Results tagged ‘ Troy Percival ’

J P Howell and Lance Carter….Odd Rays Closers

 


Paul J Berewill / AP


The more I see Rays reliever J P Howell pitching and finding success in the late innings, the more I am reminded of another young Rays closer that once threw just like Howell without blinding speed to the plate, but used his pitch selection and deception in pitch speed to make his pitches dance around the plate. And maybe Rays Manager Joe Maddon has taken a page out of the Rays  not so distant past and is using past reasonings to again thinking of applying an off-speed pitcher into the closer role.

It has worked before, and with great results. If you have been a Rays fan for some time you might remember Rays reliever Lance Carter and his off-speed arsenal that propelled him to his only All-Star appearance in 2003 when he had 15 saves at the All-Star Break. He did not get to play in that All-Star game at US Cellular Field in the south side of Chicago, but you can bet that experience changed him. Maybe Maddon in all his cerebral wisdom is again coming to the understanding that control and not a 95+ fastball might be the answer right now for the Rays.

It is not like the Rays have a reliever right now thrusting himself to the forefront to take the 9th inning reins and lead the club to wins. When Carter was the Rays closer in 2003, he went 7-5, with a 4.33 ERA. The ERA is kind of high, but the results spoke for themselves. He was involved in 51.6 percent of the Rays wins (62) that season. Even more incredible is his year end total of 25 saves in his rookie season put him in the top 5 rookie performances  of all time at that moment.  He made over 61 appearances in 2003, which is incredible in its own right. He converted 25 out of 32 save opportunities for the Rays that year.  All by a pitcher who used his off-speed stuff to accent his high 80’s fastball.

Carter’s 25 saves shattered the Rays rookie save mark of 5 that was held by Travis Phelps set in 2001.  At the time he represented the Rays in the All-Star game, he was the oldest rookies at 28 years, 6 months and 29 days to be selected to play in the classic. Carter ended up back setting up closer Danys Baez in 2004 when the Rays signed the former Cleveland Indians closer. Carter did spend another two years with the club until he was dealt along with Danys Baez to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a young pitcher Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany on January 14, 2006.

In comparison, J P Howell’s climb to the Bullpen came out more of a change of direction for the young pitcher after some trouble starting games for the Rays in 2006 and 2007 hen he made 18 starts for the Rays and went a combined 2-9, but did show promise in getting 82 strikeouts in 93.1 innings of work. So when the Rays came to Spring Training in 2008, his main concern was to learn th fine art of  successful relieving to try and save his career.  His ERA in 2007 was a high 7.59, but who would have ever thought that the young pitcher would take to relieving with such zeal and success.

In 2008, he appeared in 64 games and finished the year with a 6-1 record and a 2.22 ERA. He also  almost threw more innings (89.1) in one season as a reliever than he had in the last two ( 93.1) for the Rays. He also began to set a consistent mark of striking out opponents with his fastball that sinks and tails and sometimes even cuts away from hitters. His fastball, just like Carter’s comes in a lot slower (84-88 mph) than his body makes it look coming out of his left hand. 


Boston.com

Combine that with a change-up he often overthrows that is only about 5 mph slower than his fastball, but it dives quickly as it approaches the plate.  And his curve ball, also like Carter’s can be the perfect out pitch because if its great last minute break. All three of his fundamental pitches tend to stay below the 90 mph range, and usually sit within the low to mid 80’s at any time. Combine that with a hard breaking and reliable 12-6 breaking curveball and both pitchers tend to look like photo negatives of each other on the mound. It is classic deception pitching at its best.

 

And who knows maybe Maddon has also asked Howell to view some of Carter’s old game videos to get some confidence and show the young reliever he too can have success with moderate stuff on the mound. Howell has his age as the best advantage here on Carter because he is still the youngest member of the Bullpen and is still learning the art of late inning heroics. But both men have a calm and cool exterior that tends to deflect attention and brings a calming effect on team mate when they throw, which lends itself to great success in the late innings.

But most people remember Howell as the eventual loser in the World Series Game 5 who was actually sick as a dog on the mound, but wanted the ball.  And there is that second characteristic that tends to bond both of them as mirror image relievers. With the game on the line, both pitchers want the ball to give their team a chance at a win, and secure the victory. That kind of confidence or cockiness can not be taught, or even duplicated. Either you have that inside you or you do not…period. 

Howell might have had a 2008 that defies most logical answers. At the time he was the only Rays reliever on the staff under 30 years old.  But he quickly did not let his young age keep him off the mound for the Rays. He only got 3 saves in 2008, but in his last save of the year, he went 2.1 innings to preserve the win for the Rays. His 89.1 innings lead all MLB relievers, and  his 92 strikeouts was also a MLB high for relievers in 2008. Even as he was learning the craft of relieving, he lead all MLB reliever also in only letting 11.8 percent of his inherited runners to score in the game. 

And he only turned it on more for September as he owned a 0.00 ERA for the month spanning 15 innings. Howell also broke the Rays club record  with his 89.1 innings previously held by Doug Creek ( 62.2 innings).  Both left-handers (.188) and right-handers (.197) hit under .200 against him in 2008. Howell was developing into a severe late inning weapon for the Rays as they headed to the 2008 playoffs. 

           
            Brian Blanco / AP

 But Howell’s solid start to this year also shows that the things he learned las
t season and during the playoffs has made him better equipped for the 2009 season. Howell has become more secure and ready to take on all comers for the Rays. Sure the ex-starter might just be in his second year in the Bullpen, but Carter also found his success in his second stint in the Rays Bullpen.

Maddon might be drawing great comparisons to the two relievers and giving Howell the opportunity to show he can handle the ninth inning stress and responsibilities. So far this season Howell has been up to the test. Howell entered the 2008 season with only two prior relief appearances at Rookie-level ball at Idaho Falls in 2004. But he is turning into a polished gem for the Rays this season, posting in even better numbers than in  his remarkable 2008 season.

This year Howell has appeared in 35 games, which ties him for the American League lead. He currently has a 2-2 record with 4 saves.  He has thrown for 34.2 innings and has 42 strikeouts so far. His last 13 appearances have been scoreless, and  he is second in the AL in strikeouts.

But the biggest confidence to his year might be the time he spent in the Team USA Bullpen during the World Baseball Classic this spring. In the WBC, he appeared 3 times for Team USA and held opponents scoreless.  He did not figure into the last innings for any of those appearances, but got great advice and training playing along side some of the best closers in the game.


Chris O’Meara/ AP

One downside to Howell is his five blown saves so far in 2009. But that is some of the learning curve that he will have to endure if he wants to make the transition into the late inning guy for the Rays. But just like Carter, Howell is still throwing his style of game and not adjusting or tinkering with his pitches so far this year. His 4 saves already this year is only second only to Troy Percival.

Maybe this “blast from the past” is exactly  what the Rays need right now to again gain their 2008 edge. Reverting to a time where the closer threw slower and with control compared to the starting pitchers might be a godsend to Howell in his quest to gain the spot. But you know he has a great believer in his corner in his manager. Maddon is probably one of the biggest Howell supporters, an it just might get him another honor in the next few weeks.

Even if Howell is not determined to be the answer as a Rays closer, the job he has done in the past ans so far this season puts him in a small group of relievers in Rays history.  In the end, the guy who could have his pitches timed by a hourglass might be the best solution to the Rays closing problem this season. And who knows, maybe he just might evolve into the perfect guy for the job with his “on-the-job” training this season.

Was Percival making a Curtain Call?

 
 


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I am beginning to really enjoy the local media members who are at the same odds as us bloggers right now as to the proper terminology or even the phrasing for what Troy Percival is doing right now. But we all should have been aware and ready for it since it is the same kind of song and dance we got right after he got injured near the end of 2008. We know the guy is hurt, we saw the way he was pitching right before he began to yell at his Manager Joe Maddon on the mound during his last performance.

But we have also been told recently that Andrew Friedman and Maddon would sit down soon and discuss the remedies and the consequences of the decisions that Percival needs to make in the coming weeks for the team to make any substantial decisions about his 40-man roster spot. You see, if he retires or leave the team voluntarily, the Rays can then have a solid decision and know what, and where they will need to make moves next. But the merry-go-round got more confusing during the beginning of Saturday nights contest against the Minnesota Twins. Because there was Percival, sauntering down to the Bullpen sitting right on the rail in front of Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi for about three innings.

