leftie would accept again at a moment’s notice.

cr3And that kind of guy down in the Bullpen is needed. You never know when a guy might stiffen up, feel a tweak or just doesn’t have his stuff on a given day and with the Rays confident in Ramos, it makes the decision not only easier, but gives them confidence immediately Ramos will rise to the occasion and take the ball.

A great comparison to what Ramos is trying to achieve is the situation that fell to Andy Sonnanstine late in his Rays tenure.  Sonny was put into the Bullpen with the knowledge he not only has “starter’s stuff” in the way of preparation and stamina, but had the reliever’s mentality at the same time to get the job done in the least amount of pitches, with the least amount of damage until the Bullpen took over the late innings.

And not surprising today during his first Spring Training outing, Ramos survived 2.2 innings of work but did give up 4 hits and 2 runs while fellow 5th spot contenders Eric Bedard got the victory and Jake Odorizzi got his first ever M L B save. Still Ramos faced 12 batters and was added by a sniper-like throw by Evan Longoria to get shifty pinstripe Brett Gardner who was trying to stretch his single to left field into a double at Second Base.

Some might instantly say Ramos was lucky, but every M L B starter knows a little “luck” is more than welcomed during an outing.

cr4I kind of like the idea of Ramos fighting for the 5th rotation slot even if it might be on an interim and abbreviated basis. It puts another usable pitching cog into Maddon’s arsenal as well as doesn’t use up a minor league option on one of the Rays triple-A stars trying to bang their way into the majors. Now it’s up to Maddon and his brain trust to decide if Ramos, who is out of minor league options is their 5th guy until Hellickson hit the mound again, or remains in their long reliever role from this point on this Spring.

Hopefully Ramos will get a few more chances to not only change the minds of Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Maddon, but endear himself to all of us as not only Evan Longoria’s old roommate at Long Beach State, but as the versatile guy is truly is……..I hope Ramos get the shot because versatility especially in the pitching area is something special and should be rewarded. 

They are the Unofficial M L B Fraternity Better Known as Gamma (R) Alpha (A) Upsilon (Y) Zeta (Z)

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Recently when asked why he chose to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays instead of the Cleveland Indians, P Mark Lowe said it was the Rays “laid back environment” that made him take their minor league offer this winter. It is a environment that has been cultivated, nursed and pretty well resembles a Fraternity at time than a professional sports team, but in that is also the charm that has materialized into the Rays being the B.M.O.C.’s or Big Men on Campus right now among the Major League Baseball ranks.

tbr1I know that feeling well having been in 2 Fraternities (Delta Theta Chi and Sigma Chi) in my college hazy days. I mean think about it logically here for a second and you too can see the similarities between the two types of organizations and it will come to you that no matter how you slice it, the Rays are a brotherhood that goes beyond the boundaries of the chalk lines, clay and grass.

A lot of these guys bond together as teammates and their friendships go outside the comforts of the game to include golf tournaments, dinners, fishing or hunting expeditions and activities involving Xbox or PS 3 consoles. From the moment these guys first roll into the Rays Spring Training clubhouse to the moment they pack and get ready for time away from the game in the Fall, unity, respect and creating a firm bond on and off the field is paramount.

Another indication that the Rays could be a great fraternal order is they have an insanely creative Advisor/Manager in Joe Maddon (former Zeta Psi frat boy) .  Who else could of come up with penguins named Cliff, a python that is longer than the Rays Bullpen bench, or could get every single person, including his own game day staff and the PR Dept. to coordinate and participate in some wildly creative and highly photographed road trip ensembles.

nerddddsFrom the classic All-White event to their awesome Nerd renditions to dressing in PJ’s, this team laughs at itself and is proud of the sum of their parts from starters, reserves to staffers. All are embraced and celebrated during these road trip ideas, and we have the photos to prove it.  I mean seriously, anyone who has been to college has walked by those hallowed buildings and wondered what really goes on inside, well with the Rays all the hype and magic are open for the eyes to see or look away.

