Results tagged ‘ Troy Percival ’
Sometimes I think we forget how lucky this Tampa Bay Rays team has been on the injury front over the past few years. Sure we have had untimely injuries that set this team back a tad, but not since their 2009 season have the Rays had their rabbit’s feet and luck slap them in the face like this. It’s been a long time since this Rays franchise has looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than a competitive baseball team.
It befuddles me a bit that we have a winning record and yet the boo-birds have come out not only targeting the wrong people, but also forgetting injuries are a part of the game, that is why there is a DL and call-ups to the majors. Even before Rays skipper Joe Maddon and Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield got Rays starter Jeff Niemann to the Visiting Clubhouse last night in Toronto, fingers began wagging and spit and vinegar ruled the roost. Heck, it not so long ago a Rays team dealt with this same rash of unforeseen injuries and watching players fall like Dominoes…I would think we would have learned a bit of ranting restraint since 2009.
Back in 2009 12 different Rays hit the DL at one time or another and amassed a hysterical number of 752 games missed over that 162 game season. Some spent as little as 6 games on the pine ( BJ Upton/shoulder surgery), while others, like the trio of RP Jason Isringhausen (137 games), RP Troy Percival (119 games) and OF Fernando Perez (130 games) spent most of the season either on the mend or recovering from some sort of surgery. This 2009 season was also the Rays season Carlos Pena missed 25 games due to a badly placed ( cough, cough) CC Sabathia pitch inside with a duo of fractured fingers.
The 2012 season is starting to become a bit of a mirror image of that 2009 injury riddled team, and I think we have not seen the end to the injury bug. How weird is it that both this season’s squad and the 2209 ( June 16-26) edition had 8 players on the DL. Downright freaky to consider that team lost so many “games” to their injured comrades, and this 2012 team as of game time tonight have banked 153 games in the DL bucket this season, not counting Jeff Niemann’s possible 40-60 game estimate.
For some reason we all forgot that this Rays team might have finally used up all their “good luck” fairy dust and for the first time since 2009, the Rays well-oiled machine has broken down not from dis-repair, but from the possible stress and strain each team endures over that 180 days during a MLB regular season. Do not blame Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr.
I am sure Porterfield’s training room at Tropicana Field will be re-named “ M*A*S*H 33701” as the Rays players begin to arrive to the Clubhouse on Wednesday. Funny how as soon as Niemann left the contest there were cries and yelps about the Rays Training staff and their Strength and Conditioning. Suddenly the same group of Rays personnel who are considered by many to be one of the best in MLB were being thrown under a speeding bus without even a slight bit of fact or visualization to promote any wrongdoing or mis-diagnosis.
I truly do not know how Niemann threw even a warm-up pitch last night without grimacing in pain after getting hacked by that drive. That determination to even try and stay in the game is a testament to the true guts and courage of this team as a whole. I bet each and every player , especially those nagging injuries they hold to themselves and that we know nothing about. But injuries small or large come with the salary, and sometimes letting them fester and linger are not worth the price paid in the end. Some players might even be playing right now on borrowed time, and that is not a good thing.
Sean Rodriguez has a lingering strained pectoral muscle. Think about that injury for a second. S-Rod has a strained muscle in the chest region of the lead arm in his bat swing. Add onto scenario the blatantly obvious condition of throwing the ball diagonally across his body from the Hot Corner and you have to either be impressed or think Rodriguez is crazy to set himself up for a possible long term injury. Recent errors might be more due to trying to play through the injury than his throws follow through. I seriously do not know why S-Rod is taking the punishment and not resting himself, but then again, the drive and resiliency shown right now by just this one Rays speaks volumes to the commitment of every one on this 25-man roster.
There is no conspiracy, no covert medical pandemic or lack of adherence to conditioning drills that have led to this recent outburst of injuries. The plan truth is this Rays team has been dodging huge bullets and taped up more than a few “walking wounded” over this season and some injuries go under the radar until they burst out into the daylight.
Sports fans today want to point a finger, find a viable scapegoat to focus blame and their anger towards, and sometimes the wrong people get caught in the cross-hairs. How many people know Porterfield last night called the local NBA team, the Raptors last night trying to find an over-sized set of crutches to make Niemann’s pain a bit more bearable. You can bet Porterfield and his staff including Strength and Conditioning Coach Barr have put in plenty of overtime and extended hours mending, taping and even discussing ways this team can keep its members on the field, even for a minimal of innings or effort.
But still the finger wag and the voices get louder and louder. Maybe the Rays Republic needs to point their finger in another direction. Possibly there is another culprit who deserves your spit and vinegar. Possibly the bottle of luck the Rays have been pouring out since 2009 finally ran out of magic. Maybe we should point our fingers to the person who is suppose to keep it full. Lady Luck, as Ricky Ricardo once said, “You got some explainin’ to do! ”
Some have blurted out the notion lately that the Tampa Bay Rays will exercise Kyle Farnsworth’s club option at the end of the season without delay. For some reason, I am smelling a bit of lingering Troy Percival aroma right now on someone’s shoes. Sure Farnsworth has a really “Rays friendly” $ 3.3 million dollar salary for 2012, but if his elbow flares up and he needs any surgery or down time, it could be a huge kink in the Rays late inning armor.
On Saturday night, from the moment Farnsworth got up to begin throwing in the Rays Bullpen, his mannerisms and delivery just seemed a bit off from my seat right behind the Rays Bullpen mound. His pitches before he entered the game in the top of the ninth inning just didn’t seem to have their usual crisp bite to them. His new found friend, the cutter, simply seemed to a bit flat, almost hovering in the zone a little too long.
Of course I am not a Pitching Coach, but if I saw a cutter that was not spinning crispy and not starting to dive bomb out of the zone for the corner, I would be wetting my lips that I was about to have a good plate appearance. Sure Farnsworth threw 14 of his 22 pitches for strikes last night, but two of them unfortunately struck spectators gloves in the Rightfield stands. This is not the usual intimidating Farnsworth, this is more like a wounded deceptive Percival.
In a span of 6 pitches, the Rays went from leading 5-3 to seeing the Red Sox tie the game 5-all. Farnsworth only productive out of his appearance came courtesy of his first batter Boston SS Marco Scutaro who hit a grounder to Farnsworth, who completed a simple 1-3 put out before the fireworks began. After that first out, Boston’s explosion quickly turned into a possible Rays implosion. And this is not the first time this week the Rays Republic has seen Farnsworth look more unsure of his stuff right now than his usual intimidating himself.