It was almost like one of those “Where is Waldo” scenarios as I asked people if they saw him, but only a handful only remember seeing him nestled behind the bench, but on the rail before he then again vanished into the Rays dugout innings later. Was this a gratuitous Percival sighting to entice and confuse the Rays masses, or was it a nicely orchestrated move by both the team and Percival to put some water on the fires about his future with the team.


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As we later found out, he was in town to have a chat with Maddon about the process he is going to encounter using his own personal chiropractor in California who is doing some readjusting and adjusting of his back in the western state. My question is why is he not going to visit a local bone stretcher and then the Rays can have ample medical records and conversations with this doctor. Much less, is he a doctor that Percival has history with from his time with the Los Angeles Angels, or someone referred to by the Rays. So Percival basically came to town to tell the team and Maddon that is doesn’t feel he is finished as a player, but needs some body work done in the mean time.

I know there was a part of the home crowd last night that thought you might be in town to finally cut the strings and fly away into your retirement. That you might be coming back to the Trop. to say your fond farewells to friends and players, but again, we got the mixed signals from you. We are already going to be paying you for your 2009 season since that time has come ands gone to release you without obligations or monetary considerations. We also know that the Bullpen is again in a state of high alert where their individual roles are going to be mixed and jumbled again on a daily basis, and is some instances, batter-by-batter basis.

But is that fair to the guy out there you sat with at your Bullpen team dinners, chatted and joked with on the planes, and even enjoyed seeing them celebrate their first bid into the playoffs up front and in person, then vanished into the background come playoff time.

We get you want o have your treatments in Cali where you can be closer to friend and family. I mean really understand the want to be near your family while getting treatment. Hopefully you stay in close contact with Ron Porterfield and the rest of the medical staff so they can get good and accurate updates on your attempt to find that last bit of energy to hit the mound again this season. So you basically told the team you wanted to play  today and will be  seeking your medical treatment at home in California. Okay, that is kind of acceptable………..What?

You mean you are going to string along this team for another two or three weeks or maybe draw it out for another month or so before either you come back healthy or you finally throw in the towel. And in that meantime, the Rays have to keep your 40-man roster spot warm and cozy for your triumphant return. Troy, buddy, I commend you on what you have done for the team in 2008 to get us to the promised land by posting 28 saves before finally going down with your body in shambles, but this time we need some reassurances you are going to be tip top, or a member of the Rays walking wounded for awhile.

Is that asking too much of a 39-year old closer who is closer to the retirement door than the clubhouse door right now. I understand the will and the determination to want to go on until they carry you off the field wounded and battered for the last time. But you are beginning to have the image of someone who is trying to hold on too hard to something out of fear of losing it.  Calling it quits at any level or position is hard if you still think you can out-perform and out maneuver the young guys, but to endanger their chance at success and  maybe be a contributing aspect to their chance of repeating for another title based on you “maybe” coming back in great shape to pitch them towards the promised land again. Well, maybe it is good you are getting treatment in California. You might want to bring a Hollywood scriptwriter back with you………because that would be a made-for-TV movie at best.

 

So okay, I am going to giver you some time to change my views here. I am going to give the great Troy Percival, who is hankering to get to number 7 in the All-Time saves category for his career.  I am willing to give you some time since we saw you stroll from number 10 to number 8 in quick fashion. But you got to believe we will be watching for you Percy.  Some believe that Maddon has too much faith in you right now, and should cut the strings and run hard the other way before you fire another volley of profanity on him on the mound. We will keep that locker open for you. We will also not give away your parking space in the players’ lot, but hopefully the Rays will have a tighter rein on you during this rehab.

Tick…… Tock, Troy, Tick…Tock!

 
 
 

Explosion, Implosion, Devotion

 


Tony Dejak / AP

EXPLOSION


Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word explosion as: ” To burst or cause to burst violently and noisy.” Another definition shows it as:” To give forth a sudden and noisy outburst of emotions. ” Now that did sound like the last few days for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Since their Friday night game against the Florida Marlins here on the road, the Tampa Bay Rays have scored an amazing 39 runs in 4 games. 

That is just below a 10 run a game clip, which is unheard of for a team battling for the fourth spot in their division. But these Rays have always been about surprises and sudden bursts of emotion both this season and in 2008.
Coming into this game the Rays have scored a total of 273 runs. That is over 12 runs more than their closest rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

And with that  kind of explosion of runs  the Rays have won 7 out of their last 11 games and a rise towards the .500 mark for the first time since the team was 4-3 in April 2009. But the team is not just relying totally on their hits, no this squad also has a beady eye at the plate and  currently have 200 walks this season, which trails those same Dodgers by 8, but they are the leader in the American League right now.

The team has used a good formula of strong base running along with a keen eye at the plate to turn their walks into legitimate scoring chances almost every inning. The Rays are also seeing more pitches per at bat than any other team in the MLB right now. But they are still trolling dangerously at the sub .500 or .500 mark for most of this explosive time. Why would the team leading the majors in RBI with 259 this year be struggling to hold onto wins? Can the explanation be simple, or is there a underlying problem here we do not see yet.

Heck this Rays team has gotten 44 free passes (walks) in the last 4 games. They have tied the season high mark of 9 strolls to first three times during this road trip. Carlos Pena has even walked in 11 consecutive games now, a new Rays record. Pena now has 35 walks this season and is only one shy of Toronto’s Marc Scutaro who is tops in the AL right now.

And worst part of it all is that this is the Rays second best record after 47 games in their young history. There has to be a reason for the fall from grace of this team. Can you really throw all the blame on the pitching staff, or are there team effort mistakes that are making this a season to remember with mixed emotions right now?


Tony Dejak / AP

Implosion

The same dictionary shows the meaning of Implosion to mean: ” To burst or collapse inward.” Is that the problem with the Rays right now? Are the competition bursting some bubbles and exposing some of the weaknesses we have currently in our pitching staff. The Rays pitching staff after the fourth inning is going through a state of internal implosion in their minds and on the mound right now. You have to admit in last night’s game, both teams did their own special takes on the word implosion. 

Combined we saw over 19 walks in this game. Granted, these are the top two squads in the AL with walks, but it was downright annoying at times to see the strike zone get smaller at times during the contest. Not to be outdone by the walk total, both teams also combined to throw 422 pitches last night, which is tops in the majors this season by two squads. The Rays had their own share of 230 tosses in the game, which is the third highest total in team history. 

The game was an abnormality for both teams, but you can not let the history of this ballpark come up and snag you either.The Rays have now lost 14 consecutive games in this ballpark. The steak is the longest consecutive streak in any ballpark for the Rays.You have to go back to the days of ex-Rays pitcher Seth McClung as a starter to find the last win in Progressive/Jacobs Field. That was back on September 28, 2005, when McClung beat Cliff Lee.

But the implosion, for the second game in a row by the Rays Bullpen is starting to signal a  weakness in the Rays Way of relief pitching. I am not going to throw the Bullpen under the bus here totally, but someone has to take some of the past  two games failures under their skin and boast this Bullpen back up again. Is the way they are being used the culprit, or is this Bullpen right now not as good as the 2008 model? I mean we did lose another cog in Brian Shouse to injury in Sundays game, but can one guy be the key to the implosion experienced during last night’s game. Some sort of change might be needed, but where do you look first?

But if you look at the players who have been inserted in both the 5-4 walk-off loss to the Marlins, and in this contest, they are the regular guys mixed with a few of the “newbies”.  There is not a consistent plus or minus from any of the pitchers in either game to instill or conduct a massive witch hunt for a scapegoat here.  At least in Sunday’s loss the team was battling back and forth throughout the game until the Marlins plated the winning run in the 11th inning. In that contest, the word implosion is not fitting to use. The Marlins only came back from a single run down to tie the game, not 9 runs like the Indians did to the Rays last night. 

The implosion started with three quick singles to load the bases in the eight inning. The Rays defense did their part by getting a 6-4-3 double play and get two quick outs on the board. Considering the Indians got 4 hits in that inning and only scored 2 runs, it can be a minor “atta boy” for getting out without surrendering more. But the ninth inning is going to be the poster boy of implosive actions for this Bullpen for quite awhile.

Not only did the Rays use 4 pitchers to try and get three outs, but they used some of the tried and true veterans along with recent call-up Randy Choate. But then again, you had Choate and Thayer, the newbies in the Rays system as the first two guys on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning.  As a bookmark for both of these guys to separate what the rookies did and the veterans accomplished was a nice high,wide and not very handsome throw by Ried Brignac at short to make the inning drag on more for the Rays.