Another similarity is the Rays annual Rookie initiation (I will not call it hazing). There have been some pretty wild costumes ideas over the past from other teams within the M L B Clubhouse halls, but we here in Tampa Bay always search and want to see that year’s edition of rookies and new players parade out to the bus in their selected gear that sometimes you wish you could be unseen, but for some odd reason you can’t seem to look away.

But one of the greatest part of being within the fraternal system is service, and the Rays do that in spades. Every player within the Rays M L B Clubhouse has their special interests, pinpointed cause or a foundation to support the Tampa Bay community.

bgcSome thought that when B J Upton left for ATL only fellow Rays David Price would be left to carry on with the S. St. Petersburg Dugout Club group that instills the great characteristics of staying healthy, positive, and being involved in life while also striving to be role models would crumble. But it didn’t Price got other players like Matt Moore and Desmond Jennings to come on board and keep the spirit of the project alive and striving.

Evan Longoria will donate more than $1 million a season over the life of his contract to the Rays Baseball Foundation, and almost every player on the Rays has written into their contracts or offered voluntarily great contributions that will benefit the Rays charitable arm of the Rays that give out grants and sponsorship’s to those Tampa Bay organizations that need a “help up”, not a hand out. “Paying it forward”, showing civility and acts of service adorn every member of the squad and even to their spouses (Rays Wives organization).

You can ask almost any player who has worn the Rays uniform since Maddon took the torch and they have great and glowing comments on the Rays clubhouse character and the way they play the game of baseball and life.  

rutoroSome of that light can be attributed to Maddon, but other beams of that sunburst has to be shone on the Rays Front Office and their staff for bringing in great men who can contribute to the Rays ideals as well as expand on their foundations and establish new traditions, visual and physical tests to unite and inspire. Remember the gladiator masks, or even Chewy or the Gene Simmons masks of 2013.

Fraternities build a person up inside and out and those values might fade a bit, but they are with you for life after you experience them. I still see 2 of my former Frat brothers at Rays games. Larry is with security, and Clevin is with the St. Petersburg Police Dept. presence at Rays games. We are always glad to see each other and even today talk of some of the past monumental events that formed our Frat lives.

Say what you want about Fraternities. Some people have had bad events, maybe even wanting to forget that portion of their lives, but I relished it. I mean I think all of us can imagine Longoria adorned in a Grand Puba water buffalo helmet after dark on the Charlotte Sports Park boardwalk asking the assembled brood to “Recite after me….I, state your name, do hereby pledge allegiance to the Rays….”

Yep. If I had to give this band of baseball brothers a fraternity name it would have to be Gamma Alpha Upsilon Zeta, or RAYZ (no “S” in Greek Alphabet).  

I swear I hear that old Isley Brothers song “Shout” in the swirling wind here in Port Charlotte. 

 

 

Rays Photo Day Shows Both Sides of the Rays Personalities

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You never quite know what sensibilities are going to “play out” when the Tampa Bay Rays let photographers bring about their own illuminations on the team’s character, or is that characters. You only have to look back to the Feb. 25, 2010 Rays Photo Day shots where the photographer that day used the natural sunlight of Florida as sparkling and illumination points on the photos of that season squad.

2010Sure they were embarking on a new strand of light called the post season that spring and the Sun made more than a few spectacular effects in a variety of photos from that spring’s squad. Then in 2013 it seems the Rays photos were a bit more subdued than usual with some playful spots of individuality, but the photos overall seemed to illustrate a unison or harmony among the troops.

Of the 26 photos already released from the Rays 2014 Photo Day, there is again a underlying theme that clearly is visible and unique all to the Rays way of team chemistry. This spring photos show a calm, a essence of a more tranquil and centered squad of players who see that goal in the cross-hairs and calmly and professionally plan to be the team that “eats last” come November 2014.

eatslastYou see a more relaxed Papa Longoria with the Rays leadership crown solidly planted upon his head along with fellow Clubhouse General David Price presenting himself quite Zen-like in his photos awaiting the approaching Opening Day more with zeal than strife.