I am not trying to insulting Farnsworth right now with the Percival reference, but the way Farnsworth is throwing the ball is eerily reminiscent of the same thing activities that preceded Percival’s two Rays injuries that ultimately turned out to be lingering injuries that Percival was hiding from the team.
You only have to go back in time to 4 days ago (September 7th) in a closely contested game against the Texas Rangers to see there is a weird pattern starting to develop within Farnsworth’s late inning success that is beginning to become a bit concerning to me, especially with this Rays squad starting to breathe life back into their post season goal.
During that September 7th contest, Farnsworth gave aup a monster shot to Rangers INF Ian Kinsler and that homer helped Farnsworth record only his second blown save since a road contest back in Kansas City back on July 23, 2011. Suddenly Farnsworth has materialized into someone less reliable, less dependable than the guy who’s 2.00 ERA was ranked # 1 among American League closers before Saturday night’s 2 Red Sox rocket shots destroyed his chance for save # 24. Uncharacteristically Farnsworth as of late has looked more like“Wild Thing” than “Sure Thing”.
The main conclusion you have to summarize is that Farnsworth might not be completely healed, or might be shunning off the intense pain factor in his right elbow to instead try and be a veteran presence and defensive stalwart because of the Rays fragile situation in the Bullpen. Farnsworth might be hiding a simple truth. He is hurt, but does not want to be a cause or reason for the Rays stumble even for a simple hiccup in their playoff chase.
But “taking one for the team” is a noble and respectful thing usually within baseball, but not a great attribute when you are counted on and you do not have your stuff at the A+ level Farnsworth possessed before his recent “late season vacation” due to elbow soreness. Considering Farnsworth has surrendered 1 Home Run allowed for every 63 batters faced (10-HR, 633-BF) since 2009, this latest plunge into the darkness has merit for Rays Republic worry.
Hopefully it is just another fluke blown save appearance, one that is now out of Farnsworth’s system, but the recent home blown save string has to begin to worry more than Farnsworth, it has to worry Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays Republic. If Farnsworth were to go down with an injury at this juncture in the post season run, it could cripple a vital cog in the Rays late inning machine.
I’m not trying to say the Rays need to investigate for themselves, do medical tests on Farnsworth’s elbow, maybe it is just simply time for the Rays to let someone else take the 9th inning reins for a few games. Let Farnsworth get himself has his glorious out pitch, the cutter, back into that defined groove that moves us so well after Rays victories.
I hope it is just simple fatigue or that his pitches right now are just missing their marks, but the only one who knows the truth is Farnsworth and Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach who came on in the 9th to go behind the plate. I have a feeling neither of them will be speaking about it anytime soon. But we need full disclosure right now, hurt or not, something is just not in sync right now with Farnsworth, and it needs to be fixed fast, or catching Boston will be the least of the Rays worries.
When the Tampa Bay Rays first showed their interest in checking out veteran reliever Kelvim Escobar who has been working out for a return to the Major League after a few seasons out of the game, I was mildly excited about the idea. He could be a great addition to the team as a veteran presence that is always a plus for a young Bullpen like the Rays. But for some odd reason, I have this reoccurring unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach….. once again.
You know the type of odd stomach ailment I am talking about here. You do not have heartburn, or even a slight case of indigestion, but it doesn’t feel completely right to you. There are concerns not only in your mind, but a quick jolt of anxious energy within you that is sometimes a precursor to a bad decision.
Well, I am getting that feeling in connection with the Rays and Escobar right now. Maybe it is simply just a case of “Been there……Done that” in my mind that has been there before in decision concerning the Rays and veteran Bullpen help. The first time I had this stomach reaction was when the team announced they had signed Mr Gimp himself, Troy Percival two seasons ago.
I was mildly excited that we got an opportunity to have a potential Hall of Fame closer come to the Rays for a bargain basement price. And he came with the “Joe Maddon” seal of approval as a good fixture for the Rays Bullpen. But reality struck quick and hard in those two seasons as Percival received about $ 8.5 million from the team for about 4 months total worth of sweat.
And the Percival experience still gets me angry, so maybe I am a bit justified to have a moment of hesitation and feel leery to trust the old dogs right now. But I do remember some times of great judgment and positive results in the last few years when the team took a chance on a guy who had Major League potential, but had been hidden in the minor league system for several seasons.
The Rays took a huge chance signing the guy and he rose to the occasion to be one of the most productive members of the Rays over the last three seasons. He has also raised his level of play both on and off the field to receive Golden Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and his first All Star appearance in 2009. When the Rays first signed him, Rays Senior Director of Marketing Brian Killingsworth called me and I was excited about this signing from the get-go. Of course that player was Carlos Pena.
And again in the Spring of 2009, I was totally on board with the Rays taking a chance on Jason Isringhausen based on this same gut reaction I had with Pena that he still had some gasoline in his tank and fire in his belly to succeed at this level. And the added plus that Izzy could be the veteran leader that Percival never fully embraced with the Rays young Bullpen.
But an injury to Izzy during a Rays home, in front of the Rays faithful sidelined his Rays career for the rest of the season. And even after his Tommy John’s surgery, Isringhausen came back into the Rays clubhouse several times before the end of 2009 to boost up teammates and show his support for the team. And if Isringhausen were to come back fully loaded and hunting again in 2010, I would still welcome the Rays opening their arms and taking him into the team again. Percival………..not unless he plays for free.
But could it be the honest fact that signing an rehabbing older reliever can be as predictable as rolling the dice? Heck, I am a gambler by nature, but I also know my limitations. The chance that Escobar would come in and be the perfect set-up guy for the Rays is totally within reason, but the fact he has not played much in 2 seasons, Escobar still throws up a huge yellow caution light up into my line of vision.
But I have a good measure of faith in the Rays scouting department and maybe this could just be the perfect diamond in the rough scenario as the Pena signing. It is speculated that the next time Escobar throws in front of MLB scouts will be in front of live hitting, probably within the next few days in the Venezuelan Winter League. Venezuelan reporter Efrain Zavarce speculates the Escobar could throw as early as tonight in relief for a Venezuelan squad (As of 4:45 pm EST no teams has added him to their roster).