Willy Aybar could have been LeBron James and he could not have had enough reach to get that ball from Brignac. Funny we are in the town of LeBron this week, and more people have seen Cavaliers’ basketball this year than an Indians game, and their complexes are right next to each other. Anyways, The Rays bring on the first of two vets in Grant Balfour with one out and a 10-5 Rays lead.  Hearing the Indians faithful beating the tom tom drum in the background Balfour get Mark DeRosa to line out to Evan Longoria.

Two outs and a 10-5 lead is still intact for the Rays.  Tom tom gets louder and Ryan Garko cracks a 3-run shot to left field that clears the high wall with ea
se. Now the stream of runs are beginning to flow for the Indians. They have gotten to within two runs at this point, 10-8, but have only one out left to play with here. From that point on, Balfour gives up a walk to Asdrubal Cabrerra to start the run carousel all over again.

He is replaced by former St Louis Cardinals’ closer Jason Isringhausen who the Rays signed as protection in case of some Percival problems this season. Izzy comes to the mound with the determination of Job, but issues three straight walks to score another Indians run and get the lead to within one run 10-9. Then the Indians protagonist for the Rays, Victor Martinez is up to the plate for the second time in this inning. His first at bat ended with the first out of the inning on a pop out to Longoria.  Izzy gets him to a 2-2 count before he hits a ball  on the ground between B J Upton and Ben Zobrist, and neither player can get the ball before the two runs score and the Rays go down again in Cleveland.


Lynn Sladsky / AP

DEVOTION

This is a word that can have many meaning to many people. It will depend on the way you have been brought up what this word means to you. Different religions and cultures have many interpretations of this word. But I like the fourth definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary : ” The fact or state of being dedicated or loyal “. I also think a great parallel word is fandom here.

I truly think this is the time we either go for gusto supporting this team, or you abandon the bandwagon and go about your life until football starts in August. Seriously here people, this is the time we can send a message to other fans around baseball. The Rays are having their second best season in team history after the 47 game mark, and people want this team to be comparable to 2008 (27-20). Look at that record. 27-20 last season is only  4 more wins than this season currently. Is that a good enough reason to bring out the “D(evil)” word again in referring to this team?

I hope not. Devotion and support of this team will be the hidden treasure in 2009. They told us last season if we had a winning season the fans will show up. Well, so far this season they have shown up in moderate numbers, but we still have huge teams coming in future home series that will spike the attendance marks higher and higher.  This is not the time to even think of digging out those other jerseys to wear, or caps to adorn your head. That famous phrase, “When the going get tough, the tough get going” really needs to shine right now in Rays-land.

The last two game have been disappointing and miserable during our Memorial Day weekend, but it is only the cusp of the season to come for the Rays. People use this as a benchmark for if you will be successful the rest of the season. Well, Toronto has finally fallen from the top of the grid, and the Rays are sitting only one game below .500 right now. Just to give you some insight, at this point in the season in 2007, we were 19-28, or 4 games worse than 2009. This is the time to rally and show we can beat those Indians in their stadium.

We will send the most consistent of our pitchers to the mound tonight to try and spark the Rays and demolish the Indians hold on the Rays.  With a win tonight, we will still be 4 games off the 2008 pace, but baby steps will get us back in line soon enough to again take on the top of the division.  I will leave you with a few words from the modern baseball philosopher Bruce Springsteen who said, : “Some guys they just give up living, others start dying little by little piece by piece, some guys come home from work and wash up, and go racing in the streets.”

Play Ball!

Mercy, Mercy, Percy!

 
 


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If you have been watching Tampa Bay Rays baseball for any length of time, you will know that we have always had one big hole in our roster, and we have tried valiantly to find the right pieces to fit that puzzle. But it is not like we have not seen some success in the closer role, but the majority of the time we have been sunk by lofty or inadequate expectations of players either too young and inexperienced, or guys on their way out the door. We have had successful closers in our young history,like Roberto Hernandez, Danys Baez and Lance Carter. It is considered the hardest situational pitching position in baseball to master and keep under control. You either have the muscle and mind to handle the stress and pressures, or you fold quickly when pitching flaws come to the surface.

So with the announcement today that the Rays and Troy Percival are going to take a “vacation” from each other for awhile, you could hear the air sigh inside Tropicana Field. For the mighty Percy has finally struck out in his chances with the Rays. I mean I was not totally on board with the  ex-Angels connection signing in the first place, but I was willing to give the guy a chance based on his past accolades, and what he could bring to this team in the way of leadership and teaching to the up and coming ballplayers. But, you have to admit that he has been here on borrowed time for some time, and if not for the genuine respect both Rays Manager Joe Maddon had for him, and Percival’s “never say die” attitude, it did make for a volatile  and some time effective relationship while it lasted.

Troy Percival has been a giant in the closer’s role for so long in the MLB, that maybe a bit of it moved past him and he did not adapt. But you have to give the guy some credit for the past. He is eighth in All-Times saves with 358. That is only 9 away from the next guy, Jeff Reardon. He was the fourth highest closer actively throwing in the MLB, but I truly think his days are over.  Even though he was 6 for 6 in save this season for the Rays, a few past decisions are going to haunt him for a long time.  He has shown signs of being a great closer still, like before his May 13th appearance, he had not allowed a run in 10 straight appearances dating back to April 17th.

In 2008-2009, the Rays were 40-1 when he entered the game for a save opportunity ( He was 34-38 in those save opportunities).  Percy has held opposing batters to a .188 batting average against him, which is the lowest average of any MLB pitcher with over 400 appearances. Oh, and before he started to show a slow decline in 2008, he had 28 saves for the Rays, his highest total since he left the Angels in 2004. But his decline started to take place before he got here, but the Rays also saw him take to the DL three times in 2008 and miss a total of 42 games. But you have to admire his the fight within him before you can condemn him here. He was truly one of the most  fiery guys to ever grace our roster. But that also might have led to his disfavor with fans. But in the end the mighty Percy struck out.


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You might ask how he struck out with the fans and maybe even his own team. I know of a few guys in the Bullpen who used to cringe when he warmed up, but kept up the team unity face for morale. Rich Herrera, who does post game and pre game for the Rays Radio Network once said, ” You can’t applaud the guy one day, then boo him the next day. Either you like what he is doing, or you don’t . Take a side.” Okay Rich, I will here. I think that he struck out with the fans based on three incidents, but there were more that could have merited the same outlook. 

First off, his injury near the end of 2008 was for back stiffness and a possible knee injury. That being said, he was a ghost around the clubhouse at the time the team needed him most. I know it might be personally painful for you to sit there on a bench and watch the game like a fan instead of play, but to show support for your team mates at that playoff juncture of the year was a huge flaw in his character to me. Jonny Gomes and Chad Orvella were not on the team’s rosters for the playoffs, but they were there for them with emotional and vocal signals that “they had the team’s back”. Percy was not on the bench, and not even in the clubhouse for the first game of the 2008 World Series.  To me, that was STRIKE ONE. 

A couple of weeks ago there was an incident in a Sunday afternoon game where Evan Longoria went for a ball in the third base stands in section 121. This section pokes out a bit beyond the Visitor’s Dugout and always sees it fair share of foul balls and hard hit smashes during games. The ball is hit high into the air and the ball is heading for that section of the stadium, we all know that the fan did not see or hear Longoria coming until the last moment, or he might have given way for the fleet footed third baseman. Instead he misplays the ball and both he and Longoria miss the ball. Longo throws some choice words for the guy and also so steely glances the rest of the game.

Well, Percy comes in for the save in that contest and immediately after the third out begin to throw a few comments of his own towards the guy. This was about 15 minutes after the incident, but Percy was jawing the wagging a finger towards the guy. The language was not acceptable for a “Family Day” at the ballpark first off, but the badgering of the fan was not only insulting, but should have warranted a suspension or a public apology from Percival to the guy. It was another out-of-control moment probably brought on by emotion, but to me, It was purely STRIKE TWO.

Then we have a nice tight game going on in May in Oriole Park in Camden Yards against the Baltimore Orioles on May 13th. Percival came in with the score in favor of the Rays 8-2 and proceeded to do something I found so insulting to the baseball gods I wanted to just jack him up and beat him down for it in a blog, but felt it was better to leave him alone at the time. He was going to bite the hand that fed him soon enough in the contest. In 1/3rd of an inning, Percival had given up 4-runs on 4-hits, including two home run pitches that looked more like some one throwing Batting Practice. The first thought in my mind was that he wanted to get the score close so it was going to be a save opportunity for him. Giving another team an opportunity to come back for your own personal gain is against the grain of the unwritten rules Percy. The score was 8-6 when in the bottom of that ninth inning  Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to chat with Percy.