But then you have the other side of the Rays coin also displayed in the type of Gasparilla-infused notions and action of Rays reliever Josh Lueke both in his biting of a baseball, to juggling and possibly showing that some fun must come with all the stress of competing and delivering your goal.   

wjbjI enjoy seeing the fight and fire as well as the comedic notions that make up a M L B team. Not everyone can be serious all of the time and sometimes that moment of tongue-in-cheek humor or even dawning a gladiator’s mask can deliver more energy and fight into a group than any Knute Rockne oratory.

The Ying and Yang of this year’s released Photo Day shots also shows the ebb and flow that will ultimately exist within the Rays this year as leaders and jokers can come together tone their antics and abilities to the highest achievement levels and produce memories and events that we will speak about for years.

LLMEFrom the high points of  Longoria who with a consistent effort in 2014 should ultimately by-pass and become the sole Rays all-time leaders in such categories as HR, RBI, Extra Base Hits, doubles and Slugging Percentage before the end of 2014 to Myers who will again be called on provide the same kind of energy, production and raw unharnessed spirit that saw him take home an American League Rookie of the Year trophy, this team will rise and fall on both the chill moments and chaotic scrambles that make up a 162-game campaign.

pllbSure this is but only a 26 frame cross-section of the character and characters of that will become the heart and soul of the 2014 edition of the Rays, but if this is any indication of what we might have in store for us for a 162 game haul…..I’m ready to buckle in and take the rough with the fun for it’s almost time for the games to matter and I can’t wait for that last day in March………..But I don’t think Lueke will have to eat too many balls this year because this team looks and sounds hungry enough to push it to that last meal….and maybe have room for a champagne-infused dessert.

All photos taken by Zimbio.com photographers. They do so many other M L B teams photos each spring. Search their website for your team’s spring photos. I do have a Facebook link with the latest 26 and any additional Rays Photo Day shots I find past the submitting of this blog post.

Tasty 2014 Rays Media Guide Tidbits: Rays Bullpen

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As I have mentioned before, the day I get to check out the Tampa Bay Rays new edition of their Media Guide is a day filled with adventure, intrigue and maybe even a little whimsical fun. Glancing over the awesome moments of our brood of baseball buddies always bring to light moment uncaught by our eyes and ears in the stands and produce stats and figures we never really realized for our guys who battle upon the turf.

ku-xlargeSo I decided to stay in the hurler mode today for my 2nd installment of the special career notes and humanitarian efforts of our firemen down on the First Base line who we affectionately know as the Bullpen. Depending on the type of relief corps your team possesses, they can either give you a warm feeling or outright panic when a starter begins to show fatigue.

Lucky for us here in Tampa Bay our relievers have shown more pluses than minuses over the last few season, but glitches do happen. Also we do not know yet if the Rays will carry 11 or 12 pitchers going into the season, so I’ll just take a coin flip and list the 6 guys I think might comprise the ‘Pen and a few names to possibly watch this spring.

th (6)Jake McGee: Jake and his wife Morgan went a bit “Italiano” this past November visiting Venice, Milan and George Clooney’s hangout Lake Como. During Christmas Eve this past year, Jake and his wife also visited local foster families in Reno, Nevada and provided the kids with Christmas gifts.

McGee is 2013 ranked second in the M L B among reliever southpaws with an average fastball velocity of 96.3 mph. The mark was the highest among American League leftie relievers. McGee also posted up second among all M L B relievers with throwing a fastball on 93 percent of his pitches. Makes sense McGee has been working on a few additional pitches this off-season to keep hitters guessing in 2014.

th (7)Brandon Gomes: Took the LSAT after graduating from Tulane and if he wasn’t playing professional baseball, Gomes would have attended Law School and pursued a career in law or finance.

Even though Gomes only appeared 26 times in 2013 due to a right lat. Strain which sidelined him for 88 games, he did go 3-1 last season and split his season almost down the middle 14 games before/ 12 games after returning) between his injury stint. Could be a pitcher to watch this spring as he wants to show the Rays he is durable and consistent.

th (8)Cesar Ramos: He learned English at a bilingual preschool in Los Angeles, Calif. His parents immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico 34 years ago seeking a better opportunity for their family. Cesar also has sister named Elena.