But again, this is a player who has again drawn the “Joe Maddon” seal of approval, and maybe that is what scares me the most. Not that Maddon is not a great judge of talent and can see the positives through his black rimmed glasses, but the Percival episode has given me caution when that seal is given out to players. Nothing personal Joe.
But if you look at Escobar’s past, a player who has won 101 games in his Major League career does have possibilities. And he did save 38 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, so he does have high pressure experience and could be a nice mentor to Rafael Soriano to talk to in the Rays Bullpen. But again, he missed the entire 2008 season after a right shoulder labrum tear, and only threw 5 innings for the Los Angeles Angels taking a loss in his only 2009 appearance.
But in 2007, Escobar did post a career high 18 wins with the Angels with 3 complete games. And in an odd note, he started his 200th career start against the Rays that season. maybe I will keep an open mind and wait for that games result before throwing the baby out with the bath water here. Escobar has thrown in 1,507 innings in his career and has amassed 1,310 strikeouts, both impressive numbers showing his consistency and his durability.
But the true fact that the Rays have gone 1-3 on their veteran projects in the last few years for the Rays Bullpen, with two straight swing and misses in regards to relievers. So if Escobar shows during his Venezuelan outings that he still possesses some wicked velocity and a consistent ball in the strike zone, then maybe he could take the Rays project record to the .500 mark. Because all I need to do is look towards the Rays First Base bag to see that sometimes taking a chance on a player is all the help he needs to again succeed in the Major Leagues.
The more I read about this guy, the more I am liking the Rays possibilities in 2010. But the reality is now set in stone that the Tampa Bay Rays have traded for Rafael Soriano to man the back of the Rays Bullpen for 2010. And what a beautiful birthday present (Dec 19th) this turned out to be for Soriano that he got a bundle of money ($ 7.25 million dollars) and a chance to play in 74 degree weather for 81 games a year in Florida.
I mean the minute I heard the deal was about to be completed, I started to do some research on the guy and found some thing I automatically loved and caused concern about the Rays new closer. But the true fact that he is not Troy Percival is the first good news I have heard in the last two seasons for the Rays Bullpen. Soriano is from the Dominican Republic, and as most players from that region, did not start out as a pitching prospect. He was originally signed as an outfielder before being converted to a pitcher.
In 1999, Soriano was finally began his conversion into a pitcher while with the Everett and the move was considered an instant success as he finished his first season as a pitcher second in ERA and strikeouts, but also third in walks. Control would come with time as the young pitcher began to tweak his finger grips and learn the art of pitching.
And his pitching progression showed in 2000 as he was boasted a 2.87 ERA and was considered the third best pitcher prospect in the Mariner’s organization in 2000. Soriano also surrendered only one Home Run in the 167 batters he faced that season. And during the 2000 offseason, he got his first taste of Winter Ball as he was selected to play for Escogido in the Dominican League.
And his impression during his escalation through the minors was not missed by the Seattle front office which selected him from the Double-A San Antonio on May 8,2002 and he made his Major League debut against the Boston Red Sox on May 10th and earned his first MLB save in a 7-2 Seattle win. During 2002, he ended up only appearing in 10 games for the Mariners, but started 6 games during his tour with the big club.
There is one thing that bothers me a bit about Soriano. Early on in his career he did show a pattern of getting injured when he first went down with a right shoulder injury while up with the Mariners on July 10,2002. and was put on the disabled list. Soriano suffered a strained oblique muscle in Spring Training 2004 and saw very limited action before the regular season.
He then suffered another injury in May 2004 when while he was up with the Mariners he developed a right elbow strain. He sat out until July and tried to pitch during a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma, but the pain came back in the elbow. Soriano was diagnosed with a ulnar collateral ligament tear in the elbow and Dr Lewis Yocum performed Tommy John’s surgery on the aliment on August 17, 2004.
Soriano spent the rest of the 2004 season rehabbing from the surgery and after multiple rehab assignment in the minor leagues, finally returned to the Major Leagues on September 10,2005 for the Mariners and stayed with the club the rest of the season appearing in seven games that season. Soriano ended his season right by not allowing a run in his last five games of the season.
During the 2006 season you might have remembered Soriano as the pitcher that got clocked in the right ear off a line drive from the bat of Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero during the eighth inning August 29th contest at Safeco Field between the Angels and Mariners. Mariners Team Medical Director Edward Khalfayan said that Soriano was hit right beyond the right ear region and he never lost consciousness before being transported to Harborview Medical Center for further testing.
Soriano spent the night at Harborview after suffering a concussion, but was finally released the following afternoon. But the Mariners took a cautionary route and Soriano did not pitch again in the 2006 season. Prior to the August 29th incident, Soriano spent time on the DL for right shoulder fatigue before being reinstated in early August. That would be his last appearance for the Seattle Mariners as he was traded to the Atlanta Braves on December 6,2006 for fellow reliever Horacio Ramirez.
Soriano has been known to throw the ball in triple digits before, but suffered in his first season with the Braves setting up Braves closer Bob Wickman. After seeing Soriano begin to emerge in the Bullpen and Wickman starting to show regression, the Braves made a move in August 2006 by designating Soriano into the closer’s roles and designating Wickman for assignment.
But the drama was not over for Soriano in 2006. In September during a game against division rivals, the Florida Marlins, Soriano drilled Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla with a pitch and drew a four game suspension from the National League front office. After appealing the sentence, it was reduced to two games, but Soriano ended his first Braves season with mixed reviews providing a 3-3 record and a 3.0 ERA for the season.
Soriano had stayed relatively injury free during his first two seasons with the Braves before finally feeling some right elbow pain, and went on his first stint on the DL with right elbow tendinitis during May. Soriano suffered another setback during the season and was activated from the DL on July 27th. Eventually, Soriano went back on the DL on August 3, and stayed there for the rest of the season. On August 28th, Dr James Andrews performed an ulnar nerve transposition surgery and removed some bone spurs from Soriano’s elbow.
The 2009 season was the first injury free season for Soriano in a long time. And his level of play did increase dramatically as he held righthanded batters to a .138 average during the season. He also converted 27 of 31 save opportunities while holding a 1-6 record on the season. But the season also saw new career highs in strikeouts (102) and innings pitched (75.2) to show that when healthy, Soriano is one of the rising closer stars in the Major Leagues.