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We all know that Maddon had already made his decision to take Percy out, maybe for disrespecting the game, but more for his awful pitching performance. This was the last game of the most recent road trip, and the Rays wanted this game badly. But what we ended up with was Percy behaving badly. He began to vocally challenge and argue with the skipper to the point you could see spittle trailing from his mouth. He fought long and hard to stay in the game, but some of the words lipped from his mouth were not entirely in the rules of respect for your Manager. I admire the fire and spunk, but I also detest the disrespect and his blatant disregard for the team Manager.  For me, this was STRIKE THREE.

So when the Rays came home, I was clam and cool in the stands, but I did not address Troy anymore as he walked past me to the bathrooms and Bullpen lounge area. I would not even look at the man. I was pissed and I did not want to see an ounce of this guy on the mound for the team again unless he showed a bit more respect for his longest supporters, Joe Maddon.  He did enter the game on May 15th in the 7th inning, one of his earliest appearances of his Rays career. As he slunk off the Bullpen Mound and the stadium Jumbotron announced his music I turned my back to the field. That was my show of not honoring the fact this guy was still out there on the mound. I was firmly going to show my distaste for his treatment of this team, and his Manager.

Percival did not have the opportunity in these next two night to get either the win or the save as Dan Wheeler and Joe Nelson took the mounds in the ninth inning for the Rays. That Sunday, Percival did hit the mound in the ninth and got two strikeouts en route to his sixth save of the year ( At the time, that placed him 9th in the AL in saves).  The performance was one of his best in the season, but I again stood towards the back wall as he entered the ballgame. Then the last straw might have been during a save opportunity that almost got away, but this time Maddon was not going to let the closer take this one away from his young team.

Percival entered the game in the top of the ninth, and while I was looking at the back wall I was admiring the new huge sign by the Florida Sports Network and Sunsports that looked like a game day roster. I had looked back there dozens of times this season and did not really see how great it was before today. Well, Percival lived up to his usual expectations and gave up two quick hits and runs before Maddon made a move to bring in Nelson again for the the game. At that time, the score was tied, and Percival this time did not totally try and even voice any fight or vinegar at Maddon, but strolled off the mound to the dugout.


Chris O’Meara / AP

That was the last time we saw him. Strolling off the mound after giving up two runs to tie a contest the Rays would eventually win. You want to say something poetic here, that will be admired for years as sage advice or even a recollection, but I was glad it was his last outing for the team. I truly do not care if he ever comes back. He has options available to him. He can either rehab as long as the team deems he should and not fight it, or he can walk away from the game for the last time.  My feelings are he still has some fire in his beer belly for the game, but it might not fit well here anymore. If he does ever some back into a Rays uniform, he will probably have to take a reduced role with the team. More of a set-up role than a closer.

It is actually kind of odd, but curiously wild that Percival was all rah-rah about Jason Isringhausen signing with the team this spring, and he might be the guy who gets eventually slotted into the closer role. I wish Percy the best as he takes his time and contemplates and make decisions about his future on the mound. Maybe he is again ready for that role of managing like he did in 2007 in the Angels minor league system. Time will tell. But I think the time of the scruffy, pear-shaped closer going to the mound for the Rays is over.

He fought the sands of time as long as he could, but maybe he is finally starting to realize the door is shutting behind him. I have glad for what he has done for this club in the last two seasons, but I will not miss him. And Rays, do not forget to lock the door, or he will find a way back into this clubhouse. But for me personally, he has not only struck a chord in me with his actions, he might have finally struck out with other fans too.

Walk-Off Felt like Old Times

 


Chris O’Meara / AP


A Celebration for the Past, Present and Future of this Team


If you missed the Tampa Bay Rays game on Friday night, you missed an instant Rays classic contest. There was that feeling in the stadium again of the 2008 struggle to get that winless feeling out of the air of the old dome, and become the team to beat in the A L East. But far and away, the biggest emotion flowing through Tropicana Field on that night was a renewal of hope. It has been awhile since the majority of the Rays Republic showed that  type of emotion out in the open for the players and other to grab a hold of and use as positive energy.The Rays were 0-224 when trailing by 7 or more runs  prior to tonight’s offensive explosion. 

On Friday night it was up in the air for everyone to grab and sample their own little piece of the magic that was transpiring on the turf. You could just see it in the eyes of the guys in the Bullpen, and you could just sense it in the air that change was about to happen. But what transpired can not be written about in books, or even sometimes contained in photos, the emotional charge that sweeps throughout the dome that is sent like a wave through each and every one of us to provide that instant glimmer of hope and wanting for this struggling team.

Not in the Rays brief history have we seen a offensive re-arming and dismantling of another team after they have achieved such a lead. But as we all remember in 2008, you never counted those Rays out until the last out was in stone. And for so many reasons tonight’s final victory felt exactly like that. And to make it even more remarkable was the fact the player who has been the subject of numerous articles and debates about his hitting skills and spot in the lineup came shining through and burst that personal bubble to provide the unscripted climax to the event. B J Upton was the man, but the team all have their own personal pieces of triumph in this remarkable win for their consistent belief both in themselves and their teammates.

And that is a character element that was so clear in 2008. Each player was responsible for their own actions, but no one all season long took potshots or even made reference to someone else not doing their part. They won as a team, and unfortunately lost as a team too. The word “chemistry” might be the biggest mis-used words in sports, but this team did have to melt and blend a bevy of different personalities and abilities to even make a competitive unit, much less a championship squad. And tell me you did not yearn for another one of those special home plate celebrations that became almost a nightly staple in 2008. 

When was the last time you saw a “team meeting” at home plate……………last season. And also when was the last time you saw a Rays player even show any type of strut or “peacocking”  as he strolled into home for his teammates ……Also only during last season. People in 2008 were quick to judge the team’s defining moments or turning points to the season. Well, if they have to again resort to finding moments of change and upward mobility, they have their first example in the way the entire team carried themselves tonight.

Every one picked themselves off the turf, dusted themselves off and got back to work nibbling and craving at that Cleveland lead. That was the way the 2008 squad attacked, as a team. They would put together scoring drives and fast attacks to stun and demoralize the competition at times. And the Rays Bullpen again is beginning to hit their own sense of stride again in 2009, which has been missed in recent games.

    
     Chris O’Meara / AP

But you have to admit that the Walk-off homer by Upton was the perfect ending to a wild night. Here we had a guy struggling to get back to his  former form and was finally starting to see some  great results, then this game comes along and reminds us why we liked the guy in the first place. You have to admit to yourself that the kid has been as hard on himself as we have been on him. He is his own worst critic, and his struggles at the plate have made us grimace at times wanting to help him out in any way possible to get back to his old form.

Maybe that sight of the team trying to pick themselves off the turf for the second night in a row when they got down fast also got into B J’s psyche and boosted him through that wall he had in front of him. Thursday’s contest did not come out the same, but the fact that the Rays seemed to be working as a team boosted the thoughts that we were beginning to emerge out of that funk and again take it to some teams again.

It is not like he has never belonged here, or was struggling both on and off the field. On the field he was his usual self, diving for balls and tracking them down with his deer-like speed deep into the gap, and near the wall. His throws have been darts, and his confidence in his throws have been key in his recent surge back into the outfield assist ranks in 2009. Even if Friday night was not the final turning point for Upton, it was for this team.
They again could see the golden ring, and they grabbed it with everything they had in their bodies. It was a welcome sight to see the smiles and the confident swagger as they walked back to the dugout after this win.

The fact that these guys love to be around each other is a testament to the team unity and chemistry that VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and Rays Manager Joe Maddon has assembled here.  The glue that holds this group together is simple respect for each and every member on the roster. But tonight belonged to a guy who at 17 years of age got his first taste of the big leagues in a September call up. Back then, that Rays team was not experiencing even the slight hint of a winning edge, and some of the veteran leadership was already looking for the door out of the Rays clubhouse.

That is a sad comment, but a truthful one in the realm of the Rays in the past. You want to think that the winning foundation was set early in this franchises history, but in reality, they did not believe in th system totally until 2007. The last few seasons has seen a resurgence in Rays thinking about positives and accountability amongst themselves. It was imply a case of “do your job, do it right, and great things will happen in the end.”  So can we take Friday night’s walk-off as a sign that the 2008 energy and commitment might be resurfacing in the Trop.? I know I felt it. The energy level and the positive vibes from inning to inning only seemed right to end on Upton’s first blast of the season.