16 of Ramos 47 appearances in 2013 were 2 innings or longer which was the 4th highest number in the American League and most by a Rays reliever since J P Howell’s 23 in 2008. Ramos also secured his first M L B save after throwing 3 scoreless innings in Cleveland on May 31st.

th (9)Joel Peralta: Considered quitting baseball in 2002 following a demotion from Double-A Arkansas to Class-A Cedar Rapids while with the Angels. His older brother Frank persuaded him to stick with it and Joel responded by going 5-0 with 21 saves and a .95 ERA with the Kernels (THANKS Frank!).

Peralta led the majors in 2013 with 80 relief appearances, which puts in 2nd overall in Rays history behind Randy Choate (85 in 2010). It was Peralta’s 3rd straight season of 70+ appearances (227 over 3 seasons) and the cherry on top is Peralta led all M L B relievers with 41 Holds in 2013.

Rays-Heath-Bell-2014-600x337Heath Bell: Who knew the All-Star closer was also such a force in the kitchen? Bell made 24 gingerbread houses from scratch for his kids school. Heath hopes to meet Duffy, the Ace of Cakes this year when the Rays travel to Baltimore and would like to compete on the Food Network pastry competition show Sweet Genius someday.

Pitched in 69 games last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was his 7th consecutive season of 60+ appearances. Ranked 3rd among M L B closers in saves (166) over the last 5 seasons. With Mariano Rivera now retired, only Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon (173) remains in contention for the overall top spot.

th (10)Grant Balfour:  Most people might not know Grant’s father after completing his rugby career became a leader in developing and promoting Australian baseball and served as the G M of the Sydney Blue Sox before retiring last August.

Grant saved a career high 38 games last season with only 3 blown saves. Over his last 24 appearances in 2013, Balfour had a 92.7 percent save percentage, 4th best in the AL and in A’s team history. He beat out his own 92.4 percent mark set in 2012 for the 4th spot. Converted 62 of 67 (92.5 %) save chances over the past 2 seasons.

th (11)Juan Carlos Oviedo:  He might be one of the biggest question marks this spring in regards to the Bullpen. The team took a gamble on 2013 by signing him while he was rehabbing after a Tommy John’s surgery. They released him in the off-season, but quickly resigned him and invited him to spring camp. If healthy and firing on all cylinders this spring, could be a factor in the team’s Bullpen makeup and possibly send someone above away in a late spring trade.

Oviedo logged 92 saves from 2009-11. That total was 8th best in the M L B at that time and ranked him 3rd on the Miami Marlins all-time save list.

His last time pitching in a professional games was July 14, 2013 while with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. 

pageAs always, do not discount the names of Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, C J Riefenhauser, Josh Lueke or even Kirby Yates of not making noise in supplanting one of the above pitchers for a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Even if none of these names make the final roster before Opening Day, their names will again be heard possibly at some point within Tropicana Field in 2014.

Also worth circling might be the name of Erik Bedard who might have a chance to fill the Rays long reliever role with their 2013 hurler. Alex Torres traded in the off-season. Bedard could also be a great fill-in starter in-house option for the Rays if he were willing to accept a non-starter gig in 2014.

Tomorrow we will hit the factoids concerning the players who should be deemed the starters in the Rays infield for 2014. 

Tasty 2014 Rays Media Guide Tidbits: Rays Rotation.

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I swear every season when it arrives either in web file form or a hard copy I seem to give off a squeal of joy like a little kid on Christmas morning. That’s right, the 2014 edition of the Tampa Bay Rays Media Guide is sitting in a file on my computer, and I just cannot wait to flip the pages and see what interesting and tasty morsels are hidden within its covers.

We all know it will have the historical pomp and circumstance of the Rays entire franchise’s history, be  a wealth of information on records, oddities and a listing of everyone who has worn a certain number in the team’s history. Wildest part with every year the pages expand just like our history and I truly cannot wait until I have a hard copy in my paws so I can savvy it like a fine chocolate and divide its many layers up throughout the season with little morsels of trivia tidbits for my social media followers (@TheRaysRenegade).