During his three season with the Braves, Soriano might have only compiled a 4-10 record with 39 saves, but he gained valuable experience during the season gelling into the closer’s role for the Braves. And even if he only has three pitches in his arsenal, Soriano’s fastball maintains a consistent velocity in the upper 90’s, and has hit triple digits a few times last season. Combined with his hard-biting slider(81-84 mph) and a seldom used change-up(84-86) that he usually reserves for hard hitting left-handers.
But there is a level of concern that hits my brain about Soriano. There has not been a consistent level of health yet in his career for me to be jumping up and down yet about this trade. Sure I do not want a repeat of the last two seasons where you get ex
cited and looking forward to a closer taking it to the house for the Rays, then get saddened quickly by a sudden or hidden injury situation.
Maybe that is what is wrong to me about this trade. I like the pitching statistics of Soriano a lot, and really want him to be effective and healthy in 2010 for the Rays. But I was also excited to see what hard throwing reliever Jesse Chavez could do for this squad in 2010. It is an upgrade in instant talent, but for some odd reason, Chavez to me felt like a better long term addition.
But with the horrors of the “Percy” era still fresh in my mind, along with the wasted millions of dollars spent on him sitting in California on his duff while this team struggled without a bona fide closer. I am a bit more cautious to throw out the arms and welcome a closer now. Especially one who has only had one legitimate healthy season after several trips to the diasabled list in the past.
I truly hope that Soriano proves me wrong within the first few weeks of 2010. I want to again believe that we have a viable closing option on the Rays and that the “closer-by-committee” concept is thrown in the trash can and burned forever. But it is still funny to me the recent quote from Rays team owner Stuart Sternberg that this team payroll would not allow for a $ 7 million dollar closer. And he was right. But as is always the way with the Rays, irony had the last laugh as now we have a new $ 7.25 million dollar closer to put out hopes and playoff dreams upon in 2010.
In this series ending game against the Florida Marlins, Rays starter Matt Garza basically served up only one mistake all day long, and the Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez deposited it into the leftfield stands for the only hit,and run of the game for his team.It was one of the most dominating efforts by a member of the Rays starting rotation in 2008.
The blog was originally posted on June 26,2008.
Rays starter Matt Garza (6-4) will remember this game against the Florida Marlins for a very long time. Not because he got his 6th victory of the season,and the first complete game of his career,but for one floating slider that could have brought him a special place in Rays history.
There is still no doubt that the sweep in the Inter-League series by the Rays over the Marlins in Miami made for a fantastic airline flight to Pittsburgh, but what might have been will be in Garza’s head for a few days.
The Rays are now a franchise high 15 games over .500, and have posted 4 more wins than any other season before the All-Star break. They are also 7 ahead of their pervious best record after 77 games.
The Rays have been above .500 for 57 straight days this season and 61 total days for the 2008 season,both marks are Rays club records. Prior to the 2008 season, the Rays had been above the .500 mark for only 72 days combined in the teams short history.
Longoria had three hits on Thursday night (two doubles and a home run) in the Rays’ win, after notching three hits (a single, double and homer) in Tampa Bay’s 15-3 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night.
Longoria is the fourth player in Rays franchise history to have consecutive games with at least three hits and one home run. The other Tampa Bay players to do that wereAubrey Huff (2004), Jorge Cantu (2005) and B.J. Upton (2007).
Along with Longoria and Garza’s efforts, the bat of back-up catcher Shawn Riggans showed some real promise in the game for the Rays. Riggans, who has seen very limited action this year with the emergence of Dioner Navarro.
Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist hit his second homer in two days in the 8th inning to complete the scoring for the Rays. Zobrist is now hitting .292 since coming up for the Rays from Triple-A Durham.
With the expected return of both Jason Bartlett and Carlos Pena on Friday in Pittsburgh,the Rays will have to make some roster moves before the Friday night game.
Based on his recent numbers and the extra dose of experiece this year, Rays utilityman Ben Zobrist might be the odd man out unless a trade can be reached for another infielder on the team. I know that Zobrist needs consistency in his routine,and it is a shame he might have to be the fall guy this time.
Zobrist has only been off the Disabled List for 7 games now,both in Durham and Tampa Bay. And Zobrist might need some more seasoning to get in great game shape for this team.
The Rays are visitng PNC park for only the second time in their brief history, starting off when they lost 2 out of 3 in June 2005. They are currently 2-4 All-Time against the Pirates during the regular season.
The right-hander has combined to go 4-5 this season with a 4.04 ERA in 10 Double-A and five Triple-A starts. In his most recent start, Barthmaier threw six innings, allowing only one run on four hits and striking out eight in the game. Barthmaier has shown better control with both his fastball and breaking ball since being promoted to Triple-A in late May, allowing just six walks in 31 2/3 innings.
Bill Koustroun / AP
Within the next few days the Tampa Bay Rays will have to make some critical decisions on three members of the team. They will have to either consider accepting or declining club options on three members of the 2009 roster. Carl Crawford ($ 10 million), Gregg Zaun ($ 2 million) and Brian Shouse ($ 1.9 million +incentives) all are currently being looked at forward and back, and inside-out for pluses and minuses by the Rays. And more than likely, only Crawford could end up the only club option is picked up by the Rays.
Crawford’s $ 10 million option is pretty comparable on the open market with outfielder who are within their prime and he is considered a value at that price right now. And the announcement during the last few weeks of the season that Crawford would be willing to talk about even lowering that price tag and extending his contract again must have had the team giddy with glee.
But it is the other two club options that might be more of a time consuming decision by the team. Because if the Rays accept either option, it might send into effect a landslide of changes for the Rays roster even before Spring Training.
And of the two club options, it seems to me that Zaun has done a great job with the Rays starting rotation and getting acclimated to the Rays system in his short time with the squad. I consider him an upgrade in the catching department both behind the plate and in the batters box for the Rays. And if the team does pick up his option, it will possibly be a signal to current starter Dioner Navarro that he might have a rough road going through arbitration this year and might even be considered a possible Rays non tendered candidate?