But this not like the Toronto Blue Jay game in 2008 when Edwin Jackson threw an awesome game only to see Troy Percival blow the save. It is also not the same vibe or environment when Dione
r Navarro hit the grand slam to boost the Rays to a victory and finally feeling like they belong on top. No, this celebration seemed different on the turf tonight. It had all the elements of 2008 except one.

One huge difference is missing from the “team meetings” called at home plate by the Rays in 2008. This year, we are the “hunted” and not the one pursuing the top spot. But an night like this can re-shape and remove the rust and tarnish of the last month just by its sheer power. Biggest comeback in Rays history really pales a bit in comparison to a young hitter regaining his edge at the plate, and remembering why he loves to play this game.


Chris O’Meara / AP

Upton Get a Welcome Surprise during his Interview 


After the conclusion of last night’s game I was sitting near my seat waiting for the anticipated in-game interview of B J Upton when Dioner Navarro came streaking out of the Rays dugout with a towel filled to the brim in deep shaving cream. I have to admit I have never seen the Rays catcher act so stealth and swift as when he deposited that wet, white concoction on B J’s face during his television and radio interview.

It is a a great tradition of baseball to see that done to him on the night that might spark of return of our centerfielder’s bat to his game. But the shock and awe of the crowd when he finally got that towel in the face was priceless. We all knew it was coming, but did not who or when it was going to be delivered. Upton took the event with class and professionalism, but I would have loved to see the scene in the locker room after Upton got back there. Hopefully Navarro was long gone by then, or there might be a shaving cream situation in the clubhouse.  

That is also one of the areas that Upton has matured tremendously in the last two years. He is a soft spoken guy who kind of doesn’t take to the media side as well as some members of the team. But in the last year he has become more secure and comfortable in front of the camera, and it shows. That will bode well for him to become a likable guy to people who might not get down here and see him on the bench motioning and chatting with guys on base or in the field. He is truly one of those guys who loves this game and looks forward to it every night.

Tampa Bay take First Series from Red Sox

 
 
                            Rays 4,  Red Sox 3

 

 
 
Strutting like a Proud Turkey
 

Okay, I am going to shout loud and proud tonight for the Tampa Bay Rays. I do not care if you like it or not, because we have sent the message that we are for real again in 2009, and we want to win the American League East again. This was the kind of game that the Rays used to lose all the time up in Boston. It was the type of contest where the Rays let the Red Sox get back into the game, then let something happen that took the game out of the Ray’s hands. But that was almost the case this afternoon in Boston, but the Rays instead bent, but did not break to win the first series between the two powerhouses in the AL East.

 


The game was not in the bag until Gabe Kapler, who came on and pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in the top of the ninth inning, took a long fly ball in the triangular area of center field for the final out of the game. Boston did not sit down and die in this game, but played like a lion waiting for their chance to snatch the win away from the Rays. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Boston Captain, Jason Varitek tried to get the rally going strong by hitting a solo shot into the Rays Bullpen in right field. The shot was almost brought back into the field-of-play for an out, but Ben Zobrist, who had just come on to play right field, could not pull the ball back from beyond the fence.


It was that close. Seriously, it was a few inches that separated the Red Sox getting back into the game, or the Rays taking it without a fight. Instead, Varitek awakened the Boston crowd with hid lead-off homer off Rays closer Troy Percival on a bad pitch down and in. Boston did not sit back after that blast. After two quick outs, David Ortiz walked to give the faithful some hope. That in itself was a major thing since Ortiz came into this game 1-12 ( 0.83 average) against Percival lifetime. So with a man on base, and the winning run at the plate with two outs, the hard hit ball by Kevin Youkilis  seemed to take forever to reach Kapler’s glove and end the rally.

 

If this is going to be the type of games that we are going to see in this series this year. I think I am going to get some Pepto and aspirin for the home crowd. This is what baseball is all about. It had the excitement of a late rally, and the back-and -forth pitching by one of Boston’s best pitchers. This is the type of game that will be the talk of the water cooler in Tampa Bay and Boston tomorrow for different reasons. In Tampa Bay, they will be talking about the powerful display put on by the Rays in this game. But in Boston, they will be talking about Kapler’s play and the pitching of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K was all over the plate early, allowing a lead-off homer, and also throwing 100 pitches in 5.1 innings.
 

It was a great game to watch for either teams fans. That is going to pay dividends for both teams during their next home stands featuring these two teams. We know that Boston will be sold out, but it will drive up the demand for tickets and also make the  people selling tickets a nice return. Even in Tampa Bay, where most Boston fans can take a plane ride and even buy tickets cheaper than getting into Fenway Park most nights, the ticket sellers will have a field day. But that is what playoff baseball felt like this past October, and hopefully when the Red Sox come to town the rest of the year, we can experience it over and over again.

 
 
            
 

Riggo to the Rescue

 
It was great to see Shawn Riggans get a start today against the Red Sox in the matinee. Anyone who knows me will not doubt know I am going to be happy to see him getting some time behind the plate. But I might not be the only one. During today’s FSN telecast, Rays analyst Kevin Kennedy, who is a former catcher, and a major league catching instructor, also talked glowingly about Riggans today. He made a point to show the way he would go down and block the ball correctly. That he was fundamentally sound, and also seemed to call a great game behind the dish.

 
Kennedy also noticed the great  confidence that Garza seemed to have in the back-up catcher, and that Garza had a winning record last year ( 5-2) when Riggans caught him. Not lost was the fact that Riggans was the catcher that caught Garza during his one-hitter against the Florida Marlins last season. The only blemish on that day was a home run to Hanley Ramirez.  During the game, with the center field camera focusing in on Riggans, you could see him give encouragement and calm Garza down after strikes were not called on a few close balls off the corners.

 
But that is why I like this kid. He had taken to this job after the Rays have thrown people at him to pressure him for the back-up spot in previous years. But this spring, the Rays did not bring in any one with a huge amount of experience because of their confidence in Riggans. That is the ultimate compliment to a back-up catcher. And Riggans did not disappoint the Rays today. He might have only gone 1-4 today, but his solo home run shot to right center field that went over the Red Sox Bullpen put them up 4-0 in the fourth inning.  Riggans, who has had his share of injuries the past few seasons is poised and confident this year. And with him and Dioner Navarro taking care of this pitching staff, the Rays know that they have the right guys behind the plate this season.

 
 

 
 
Rays do some funky shifting in the Infield
 

During last season, the Rays employed a few unusual plays during game designed to intimidate hitters by moving players to spot that show a huge spray pattern in a hitting chart. We saw the shift used against David Ortiz and other left-handed batters last year that looked like something out of an old fashioned managerial scrapbook. But Rays Manager Joe Maddon is a student of the game, and computer generated charts showing hitting patterns and also tendencies can be a useful weapon to beat opponents. Some times they work like a charm, other times they still sneak a hit through a hole somewhere in the defense.

 

Most people know the left-handed shift where first baseman Carlos Pena will play off the bag ( unless there is a runner on first) and Akinora Iwamura will play about 10 feet off the clay into shallow right field. Then you have shortstop Jason Bartlett either right behind the second base bag, or more towards the inside of the bag. All this time third baseman Evan Longoria is the man on an island in this formation. He usually lines up in the shortstop position, but sometime has to hug the bag because of some batter faking bunt attempts down the third base line. But then th
ere is the new formation we saw today.

 
 

It is a bit different, because before today it was foreign to see them also do a shift for right-handed batters. It was not used all game long, but they did employ it numerous times today, and it had mixed results.  Mostly the Rays used it against Dustin Pedroia and Jason Bay today to make them hit over the defense. Unlike the left-handed version, in this new variation you saw Pena more between first and second and not guarding the right field line. Iwamura basically played right behind second base, and the right side of the infield stayed at their positions.
 
 

Using this new formation today, the Rays seemed to be adjusting on the fly, but got Mike Lowell to hit a sharp liner to Iwamura behind second in the sixth inning that would have been a single to center if the shift was not used. Pedroia and Bay went 1-8 on the day, with Bay getting a single over Joyce’s head in center field into the triangle near the 420 sign in center field. It will be interesting to see this formation used again and again this year by the Rays. But like they always say, if it is not broke, don’t fix it. But in this case, if it shuts them down, keep doing it.

 

 

Evan Almighty to the Monster

 

I know it is crazy to think that Evan Longoria is going to keep hitting homers at this pace. I mean he has a few unusual streaks going on here. First off, this is the second game in a row where he has hit a double in his first at bat of the game. and both times they have been down the third base line into the corner.  Put that together with the fact he is hitting .429 so far this season, and you have a guy who is not showing any sophomore slump at this time. And that is great for the Rays. While Pat Burrell finally got his first hit of the season today, Longoria has been consistent at the plate so far for the Rays.