201310022311834681195So without further fanfare, let’s get down to business and make each of us a little smarter or knowledgeable on our team’s players and non-roster invitees this spring.

First off how about learning a tasty bit about our team’s come from behind proficiency in 2013:

The Rays 13 Walk-off victories in 2013 tied the club record set in 2011 and 11 different players recorded a walk-off RBI, most in team history. Only 2 Rays had multiple walk-off hits last season: Jose Lobaton and Desmond Jennings, whose 2-out single on May 27th vs the Miami Marlins drove in Kelly Johnson for a 7-6 win.

Let’s start off the factoid journey with guys who should make up the Rays starting rotation in 2014:

598357_10151201840588429_2142281771_nDavid Price:  David’s foundation, Project One Four had its best fundraising effort in 2013 and raised over $130,000. From its annual banquet, golf tournament and bowling events. On March 29th, in Tampa, Fl., Price will host his 3rd Annual Bowl for Kid’s Sake to benefit the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. The event raised $27,000. In 2012 and $42,000 in 2013.

Price posted astronomical numbers to rank 1st in the M L B after his return from the DL by posting up 131.1 innings pitched with 4 complete games, 13.8 pitches per inning pitched and 0.89 BB/9 innings pitched. His 2.53 ERA and 9 wins also ranked 3rd in the A L.

th (1)Alex Cobb:  Cobb is a huge supporter of our military fans and with good reason.  His older brother R.J. is a commander in the 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division of the U S Army and was awarded a Purple Heart after a Humvee explosion in Iraq, lodging shrapnel in his hands. His brother made a full recovery and served 16 months in Iraq and returned earlier this year after a short stint in Afghanistan.

Cobb showed superior resilience in 2013 after he posted a 5-1 record with a 2.41 ERA in 9 starts over the Rays final 6 weeks of the 2013 season after sitting out June 16th-August 14 following a concussion after taking a line drive off the bat against Kansas City in the Trop.  “Cobbster” also started in 2 of the Rays postseason victories with a win in the Wild Card game against the Cleveland Indians and Game 3 of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox

Toby Hall ST Celebrity Golf Tourney 2013 064Matt Moore:  Matt stayed very active this past offseason in New Mexico mixing in bike rides, hot yoga and doing hikes up to 4 hours to extend his energy threshold. (I also know Matt swings a golf club right-handed and is pretty lethal with a putter).

Last season Moore tied for third with the most victories in the American League (17) and had the 2nd highest winning percentage in the AL with a .810 mark due in great part to his stellar 17-4 record.

thChris Archer: During the 2013 offseason in Clayton, NC, Archer was names Mr. Christmas and lit the lights of the city’s Christmas tree. At thanksgiving he handed out 100 Butterball turkeys to needy families.

Despite not arriving in St. Petersburg until the Rays 55th contest, Archer led all rookie hurlers in ERA (3.22), Opponent’s Average (.226), complete games (2), shutouts (2), and WHIP (1.13). He was also 2nd in innings pitched (128.2) and 3rd in wins (9).

Even though Jeremy Hellickson will miss 6-8 weeks of the 2014 early season due to injury, he has to be included as a major cog in the Rays machine in 2014. Time will only tell how long it takes Hellickson to return after having arthroscopic surgery to remove loose bodies in his pitching elbow.

th (2)Jeremy Hellickson: Hellboy has grown close to Des Moines, Iowa native Carson Cooper who is a 10 yr old who is fighting Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Jeremy along with family friends helped form Kids Living Brave this offseason to help support kids and their families with care packages as they battle cancer. Hellickson put on 2 “Pitch Perfect” baseball clinics this winter as a fundraiser for the organization.

In 2013, Hellickson was the only Rays to reach the 30 starts mark, but saw his ERA blossom to 5.17, the 3rd highest among major league qualifiers. To put this mark fully into prospective, coming into the 2013 season Hellickson had the Rays lowest career ERA at 3.06. Jeremy was 1 of only 2 M L B pitchers to post over 10 wins (12) and have an ERA over 5.00.