Zaun’s .259 batting average is 40 points higher than Navarro’s season ending .218. But an interesting point might be that Navarro had his highest batting average( .231) on April 13th, while Zaun has hit .289 since joining the Rays and .308 against right hander since the trade. And if you look at their defense, Zaun wins that battle hands down. Zaun is a jack-in-the-box behind the plate attacking every ball in the dirt and trying to smother or keep them in front of him. He might have only thrown out 11 of 51 base runners this season (21.6 %), but it is only slightly below Navarro’s (23.8 %) mark for the season.
So this decision might be more if the Rays want to have an aging catcher (38 years old) behind the plate and might make a decision on the Navarro era with the Rays. And considering Navarro is up again for arbitration this season, could his salary which has been estimated at around $ 2.5 million be an upgrade over Zaun’s abilities. And considering that Navarro’s agent made it a habit to pester the Rays front office with phone calls and emails showing his clients stats, maybe the Rays will turn their back on Navarro and look elsewhere for catching help.
I see the Rays picking up Zaun’s $2 million option because it might be time to make a change for the Rays. Catching was not a huge disadvantage for the team in 2009, but a upgrade and a change in personnel might be needed right now. And Zaun is a veteran presence the Rays need to support and work with this young pitching staff and fine tune them a bit more in 2010.
And the other option to be considered by the Rays might have actually been decided before the season was even concluded by the way Brian Shouse portrayed it me when I gave him congrats for reaching his incentive numbers. Shouse gave me the off-the-cuff indication that he felt he might not be with the team, but held out enthusiasm and hope for a different scenario.
Considering the team lost Bullpen members Chad Bradford, Troy Percival and Russ Springer who close to go to the free agent market, the Rays Bullpen will again be a work in progress going into Spring Training. And considering that Shouse did prove to be an effective left-handed specialist for the Rays, this decision might come down to his option amount and if the team think that leftie reliever Randy Choate can perform in this role in 2010.
Choate is arbitration eligible, and might command only about $ 1.2 million in arbitration. And if the Rays do indeed decide to keep Shouse, Choate might be considered trade bait or even non-tendered. And here lies the difficult decision for the Rays. Shouse will be 42 near the end (Sept 27) of the 2010 season, and is already the oldest pitcher to grace a Rays roster. Does giving him a possible $1.9 million plus his incentive be considered a sound investment for the Rays?
Combine that with Shouse holding lefties to a .224 average and holding his opponents scoreless in 21 of his last 24 appearances, Shouse still has the ability to do the job. But the emergence of Choate late in the season while Shouse was on the disabled list with a left elbow strain, it might bring the decision simply down to who the Rays think can do the job in 2010. I have feeling the Rays might dwell a bit on the fact he will be 42 before the end of 2010, and will decline the club option for Shouse.
And the buy-out options for both players is not a huge amount, and might also play into the Rays decisions. They currently have until November 11th to make public their decision on Shouse. And if he is not retained by the Rays, he will be given a $ 200,000 buyout. But the decision on Zaun needs to be made on Monday, November 9th, which is 5 days after the end of the World Series. If the Rays do not intend to keep Zaun on their roster, it will cost them $ 500,00 or 25 percent of the salary he would have commanded in 2010.
And you have to take the delay on the announcement of the club option on Carl Crawford as a positive sign that things are being discussed behind-the-scenes, and that a decision will be announced soon on the Rays plans for Crawford in 2010. The decisions made over the next few days by the Rays will not totally sculpt their roster for 2010, but it could indicate the direction and the possible intentions of the team in the free agent and trade markets over the Winter months.
You would love for the team to take all three players back into the fold and retain the chemistry that existed at the end of 2009. But the financial realities of the Rays payroll make this kind of a fairy tale and not a reality. Hopefully the Rays front office is working long and hard on their decisions concerning all three players, and that whatever looms in the future for any of them, that the decision will be for the good of the team and be received with the zeal that the team is again striving to be a player in not only the American League East, but in the chase to the 2010 World Series.
Is there really another team out there that desperate for a closer (besides the Rays) to consider a relief pitcher who pitched a total of 67 innings in two seasons for his last team? And on Thursday, when Percival could “officially” declared himself a free agent, Percival wasted no time informing MLB of his intentions this off season. So why am I so upset about a guy who is no longer our problem. Who will now be someone else’s problem and have no financial or physical worth to this team.
Honestly, I do not want to see another set of baseball fans go through the same garbage we have the last two seasons. The buck has to stop here with Percival. At first I thought this MLB announcement was a misprint. Does Percival really feel he can rip off another team for a few million dollars without anyone calling BS after the way he showed his “professionalism” with the Rays. Percival threw only 67 total innings as a member of the Rays, and might be remembered more for what he did not do, than what was accomplished on the field.
Sure he took a few more strides up the All-Time Save list ladder while with the team, but he sacrificed team unity in the Bullpen and abandoned his team when they needed a veteran presence. He was weirdly admired by Rays Manager Joe Maddon for his past fire and brimstone, but that fire and that zeal were just embers when he played here in Tampa Bay, unless you called into question his abilities, then you got a fireworks display from Percival.
And while injured, Percival’s “Greta Garbo” routine of wanting to be alone and rehab away from the team medical staff actually surfaced before he even donned a Rays uniform. Just ask the Detroit Tiger medical staff and fans who saw a total of 26 games and 25 innings from Percival before he went down for the count during the World Series season. He went on the DL that season and still collected his playoff share before finally leaving the team. Hmm, he did the same thing here in 2008, and stayed on the Rays roster the entire 2009 season hoping for a last payday if the Rays got to the playoffs.
And lets not forget his short stint as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals Bullpen when most thought he might be making a return to greatness, but instead threw only 40 innings in 34 games with zero saves. I guess considering that we got at least 32 saves out of his old body before the clunker again hits the skids should be viewed as a positive. But it is what he did on the mound and in plain sight of all of us that still makes me never trust someone like Percival. His “me first” mentality gnawed at me and fueled my personal dislike for the guy.
Maybe the first strike on his character came when I saw him out on the beaches at an Italian restaurant with someone extremely younger than his wife having some dinner. The way he acted in public did not show the social decorum usually associated with a professional athlete. It was not as if someone went up to him in the middle of his antipasto and asked for an autograph. He was rude to his own dinner guests. But maybe that is his personality. Maybe he is a rough and gruff guy by nature.