 
 

But it might be his other streak that people want to talk about in Tampa Bay. Not the fact that he has made awesome defensive plays so far this year. Stealing a few hits off the lines so far in the Boston series and turning them into easy outs. He did get beat fully on the lead-off bunt single down the third base line by Jacoby Ellsbury today, but he rebounded by taking a ball headed for extra bases by Pedroia in the ninth inning for the second out. No people want to talk about his second  home run in as many days into the Green Monster. Today’s slam went into the third row of the Monster seats, and he almost had another in an earlier inning, but the ball curved foul into the Upper Deck seats to the left of the Monster. Longoria is making people believe he is the real thing. Another good indicator that he is seeing ball well is the fact that he missed hitting for the cycle today by not getting a triple.  If Longoria was not seeing the ball the size of beach balls right now, the Rays might have been in a bit of trouble in this series.

 
 Today’s Rays Ramblings
 

I am curious on this new Rays promotion I was hearing on the radio last night.  It was announced that if the Rays score during the fourth inning of a game, a local eyeglass company Innovision will give 10 kids eyeglasses and examinations. How cool is that! Seriously, in this time when a lot of parents can not afford the medical insurance for kids, eye insurance and benefits might not be the first thing on their minds. So it is an great idea for this kind of promotion to take some of the worry and financial burden off some Tampa Bay families.

 
 

I also found it quite amusing last night during the game to catch a glimpse of the Red Sox scoreboard that kept track of pitches for the respective pitchers from both teams. It was kind of funny to see that when Scott Kazmir left the mound on Tuesday night, that he had thrown 445 pitches according to the board.  I am not genius, but to thrown that many pitches might take at least 3 1/2 games for a normal pitcher. I know it seems like when Kazmir pitches, he is throwing a huge number, but last night he seems to be finding that control that missed him a few times in 2008.

 
 

Not lost is the fact that the Rays plated all four of their runs via the long ball today.  They started in the top of the second inning when Matt Joyce got his first hit of the season by sending a ball over the head of J D Drew and into the right field stands. Dice-K had left a 2-seam fastball high and towards the middle of the plate, and Joyce made him play for the missed location.  Then in the third inning, after Iwamura walked to lead-off the inning and stole second base, Longoria connected on his shot into the Green Monster for a 3-0 lead.  Then in the fourth inning, Shawn Riggans got his first hit of the year by blasting a ball into the Red Sox Bullpen to complete the Rays scoring for the day.

 
        
 

Is Garza the New Red Sox Killer?

 

I know that might sound a bit premature to use that kind of terminology concerning Matt Garza, but considering he has now won his last three starts against the Red Sox it might be becoming more hip. In 2008, the Red Sox hit .250 against him both at home and at Fenway Park. In those games he only gave up 13 runs. And that is only during the regular season. It doesn’t even include the 2008 American League Championship Series when he started two games and held the Red Sox to  a .170 average, with 8 hits and 1 run in those games.

 
That would show that he is beginning to take an active role in being a key figure in stopping the Re
d Sox for his team. It is not to say that he was without any problems today. He did get called for going to his mouth in the bottom of the first inning and it gave Pedroia a free “ball” in his at bat. But it did not come back to haunt him as Pedroia hit a fly ball to Joyce in center field for an easy out. But today he did get his third victory in a row against the Red Sox, while only allowing them to hit  .154 today.  In his 7.0 innings today, he gave up 4 hits and a solo run in the sixth inning. In that inning he gave up a lead-off double to the left-center field gap, then two batters later gave up the long double to Bay that scored Youkilis.

 

All in all, Garza is beginning to show the signs of what the Minnesota Twins envisioned from him when they drafted him from Fresno State. He is gaining more and more control  of his pitches and is beginning to let the game flow and not get too upset on the mound. When he was called for the infraction in the first inning, the old Garza would have argued with Home Plate Umpire  Jeff Nelson and might have been thrown from the game. But today he just had a frustrated look and let it slide off his back and struck out Ortiz next. The maturation process might not be complete on Garza, but he is showing a huge improvement on the guy we saw on the mound early in 2008.

Photo Credits: All today’s photos are from the Associated Press and taken by Michael Dwyer.

Rays Jots and “Idol” Rays-style Chatter

 



 

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

 
 
Rite of Rays Spring
 

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

 

Todd Kalas
 

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

 
 

Shawn Riggan aka Rays Seacrest

American Idol Rays-style 
 

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

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

 
 

 
 

Now Pitching Number 19……………..

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

 

Short Page Scribbles :

 

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

 
 

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

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

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

Rays End up Tying with Pirates

 

              
 

Oh this is going to be a long day, a stressful day and maybe even a day where I will be so tired I will just sleep here at the Spring Training complex then head north in the morning. The reason is complex. You see, I have a 1:05 pm game today in Port Charlotte, Florida, plus I have a 3 pm “live” ESPN MLBloggersphere Baseball draft. I am going to try to multi-task and keep my eyes on the game and the computer at the same time. I am anticipating a huge headache, so the Tylenol is loaded in the car, plus the sheets for me league can not spread out over the seats of the sold-out stadium.
 

So I am going to have to find a semi-quiet, but good view of the field so I can do both items at the same time without compromising either of them. This is a huge task, but I am up for it. I have my large Dr. Pepper at my side, with a huge chili dog and a bag of peanuts for the munchies during the draft. It should be exciting because everyone online seems to be anxious to see what kind of game everyone has with their drafting skills. Me, I am going to keep it simple and go for the big boys as early as possible, then take a few sleepers everyone forgot about in the later rounds. Either way, it is going to be a blast.
 

So here I am finally finding a spot, but it might be a bit noisy down by the kid’s play area down the right field line. But I have the permission of someone here in the stadium to pop my laptop into the electric plug and away we go with the pre-game rituals and the pre-draft anxious moments. I almost forgot what time it was and looked on my laptop to see that it was 2:30-ish. Time to crank up the volume and remove my eyes from this great game going on in front of me. So as I get ready to joy down a few names to search for that did not hit the top 200 players, I am cyber-wishing everyone luck and hope we have a great draft.
 
 

So, here is the non-draft portion of the blog. Here I am going to try and go play-by-play with you in the Sunday game. I always love coming down here to Charlotte Sports Park, but starting next week, I will be able to hustle on over to the other fields in the complex to check out the minor league games before the Rays play at 1 pm. I am excited to see some of these future stars of the Rays or other clubs take the field and show their stuff. That might even be another great thing to do before the Rays game the rest of the month. Come down and get 2 games for the price of 1. Check out the future of the Rays, then go watch the present guys take the field.  I think that plans is now written in stone for me.

 

Okay we have the Rays sending starter Matt Garza to the mound today for his second appearance of the spring. As we get started, the 6,968 fans in attendance seem to be poised and ready for a barn-burner today. It is extremely hot for this time of year with a small breeze blowing in from right field at game time. This is the first game of another home and home series for the Rays. Today in Port Charlotte, and tomorrow night in Bradenton for the first night game this year for the Pirates. You can always tell when it is about time for the real guys to get more at bats, the teams will play more games under the lights to acclimate themselves to the nightly routines of the regular season.
 

 
**********************************************************************************************************************************

 

 
Garza is done with his warm-up pitches and we are set to go today. The Pirates send center fielder Andrew McCutchen to the plate first today. He swings at the third pitch and sends a short squirming ball in front of the plate that Rays catcher Shawn Riggans picks up and throws down to Carlos Pena at first for the first out of the game. Jose Tabata then hit a one-hopper to Gabe Kapler in center field for the first hit of the day for the Pirates. Adam LaRoche then hits a towering fly to left fielder Carl Crawford, who puts it away for the second out of the inning. Tabata did not try to advance on the ball hit to left field. Craig Monroe, who has been hitting the ball for Pittsburgh then comes up and strikes out to end the inning.
 
 

The Pirates send Tom Gorzelanny to the mound today to face the Rays. This is not the first time the Rays have seen Gorzelanny. They also got to see him on June 29 in PNC Park during the Inter-League schedule. He pitched the Sunday finale and went 6 innings giving up 8 hits, with 2 runs and 2 homers, with 8 strikeouts that day.  He did not get the loss, but did pitch a great game. Justin Ruggiano comes to the plate first for the Rays and hit a ball to Andy LaRoche at third base on the first pitch. He easily takes the ball in and throws to Steve Pearce, who is playing first today for the first out. Crawford then come up and works a full count off of Gorzelanny, then ends up popping out to LaRoche at third base. Gabe Kapler then comes up and hit a sharp grounder again toward LaRoche that he easily fields and complete the play for the third out of the inning. All three outs in the first inning had LaRoche’s fingerprints all over them.
 