Let’s not forget a few facts on the bevy of pitchers who will fight it out this spring for a chance to get a few early season starts as Hellickson mends:

pageAlex Colome: Credits Triple-A Durham Bulls Pitching Coach Neil Allen for a significant change in his mechanics, making him more upright in his delivery. That was significant as Colome did not allow an earned run in his first 2 starts, the first pitcher to do that since San Francisco Giant pitcher Ryan Sadowski in 2009.

Nathan Karns: Made his M L B debut on May 28th in an InterLeague contest against Baltimore versus an Orioles starter who was only making his 2nd career start. Karns went 4.1 innings allowing 3 runs in the Nationals 9-3 victory.

Jake Odorrizo :  During spring training in Arizona a few years ago while in the Kansas City system, Jake and his agent had a close call in the desert when they got lost for 2 hours on four-wheelers as the Sun was setting. They had no water with them and finally found their way home after finding a road. 

Next post, trivia bits on players who should comprise the Rays 2014 Bullpen corps.

Rays Could be Waving Goodbye to the Ice Cream Man

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Going to be sad to see the end of the Ice Cream Man’s era with the Tampa Bay Rays. Going into the winter off-season you could have hedged your bets the team would unload possibly a player striding the pitching rubber, not one crouched down 60 feet 6 inches away. Maybe the writing was on the wall for catcher Jose Lobaton the moment the Rays traded for a respected and well-tooled catcher like Ryan Hanigan.

Not helping in Lobaton’s increasingly unstable situation was that the other “Jose” in the Rays catching corps, Jose Molina had signed a team-friendly contract with an eye on a bit of a reduced role in 2014. Suddenly it didn’t seem like why, but when Lobaton would get a call from the team announcing a trade, but there is no way any of us thought this adventure would venture into February.

lkjhgfdfgAnd trade chatter is being heard from vista’s like Cleveland, Washington, the south-side of Chicago, Flushing, Phoenix and even Denver that Lobation could/should possibly be looking for a temporary abode in Arizona for Spring Training, not Port Charlotte, Florida.  Hopefully a deal will get done fast and swiftly as pitchers and catchers are beginning their journeys to their Spring Training camps and if he isn’t a Ray come February 14th, Loby got some hurried planning to do.

Lobaton has to be an attractive option for a team wanting to bring in a young but experienced backstop. His .249 average during the 2013 season mixed with 7 HRs shows he is gaining the ability to not only be good behind the plate, but can deliver standing on either side of the dish. Switch-hitting catchers are a bit of a rarity in the MLB, and Lobaton has shown by his .736 OPS from the left side he should garner at least a few phone calls from every one of those cities mentioned above for their respective catching units.

He has a gold star attached to his name right now as a Super Two arbitration player who is excelling at a position where a team could acquire a player with his talents and experience knowing he will not hit the free agent market until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest.  We have already heard reports over the winter that the Nationals would love to find a capable young backstop to pair with W Ramos, and Lobaton definitely fit the criteria.

uytyuAlso in Lobatons favor is the pure fact he has been with the Rays during their stretch runs over the last few seasons and has post-season experience as well as his ability to come through in the clutch with power displays and ice cream runs. The Indians with their favorable park dimensions could utilize Lobaton’s left-sided goodness especially as the team wants to try and secure Carlos Santana at the First Base bag in 2014.

You can see the White Sox interest as they might not be totally all in favor of Tyler Flowers being their everyday catcher, and the Rockies and D-backs might be looking at Loby more as a young talented insurance option should injuries again plague their catching corps. And do not discount the fact teams already know Lobaton comes at a good value after he avoided arbitration earlier this off season with a $900,000.  2014 Salary.

Worst part of Molina re-signing and the team trading for Hanigan is the pure fact the path is blocked for any significant amount of time behind the plate for Lobaton in 2014. Another factor that will play into another team getting Lobaton is the fact he is out of minor league options and would have to go through the waiver wire to be shipped back to Triple-A Durham if he did not make the Rays 2014 Opening Day roster.