And his second strike while with the Rays was his outburst after a Sunday afternoon game in which a home fan innocently kept Evan Longoria from catching a foul ball near the Visitor’s dugout and impeded the play by getting his hand on the ball and not letting Longoria make an easy out for the home team. After the final out of the game, Percival was seen barking out blue streak of words to the guy and his young son. That kind of actions might only be considered professional in the WWE.
And his third strike in my book has to be his boorish behavior of getting vocal and confrontational with the usually cool Maddon on the mound. Earlier this season in Baltimore, the most recent “Percy” moment was there for everyone to see as you yelling directly at Maddon in plain view of the television cameras. That to me is a total lack of respect for his Manager, and a move you would expect in the dugout,not on the mound in front of a stadium of people.
I am not discounting his injuries while he was here with the Rays, because he did have back and knee situations even during his first season with the team, but they seemed to disappear right after the season when he came to St. Petersburg to be examined by the Rays medical staff and collect his playoff money. He got a share of the pie because of his veteran status, but after the final home game in 2008 he was no where in sight during the Rays playoff run.
In 2008, Percival made three trips to the disabled list and managed to get 28 saves for the Rays before finally shutting it down for the season. He appeared in 46 games for the Rays and battled a hamstring strain twice before some loose cartilage in his right knee put him out for the rest of the year. And about that time he began his disappearing act to California to see his own doctors and chiropractors besides the Rays medical staff.
And the 2009 season started with a bit of optimism since he got some work done on his knee during the off season and he told the media he felt better physically then he had for a long time. And that was a good indicator of things could be on the upswing for the Rays. But on May 22, Percival threw his last pitch as a member of the Rays. That night he was put on the disabled list for a bout of shoulder tendinitis and was not seen on the bench again for the Rays.
What he has done as a member of the Rays might get him promoted to the top of my Rays former players garbage list with Gerald Williams and Vinny Castilla. Yeah, to me Percival was up there in that realm of grumpy, old players who own self worth was way above their team’s own well being and chemistry. You would think a guy with all that post season experience and positive roles with championship teams would want to boost his teammates, but Percival was no where to be found during those moments.
Percival might have done great things to the community in Southern California that we do not know about, and he might be a local hero to fans and people in that community. But to us here in Tampa Bay we are hopefully saying goodbye to the likes of you Troy Percival for the last time. Please do not let the door hit you on the way out, and yes, I am bitter and disappointed in you as a player and as a man.
I really was excited when you first signed, but that quickly turned to disappointment as I got to see how you acted and reacted with fans and people during your time here. When you first got here I thought we had the first real closer personality here since Danys Baez and Roberto Hernandez, who are still the top 2 closers in Tampa Bay Rays history (thank goodness).
But the thing that further put you in my personal doghouse was the fact that you did not have a personal integrity to be here when the Rays Foundation gave away your 1970 Chevy Chevelle in a raffle during the 2009 season. You were not here to drive the car onto the field or even present the keys to the winner.
It would have been a truly classy move to be here and present the keys to a car you rebuilt for the Rays Foundation, then donated it to the charity. But as we have learned in the last two season here in Tampa Bay, the words “classy” and “Percival” have never seemed to go together.
Brian Blanco / AP
I know a lot of Tampa Bay Rays fans have been a bit anxious and upset at the recent development over the last part of this 2009 season where it seems that Rays Manager Joe Maddon is wearing out the turf from the mound to the dugout sometimes changing a pitcher three times in an inning. For all the clammering and yelling towards the dugout to stop the madness, there is actually a good reason for his “match-up” formula, and the more you really look at the number, the more it seems to make sense in the long run.
Maddon would love to have that classic Bullpen set-up where you have that designated 7th, 8th and closer to round out the game. But with the injury to Troy Percival, and his shutting down his candidate-of-the-day J P Howell, he is apt to continue this wild stroll to the mound over the next 4 games. If you have noticed over the last three games, Grant Balfour right now is the closer-du Jour, and he has come away with three solid saves in the last three games.
Now this doesn’t mean he is going to get any notion of becoming the Rays closer, but the true fact that Maddon does look over the opposing line-up before the game with an eye towards the later innings. And in that time he does do a bit of matching-up on the back of his scorecard based on lifetime averages against some of his guys, and their ability to get outs from left or right-handed batters. And so far in this wild experiment, the prognosis has not been bad.
So let me take the 8th and 9th innings of the game last night and break them down a bit more and see if I can make it a little more easy for all of us to understand when he begins his Bullpen Blitz again tonight during the Baltimore Orioles game. But first off, let me remind you that the pattern does change for every game, and for every batter.
This same pattern might not show up the next four games, or it could even resurface tonight based on the pitching match-ups and the hitters. And Maddon does even look towards the guys that will be on the bench and matches them up as a precaution to them entering the game. So let’s get this guess work started right now:
Starting with the 8th inning, the Rays send out Russ Springer to start the inning to go up against Ty Wiggington. Now tonight is the first time either of them have faced each other in their long careers. This match-up really seems to be based more on a feel by Maddon than an actual scientific fact since Springer is allowing lefties to hit .342 against him this season, and righties hitting .268. But he gets Wiggington to line out to centerfield for the first out.
Russ Springer relieved by Lance Cormier.
Cormier comes into the game with a sub .250 average aginst both left and right-handed hitters this season. He is one of about three Rays relievers that Maddon might have total confidence in him battling against guys from either side of the plate. Cormier’s actual stats are that he is allowing lefties ti hit .243 against him, and right-handers have hit .255 against him this season, and both side have 3 home runs this year. First up is Nick Markakis, who was 0-2 against Cormier this season before taking the fourth pitch and getting an infield single off a hard shot to Reid Brignac at shortstop.
Up next is Luke Scott, who has faced Cormier two time prior to tonight and has only gained a walk from Cormier. Scott ends up hitting a fly ball out to leftfield to get the second out of the inning. Next up for the Orioles is young catcher Matt Wieters. In 2009, Cormier has faced Wieters only one time, and that was here in Tropicana Field when Cormier struck him out. In tonight’s contest Wieters takes 3 pitches before he grounds out to Ben Zobristat second base to strand Markakis on base and end the scoring opportunity for the Orioles.