The Rays send Garza back to the mound for the second inning. Pearce is the first batter of the inning and he hit a high fly ball towards the right-center field gap that Kapler adjusts to and finally brings in for the first out. Kapler was moving around a lot in the outfield before that play and might have been blinded for a second by the sun. Andy LaRoche then walks to give the Pirates their first base runner of the inning. Shortstop Brian Bixler then comes up and hit a single to center field to put 2 men on base with one out in the inning. Garza has been having a little trouble so far in the game by falling behind early against the first three hitters. Luis Cruz then comes to the plate and hit a sharp liner right to Morgan Ensberg at third base, who quickly catches LaRoche off the second base bag for a L-5, then a 5-4 force out on LaRoche to end the inning .
 

Carlos Pena leads off for the Rays and gets Gorzelanny to a full count before flying out to McCutchen in center field for the first out. Pena doesn’t seem to have his timing down yet this spring. But with almost three weeks until Opening Day, you can be sure he will be ready in time for the season.  Pat Burrell then comes up and ens up fouling the ball off into the glove of Pirates catcher Jason Jarmillo, who holds on for the second out of the inning.  Ensberg then comes up and drills a ball to left field over third base for the first Rays hit of the day.  Reid Brignac, who started at shortstop today then hit a fly ball to McCutchen for the third out of the inning.

 
                              

 

Garza take the mound for the third inning as the Rays are starting to let their starters extend themselves more this spring. Jaramillio comes to the plate and hit a short grounder towards Garza that he fields and quickly get to Pena for the first out of the inning. If teams knew that Garza has a weakness fielding the ball, they have not focused on it this spring. McCutchen then comes up and strikes out swinging to get two quick outs in the inning. Tabata then comes up and hit a monster towards the center field gap over Kapler’s head and it two-bounces to the wall for a double. Adam LaRoche is now at the plate for the Pirates. After the second pitch to LaRoche, Riggans fires a ball towards second and almost gets Tabata looking. It was a strong on line throw that only missed the tag out by a milli-second. LaRoche then lifts a fly ball to Ruggiano in right for the last out of the inning.

 

Gorzelanny, who will be in the starting rotation for the Pirates takes the mound for the bottom of the third inning. Riggans comes to the plate and hit a nice hard grounder that comes up on Cruz and he is on with a infield single to start off the inning. Adam Kennedy then comes up and take a pitch inside that he fights off for a bloop single beyond the second base bag for the second straight Rays hit. It seemed he broke his bat on the ball, or Cruz might of had a play on the ball. Ruggiano then comes to the plate and hit a nice single down the line at third for the third Rays hit in a row off Gorzelanny.  Crawford then hit a ball towards the right of Pearce, who fields the ball and throws to second to get Ruggiano with the force out, Cruz tries to turn two, but the speedy Crawford is already past the bag with a fielder[s choice on the play. Riggans scored on the play and Kennedy moved to third base. Kapler then  hits a screamer towards left field  for a RBI-double, but Tabata fields the ball quickly and fires towards Jaramillo who tags out Crawford right before he reached the plate. Pena then hit a ball to Cruz, who throws to Pearce to end the Rays rally. At this point, it is now 2-0 Tampa Bay. This would be Gorzelanny’s last batter and he went 3 innings with 5 hits and 2 runs and 1 strike out in the game.

Garza again comes out for the Rays and now is in his deepest outing of the spring. Monroe comes to the plate first for the Pirates and hit a pop up just into fair territory for a fly out to Rigggans. Pearce then hit a sharp ball down toward third base that seems to handcuffs Ensberg, who then throws a late ball towards first base. On the bobbling of the ball, he is given an error on the play. Andy LaRoche then hit a fly ball to Kapler for the second out if the inning. With Bixler come up to the plate and Pearce still on first the Pirates are down to their last out in the inning. After three pitches to Bixler, Pearce tries to steal second base and is thrown out easily by Riggans to Kennedy for the third out of the inning.  This would complete Garza’s day in which he went 4 innings, with 3 hits, a walk and 2 strikeouts on the day.
 

Jeff Ka
rstens take the rubber for the Pirates and Burrell quickly get a single to left field to lead off the inning for the Rays. Ensberg then hit a short blooper towards center field that McCutchen dives for and just gets the ball for the out. He was moving so fast that he lost his cap upon contact with the turf. Brignac then come out and hit a long fly ball to right field, but it is not deep enough for Burrell to try and advance on it. Riggans then comes up and goes down swinging to set the Rays down in the inning.

 

Troy Percival comes out for the second appearance of the spring. During his first outing he was hitting the inside corners of the plate trying to jam hitters and produced a beautiful inning of work. Today Bixler leads off the inning by striking out swinging on an off-speed pitch by Percival. Cruz then comes up and gets jammed inside and pops a high fly ball towards Ensberg that he fights off the glaring sun twice before finally being able to bring it into his glove. He pumps his fists in the air high and the crowd goes wild for him. Jaramillo then hit a soft grounder to Kennedy for a quick 1-2-3 inning for Percival. This is his second 1-2-3 inning of the Spring. Percival still sports a perfect 0.00 ERA in his 2 appearances this spring.
 

Karstens takes the mound again for the Pirates and faces Kennedy first. He ends up hitting a fly ball to left field that is easily handled by Tabata. Ruggiano then come on and hit a grounder to Bixler at shortstop for an easy 6-3 play to Pearce. Crawford then fights off a few pitches and again hit a grounder towards Bixler that is taken in and throw to Pearce to complete the inning. It was an easy 1-2-3 inning for Karstens.  But the Ray are still ahead in the game 2-0.
.

 


 

The Rays send mending reliever Jason Isringhausen to the mound for his first spring action for the Rays. Isringhausen came to the Rays after a wild and turbulent 2008 season with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is trying to re-establish himself with the Rays, and if he does, he will be a tremendous asset to the team in the Bullpen. That would give the Rays two men who have over 290 saves on the All-Time save list. McCutchen comes to the plate first this inning and hit a triple to Kapler in center field. Kapler can not handle the ball before McCuthen is past second and only get the ball back into the infield when he strikes the third base bag. Tabata then hit a sacrifice fly to Crawford to score the first run of the day for the Pirates.  Adam LaRoche then hit a ball to the right of Pena, who ends up flipping the ball to Isringhausen for the second out.  Monroe then comes up and strikes out on a nice breaking pitch from Isringhausen to end the inning with the score now 2-1 Rays.
 

Karsten comes out for his final inning in the bottom of the sixth and faces Kapler to lead off the inning. Kapler hit a grounder to Adam LaRoche at third base, who gets Kapler in time for the first out. Pena then hit a ball high into the sun in left field and Tabata has to shade his eyes three times before finally taking the ball in for the second out of the inning. Burrell then hit another single down the third baseline for a single, his second of the day. Morgan Ensberg then comes to the plate for the Rays. After the fourth pitch to Ensberg, Burrell takes off towards second and is easily thrown out by Jaramillo to Cruz to end the inning. Karstens went 3 innings and gave up 2 hits and got 1 strikeout in his outing.
 
 

The Rays send set-up man Dan Wheeler to the mound for the top of the 7th inning. This is also Wheeler second appearance this spring. First to bat for the Pirates will be Pearce. He quickly hit a grounder towards Brignac at short and is thrown out in time for the first out of the inning. Andy LaRoche, who is on fire at the plate this spring for the Pirates then hit a long deep homer into left center field over the Boardwalk for a solo home run. Still out of sorts a bit by the pitch Wheeler then gives up a triple to Bixler to the left center field wall.  Cruz is next up for the Pirates. During the at bat, Wheeler throws a breaking ball 55 feet to the plate and Riggans blocks it and pushes it toward the front of the plate in case Bixler is coming in from third. the play might have saved a run for the Rays. Cruz is then hit by a slow breaking ball and the Pirates have men on the corners with one out. Jaramillo then comes to the plate and hit s ball towards Chris Richard at first base, who turns and fires toward Brignac at second for the force play, but he can not take in the return throw and gets charged with an error on the play. Bixler also scores to put the Pirate ahead in the game 3-2.  McCutchen then comes up and strike out to end the Pirates rally.
 