So we have hit on the positives for teams wanting Lobaton’s services for 2014. And with every player there also comes some uncertainty or liabilities.

jhgOne simple reason for a trade is in fact a by-product of the team’s trade for Hanigan and the keeping of Molina. Lobaton is not a defective pitch framer, but the Rays other 2 options at this time trump Lobaton’s ability and he might be considered average at best in getting borderline strike calls.

2 other glaring liabilities of obtaining Lobaton might be career stat-wise he is considered to be below average backstop in getting to balls in the dirt which would be a red flag to teams that rely on breaking pitches outside and low.

What a team might also offer for Lobaton might hinge on if they think they can correct his most illuminating flaw, a career 16 % Caught Stealing percentage mark. If a team can imagine fixing any of the 3 flaws in Loby’s bag of tricks they could come out as a winner in any trade offering.

In the end, the Rays know they might have to take a little less in return for Lobaton no matter his offensive upside because the team would have to make a difficult decision to retain him after March 31st.

jlkjjkjAlso with reporting dates quickly approaching, a team would want to get Lobaton in camp as soon as possible as he would need time to not only adjust to a new team and techniques, but get an early spring edge on the learning curve of catching and pitch calling for a new pitching staff before the season begins.

Hopefully the trade process is short and sweet and Lobaton is off to join his new team before their report date. You can only hope Lobaton begin to show some new prowess in scooping the ball this spring, digging down deep in the bowl to block pitches and deliver that sweet swing that always ends with ice cream.

 

Hellboy Sidelined by Elbow Surgery until Mid-May

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I guess we now know why we have not heard any increasing chatter about Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price possibly going somewhere else before the 2014 season begins. With Jeremy Hellickson now out of the Rays rotation until possibly mid-May, trading Price now would have left the Rays with possibly 2 spots to fill instead of a single rotation slot.

jhgfIf you haven’t heard yet, Hellickson felt some discomfort when he recently began his throwing program and under advisement of the Rays medical staff it was decided he needed elbow surgery to correct a possible aliment that could have only gotten worse had he began a increased throwing program or attended Spring camp.  The loss of Hellickson sure hurts the Rays a bit, but with the team’s plethora of young arms in the minors, it is more than likely a hurler like Jake Odorizzi or possibly Alex Colome might inherit an early season spot on the Rays 25-man roster until Hellickson returns.

And you kind of knew somewhere deep down that Hellboy did not pitch like his normal self in 2013, and possibly this injury was festering over the last few starts pushing the Rays to sending down Hellickson towards the end of the regular season as a preventative measure, not a punishment. The 201 AL Rookie of the Year looked anything but a stellar starter in 2013 as he suffered through his worst season as a professional seeing his ERA spike to an all-time high of 5.17 and yielding a .247 batting line to opposing hitters.

So with Price definitely in a position now to be with the Rays until possibly late July, you can easily imagine a rotation of Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archers and either Ordorizzi or Colome making the fifth spot in the Opening Day rotation. But do not discount the chance that minor league starter Enny Romero might challenge those two for the right to the Rays 5th spot. You also can not discount the possibilities the Rays could sign a free agent pitcher to a contract before Pitchers and Catchers report in 11 days leaving Colome, Ordorizzi and the others for additional seasoning at Triple-A Durham.

sdfghThe injury will also put to bed any rumors or speculation the Rays might shop the Scott Boras client before the season, and the injury could also dampen any trade possibilities at the Trade deadline unless Hellickson comes back with a vengeance and posts some stellar numbers when he returns.

Hopefully this is just a short speed bump in Hellickson’s career and he comes back with a bit more vigor and vinegar to get some MLB game action after May 14th. The injury is a dark spot for the Rays as they near their report date, but Hellickson’s injury also shined brightly on the Rays pitching depth in their minor league system with players possibly ready for a spot or steady MLB chance.