Dan Wheeler relieves Cormier
Maddon sends his veteran reliever Dan Wheeler to the hill to begin the 9th inning. The first man to face him tonight will be Melvin Mora. The reason that Wheeler is on the mound is because right-hander, like Mora are hitting only .154 against him in 2009, and against the first batter in his appearances, Wheeler is allowing them only a .161 average. But a side note to worry about in this at bat is the fact that Mora is hitting .500 off wheeler this season. But Maddon is rolling the dice on that .161 average allowed to the first batter Wheeler faces tonight. On the second pitch, Mora singles to leftfield.
Randy Choate relieves Dan Wheeler
Maddon then quickly gets Wheeler off the mound since the next batter is leftie Michael Aubrey. The reasoning here is that wheeler is allowing lefites to hit at a .310 clip against him in 2009. So on comes Randy Choate to face the young leftie. Choate actually is the perfect guy to face Aubrey as he is allowing lefties to hit only .151 against him this year, with only 1 home run. Choate gets Aubrey to strike out swinging in their only meeting this season.
Orioles Manager Dave Trembley then pinch Hits Lou Montanez for Jeff Fiorentino. And the mind games get to be played all over again by both managers. Montanez has not faced Choate in 2009, but the fact he is a right-hander, and righties are hitting .306 with 3 home runs against Choate gets him an early night for the Rays.
Grant Balfour relieves Randy Choate
Maddon again makes his way to the mound and take out Choate so that Grant Balfour can face the right-hander.
For the season, both right-hander and lefties are hitting sub .250 against Balfour too. He is another one of the three possible guys that Maddon trusts pitching against lefties and righties in an extended outing in a ballgame. And with Montanez, a rightie due up, it is only natural that the Aussie, who is surrendering only a .236 average to righties gets the call. Balfour gets the job dome as Montanez goes down after 5 pitches after missing on a swing for th
e strikeout. For the season, Montanez is 0-2 now against Balfour.
Since Balfour is consistent between hitters from both sides of the plate, Maddon will leave him in the rest of the inning. Next he will face shortstop Cesar Izturis. Balfour has the upper hand on Izturis as he is 0-2 against him so far in 2009. But it is Iztruis, who swings at the first pitch and sends a fly ball to centerfield that B J Upton gloves to end the game. Balfour also recieves his hris save in three games for the Rays and might be the 9th inning guy for the Rays in their final 4 games.
The system emplyed by Maddon makes more sense when you look at the fact he also shut down one of his other great pitchers at getting guys from hitting from both sides of the plate. When he set down J P Howell for the rest of the season, he lost his current closer option, and also lost a pitcher who has allowed righties to hit only .180 against him this season.
Other guys on the bench for the Rays are more situated for spot work the rest of the season. Take for example Jeff Bennett. Right-handers are hitting .333 (7-21) against him this season, and lefties are killing him at a .500 clip (14-28). So his use will be dictated by individual match-ups the rest of the season. Bennett was actually brought onto the squad as a insurance policy for long relief, but he was one of the main pitcher in that blowout last week in Texas.
Dale Thayer was not brought up for his facial hair, but was also considered a insurance policy for any possible problem that might happen with any of the Rays relievers. And it is a good thing they did bring him up, because Chad Bradford is experiencing elbow pains again and is done for the season. But Thayer is also learning the ropes at the Major League level, and has been hit by righties to a tune of a .345 average this season. He does have some good stuff to punch lefties back to a .250 average against him in 2009.
But Bradford has been used only 10 1/3 innings this season as he has been battling injuries. But also the fact he has given up some really gaudy numbers to both sides of the plate this year is another eason he has seen spot appearances this season. Against righties, they are hitting .391 (18-46) against him, and lefties just begin to salivate when he takes the mound as they are hitting a robust .800 (4-5) against him in 2009.
So the match-up scenario used by Maddon right now is the best possible option to try and post a victory every time out for the Rays. It might not make much sense when you are sitting in the stands or watching on the TV that he uses 5 different relievers for a total of two innings. But the end result in the last three games have been victories. This is not to mean that this is going to be a indicator of a system that will be empolyed in 2010.
This match-up system is only being used now out of necessity because we do not have a proven late inning trio to take the Rays from the 7th to the 9th inning every night. The Rays do not have a Mariano Rivera or a Jonathan Papelbon in their minor league system at the time, and might have go outside the organization for one in 2010. And isn’t it ironic that the two best closer in the league tend to be in our division.
Maddon is adapting to the cards he has been dealt, and even if it is frustrating to the guy sitting in the stands, it does have some logic to it all. I also found it frustrating until I began to look at the numbers associated with each reliever and their breakdown against both sides of the plate. Sure it might be all science and a hitter can get a lucky break of a hanging curveball. But the relaity is that the system is working for Maddon right now, and it is producing wins for the team. It is not a cure-all situation, but is a nice substitute measure that he can emply for now until we can again try and shore up the Bullpen for 2010.
When the Rays visited the Los Angeles Angels this past week they got some good or bad news depending on how you see the situation. During their 3-game series, Rays closer Troy Percival finally admitted to the media and his teammates what most of us knew the moment he went on the Disabled list on May 22,2008 with shoulder tendinitis. I take it as no huge surprise that he did retire, but I am so curious on why it took so long. And adding to that is the fact he has not started his retirement papers, probably waiting to see what might happen with the Rays in their chase of the postseason in 2009.
I know he can not and will not be added to the roster for the playoffs even if they make it again this season, but the fact he might be holding out for the last crumb of his 2-year $8 million contract might just be added incentive to delay the paperwork a few months. And this can finally end the speculation and the drama involved in why we have seen him only once since he went on the disabled list in late May. The only other time I have seen him in uniform for the Rays was on Saturday, June 1st, the same night as the Rays post game Three Doors Down concert. I got some exclusive photos of the recluse closer as he came back into Tampa Bay to discuss his rehab plans with the team.
But I guess with a guy like Percival, you have to take the good with the bad. But there are a few situation that rubbed me the wrong way about the feisty closer. Believe me, I appreciate the 28 saves he got the team in 2008, and that the team posted a 34-1 record when he hit the mound, but some of the negatives should also be sounded out today. Those 28 saves were the fifth largest amount in Rays history, but Percival also only had 1 save after August 13th. Add onto that the fact he collected 19 of those saves and posted a 3.54 ERA before the All Star break. After the All Star break, he only saved 9 games and posted a 6.11 ERA for the Rays.