With a good prognosis and rehab we could possibly see Hellickson back on the Rays hill during May when the team plays a full American League schedule of opponents. Even though we will not see Hellickson when the Rays begin their first Pitchers and Catchers workout on February 15th, let’s hope he is rest and relaxing and eager to get his rehab started and return to his spot on a team that should be contenders for the AL East crown again in 2014.

 

 

 

Rays Fan Fest Autograph on Your Slate? Be Ready to Donate

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Back in February 2011 if you wanted to get the autograph of a Tampa Bay Rays player you had to purchase a $40 wristband on that day to get unlimited player autographs. In 2013 that price increased to $50 for most current Rays players and Coaches autographs, and a select few more affluent members of the Rays Republic could purchase their own private autograph packages to have a more intimate private autograph session with some of the Rays star players.

ELDPWMThis year if you wanted to secure the signatures of the Rays “Big 3” which included Evan Longoria, David Price and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, it was going to cost you a bit more than the old 2013 option of an $50 “all-inclusive” wristband for all players available during Fan Fest signing moments.

So was really to anyone’s real surprise that the Rays announced recently that during the upcoming 2014 Rays Fan Fest to be held on Saturday, February 22, a new more streamlined and calculated autograph format would be in place. Some have been shocked by the news while others (like myself) have known this type of increase was just over the hill and is in line with other MLB players signing requests at their fan events.

I posted a blog post way back on February 14, 2011 comparing the Rays then request for fans to purchase $40 wristband donation fee for Fan Fest autographs. I started out in that essay stating:More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization”. And I really feel that sentiment is still true today.

kjhgfAt this year’s Fan Fest, for a $125 donation 60 affluent members of the Rays Republic can pre-purchase a more intimate behind the blue curtain opportunity with one of the trio or play a total of possibly $375 for obtaining all 3 players signatures. Immediately I know a few hands will go up that the pricing in “unheard of” and a bit astronomical, but in reality, it is pretty much in line with what donation amounts are requested by other MLB club for their premier player’s autographs at a fan event.

In that 2011 blog I showed you that it cost $175 back then at a Cards fan event to secure a chance at getting then St Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols. At that Cards event, Pujols commanded the most advance donation as the pricing swirled down from the $175 mark to $5 to secure former player Jack Clark’s signature.

pageAnd the Rays autograph donation fees do not start and end at the $125 price point. The team will also offer other Rays players who could/should be on the team’s 2014 roster at $25 each and also some additional players who will sign for kids 14 and younger only for no donation fee. Sure there was an instant shock and awe when I read the Rays autograph proposal, but the common denominator here for me is all money collected will go to the Rays in-house charity the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Foundation to further support research and developments within the Tampa Bay region.

Knowing that the money will all go to help promote and increase the funding for the Rays projects outside of the Trop and secure more than just signatures for the community, the $125 or even $25 each donations do not seem like a huge request. But I know as I wander around Tropicana Field on that day I will see a few tear-filled eyes that they cannot get the autographs of their baseball heroes, or their parents do not have the needed funds to obtain multiple autographs of players within the $25 price range.

jhgfdI know more than a few kids will possibly miss out on their own golden opportunity to be within ear range of their Rays heroes this Fan Fest, but I want to remind you that the MLBPA table is always full of former players from the Rays and baseball’s past and receiving their signatures is still free as always.

Still internally I’m a bit perplexed because for some fans, Fan Fest is their only viable opportunity to get access to their favorite player for more than a brief eye glance and this change will take that bit of uniqueness of being totally fan friendly away. Some fans travel great distances hoping to get this great access to Ray’s players.

Sure there will be multiple opportunities for some fans to get a bevy of additional changes to take photos and talk with players throughout the day, but this year’s autograph policy change might just also change a few minds on attending future Fan Fests, or even deaden a bit their Rays loyalty a tad.

pageI know the team wants to promote the other activities going on all over the playing field from the kid’s games, to the Pepsi display and Fan Wall of Fame ceremonies plus the Clubhouse tours and interacting with various radio and broadcast people on a more intimate scale. I know the Rays Garage Sale, Reading with the Rays will have huge crowds.

But no matter the team’s great intentions, a few tears will ultimately fall.

 

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