And that 34-1 record can be a bit deceiving at times. Sure they won 34 games when he hit the mound, but people forget he did blow three saves during that stretch and the Rays offense ended up getting him off the hook for the loss. The only loss suffered in that span was during a September 6, 2008 game in Rogers Centre, in Toronto where current Ray Gregg Zaun hit a grand slam home run off Percival to seal the Blue Jays win. But another situation might keep Percival’s name on Trivial Pursuit games for the rest of time.
Anyone sitting in their seats on September 3, 2008 at Tropicana Field will not forget this game any time soon. In that contest against the New York Yankees, Percival took the mound in the final inning and faced Alex Rodriguez. what ended up happening will keep the Rays and Percival on the tips of people tongues for a long time. Percival threw a hanging breaking ball out over the plate and Rodriguez hit the ball high and over the leftfield foul pole. The umpire crew could not effectively call the shot and went to perform the first Instant Replay decision in MLB history. The replay result ended up upholding Rodriguez’s 549th career home run in the game.
But some of Percival’s action both on the mound and around the Rays in 2008, and this season did get me to question is commitment to the Rays seasons and their ultimate goals. The first might have been after his last DL stint with his injury to his right knee he seemed to disappear from sight from the Rays. This does not mean he just did not come out to the Bullpen, or even consort with his team, but disappeared totally from sight right after the season ended. Sure he was left off the Postseason roster because of his injuries, but his value to the team then should have been as a clubhouse leader to this pack of guys who had never made it to the playoff before this season.
He could have done some work in the Bullpen just sitting there chatting with your relievers Grant Balfour and J P Howell and mentored them a bit of the difference in postseason and regular season late game strategies. Instead he was probably home in Southern Cali relaxing in the leather recliner watching TBS. And because he did not have his knee operation until after the playoffs were concluded, there was no reason he could not have still been there for his teammates.
Jonny Gomes and Chad Orvella also were not on the post season rosters, but both were there in the dugout with their team mates all throughout the playoffs. It seemed a guy who was a former coach and also a veteran of playoff games would know his expertise would be a true treasure to the Rays relieving corps, but he was not there for them.
And that was only the first thing that upset me about Percival. The second was the way he used to disrespect his manager Joe Maddon on the mound. I understand passion and a fighter’s mentality of not backing down, but to be focused in by television camera and you can read the words coming off his lips to his manger are unacceptable. The only that has stayed in my mind was this season in Baltimore when Maddon went to the mound and did not even get to Percival before the argument had started and both men were seen jawing at each other in heightened voices until Maddon ended up taking the ball from Percival.
Add that to the public display that came after the Sunday May 4th game in which a fan did not see Rays third baseman Evan Longoria coming into the third baseline seats just beyond the visiting dugout for a foul pop up. The ball ended up only going about three seats deep and Longoria did come over for the ball and did not voice a peep to his intentions. A fan in that area then made a play on the ball not hearing any vocal announcements and kept the ball from Longoria. Now you have to consider that first, the guy was not looking at Longoria and was trying to get the ball for his 6-year old son. Granted, if Longoria had made some sound, the guy might have pulled back from the ball and this sutation might not have happened at all.
Well, Longoria is throw a few choice words at the guy and gave a few stares after the play, but it was forgotten by Longoria. Not to be outdone, after the last out of the game, Percival again began to yell at the guy with a few choice blue words towards that area of the stadium. The fits of rage towa
rds the fan by Percival as uncalled for as a professional athlete. Sure the guy made a mistake, but you just saved the win for the team and the guy might have gotten the message. But for Percival to deliver gestures and a few blue-colored words is beyond professional. But what did I expect out of a guy who says the same thing to his team manager.
But since Percival had left the team in 2008 after going on the DL late in the season, why would I think the situation would change in 2009/ When the team did put him on the disabled list on May 22, I like so may other Rays fans knew that he would not be back. Something told me that moment that the closer was not going to be able to rehab his back situation in time to be productive for the team in 2009. He appeared in only 14 games this season garnishing 6 saves and a 6.35 ERA. Now we all know this is the second year of his $8 million contract, and even if he was put on the DL, he would get that contract fulfilled by the Rays.
But from the moment he went on the DL, to his announcement on Tuesday, we never knew 100 percent where he was headed, or what he might do in the way of rehab or trying to get back to the Rays roster. “I still wish I was out there playing and what have you,” he said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, ” but at least my mind is clear that I know I just physically can’t do it.” Adding to that statement was the fat that up until a month ago he had not even comtemplated any Bullpen sessions to see if he might indeed have to finish his dreams of retuning to the mound. Percival said he began Bullpen session about a month ago after a call from Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, but after 6 sessions over a Friday-Sunday schedule he knew what the outcome was going to be for him.
He would throw on Friday with little or now pain, then on Sunday would be in extreme pain and finally realized he could not help the Rays again in 2009. “Every Sunday was just awful,” Percival added in a story by Marc Topkins of the St. Petersburg Times. “I could throw okay on Friday but the Sunday one was bad. So it’s just not going to work.” And so the idea of retiring again as a player resurfaced in Percival’s mind. “I’ve got so many ailments now I don’t see that I can go out an compete at this level anymore,” he said. “I can do it once in a while, maybe once every four or five days, but that’s not good enough at this level.”
But even with the announcement that he will not be back with the team again in 2009, Rays Manager Joe Maddon think the team should have a special day for Percival to ‘celebrate what he has done for the club.” What? Are you serious Joe? You want me to celebrate a guy who will not put in his retirement papers until after the season to garner the last $1 million on his contract. You want me to again show some sort of hand clapping for a guy who has now abandoned his team twice in two years.
You truly want me to celebrate the ‘Tampa Bay” career of a guy who berated a man and his son after they made an honest mistake during a home game. Most of Percival’s player success happened even before he put on the Rays jersey. Maybe he needs to be celebrated in Anaheim and not Tampa Bay, where he made his reputation. Sorry Joe, I know you had a front row seat to the post season records set by Percival when he was with the Angels, but here in Tampa Bay, I still see his legacy as an unfinished story. If you really want an ending, maybe he should submit those retirement papers and release the Rays from holding a 40-man roster spot with his name on it. I know he has a million reasons to not consider that option. But, I think that is what you would expect a true professional to do.
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.
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.
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.
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…….