 

Tyler Yates come out for the Pirates in the bottom of the 7th inning. He first faces Ensberg, who gets a full count before hit a long fly ball to McCutchen in center field for the first out of the inning. Brignac then hit a monster solo home run that misses me by about 20 feet to my right. I did not hear the ball even come off the bat since I was typing in a search for a player I was going to draft deep in my “live” draft today. The homer by Brignac tied the game at 3-all.  I would have gotten up and tried for the ball if I saw it in the air. Riggans then comes up and goes down swinging for the second out. Kennedy then completes the inning by also striking out to end the Rays chance for more runs in the inning.
 
 

Grant Balfour came out to the mound for the Rays in the eighth inning. Tabata quickly went down after a nice fastball over the outside corner for a called third strike. Adam LaRoche then hit a nice flair to center field that one-hopped to Kapler for a single. Garret Jone, who came in to play first base, then hit a breaking ball for a single to right field to put two men on base with one out. Pearce then came up and hit a ball to Sadler in  shallow right for the second out. Neil Walker then came up and hit a single to right field to load the bases with two outs. Bixler then ended the drama by striking out on a called third strike to strand three base runners in the inning. This would be the only inning for Balfour, who allowed 3-hits and no runs, but also got 2 much needed strikeouts.

 
 

 

Sean Burnett came to the mound for the Pirates in the bottom of the eighth inning. Ray Sadler lead off the inning with double down the right field line that trickled into the corner. Jon Weber then struck out on 5 pitches for the Rays first out. During Weber’s at bat Sadler stole third base. Elliot Johnson then hit a line drive to left field that scored Sadler. Willy Aybar the  came up and Johnson stole second base, then moved onto third after Burnett threw a wild pitch into the dirt. Aybar then hit a hard shot towards Walker at third base that he ended up coming in on, but could not get Aybar in time for the infield single. He also could not prevent the run from scoring. Ray Olmedo then hit a blooper down the right field line that was bobbled by Jones at first and the Rays had men at first and  second with two outs. Tim Beckham the Rays 2008 First Round Draft pick , then came up and hit a double down the right field line to score both Aybar and Olmedo. Beckham could have gotten a triple, but he fell down between second and third and had to go back to second base. Matt Spring then came up and hit a blooper in front of the plate that Jaramillo easily threw to Pearce to get out of the inning.
 
 

With the Rays now up 7-3 in the top of the ninth inning, they sent out veteran reliever Joe Nelson to complete the game for the Rays. Anderson Machado came to the plate first for the Pirates. He ended up getting a flair single to right field off of Nelson on a hanging breaking ball. Jaramillo then hit a liner to Beckham at shortstop for the first out of the inning.  McCutchen then struck out swinging for the second out.  The Rays now needed one out for the win. Tabata came to the plate ans was hit by Nelson. Pedro Alvarez then pinch hit and drove a ball half way up onto the Batter’s Eye blackout spot in center field for a 3-run homer and brought the Pirates to within one run of tying the game.  Jones then came up and took the third pitch he saw up and over the Rays Bullpen for a solo shot and to tie the core at 7-7.  Again, another ball hit within 20 feet of me, but I was in the middle of the 5th round of picks and could not get up in time to even think of chasing that ball down. And no one was out here…..argggggggg. Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and replaced Nelson with Jason Childers. He only had to face one batter as he got Pearce to strikeout to end the rally. 
 

 
Jason Davis came out for the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth knowing he might have to shut down the Rays for his team to have a chance in this contest. He got lead off man Chris Nowak, who was now playing third base to hit a grounder to Machado for an easily 4-3 play for the first out. Sadler then came up and tried to end the game on one swing with a long fly ball to right field that was cut down by the wind. Weber then struck out for the second time today to end the Rays chance to win this one in regulation.
 
 

The Rays sent out non-roster invitee Winston Abreu for the top of the tenth inning. He first faced Walker, who struck out swinging on 5 pitches. Bixler then came up and also struck out swinging. Then Machado came up and hit a soft grounder to Olmedo at second, who quickly threw to Richard to get out of the inning fast. Davis came out again for the Pirates in the tenth inning. Johnson came to the plate first and hit a high fly ball to left field that looked to confuse Tabata before he regrouped and finally caught the ball for the first out of the inning. Richard then struck out for a quick second out in the inning. Michel Hernandez then liner to right field for a single. Olmedo then hit a single between the holes between first and second to give the Rays a chance to walk off with a win. But Beckham ended that by striking out to end the Rays rally.
 

At the top of the eleventh inning, the umpires advised both benches that this would be the last inning of the ball game. If no one has taken a lead by the end of the inning, it would be a tie contest. With that in mind, the Rays sent Julio DePaula to the mound. Pirates catcher Steve Lerud was the first man to the plate and hit a fly ball out to left field on the first pitch of the inning. McCutchen then hit a single to left-center that split the two outfielders. Tabata then hit a sharp ball to Beckham that he threw to first base to get the runner in time. This put the go-ahead run on second base with two outs in the inning for the Pirates. Alvarez then hit a ball off the end of the bat to DePaula, who quickly turned and threw to Richard to end the inning and the Pirates chances to win this game.
 
 

Evan Meek came to the mound to try and seal the tie at least for the Pirates, Meeks, a former Rays farmhand had been the Pirates 2008 Rule 5 pick and was trying to seal a spot in the Bullpen for 2009. He first faced Spring, who popped out off the handle of the bat to Bixler at shortstop for the first out of the inning. Chris Nowak then hit a hard grounder to the right of Pearce, but he smothered the ball and tossed it to Meek for a 3-1 put out. This gave the Rays one last out in the game for either a win or a tie score. Sadler the struck out to end the game and  preserve the tie for the Pirates.
 
 

At the time this was going on I was in the middle of the 22 round when I picked Jason Giambi, who people forgot was on the board. Anyways, the pitching of Joe Nelson doomed the Rays to a tie tonight. This is only the second time he has also taken the hill this spring and it is good now that he is seeing the problems and not in the late innings of a game in April or May. With time his command and his placement will get better and better. But at this time he is not in the right pitching mode to be a consistent reliever for the Rays. But as we all know, we have more than 20 days until doom and gloom can hit the pages for real, and with that this was just a bad outing …..period. That is the lifestyle of a MLB reliever. Some days you have the world striking out at your feet, and on other they are hitting you like a pinball machine. I hope Nelson can get it together because he is a great signing by the Rays and just might lack the in-game workouts to further his development this spring.
 
 
 

  

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

Excitement Growing for 2009 Fan Fest

 

 


Here we are less than 24 hours until the players begin to get
comfortable in their chairs in Tropicana Field and they get their wrists loose
to sign hundreds of fans autographs at the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest.  How fitting
that this years event falls on February 14th. For it was the play of this team
that they tried to get America to fall in love with them in 2008. More or less
they got to complete that mission, but the 2009 campaign is for you to fall for
them all over again.

 

 
 

The
event will be the first time most of the fans have seen the American League
trophy since it was handed from player to player on the turf after the thrilling
Game 7 defeat of our division foe, the Boston Red Sox. The events is the rite of
spring that all Rays fans are excited about and anticipate the entire winter
long. It is the time of the year when we know that resin bags and glove oil is
only a few days away. That the crack of the bat in the crisp Florida air is only
moments away and that 70 mile drive will seem like minutes from the Tampa Bay
area to the new complex in Port Charlotte,
Florida.

 


But
tomorrow is about so many other things. It is about celebrating the new class of
2009 Rays/Pepsi  Fan Wall of Famer’s getting their jerseys and awards over on the
third base side of the stadium at noon. It is about the silent auction put on
during every Fan Fest where you can bid on prizes and even purchase some game
used and autographed merchandise from past Rays seasons. It is also a time to
stroll by the SABRE table and see just how well you know the past of both the
Rays and baseball in their yearly quiz to the fans. But as we all know, the real
excitement is watching the kids frolic and play in the interactive games during
the event.



                    
 
 

Watching a kid at bat in the smaller replica of Ebbets Field hit a
ball out over the plastic fencing, or even hit one back over the middle towards
the pitching machine. Then to watch them scream and clamor over to Raymond, our
fuzzy Sea Dog mascot who will dance, hug and sign autographs that will be pinned
to their walls for years. Or maybe you enjoy the stroll over to the media and
corporate areas to get posters and small keepsakes like a poster featuring the
on-air personalities of the Rays. Then put your name into the ringer for a
number of daily prizes picked during the event and announced over the
loudspeaker and on the Jumbotron.

 

Or
maybe you enjoy some of the past and will stand there for extended period of time
looking into the display cases at bats used by Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Ted
Williams displayed out in the middle of the field. Or maybe even stroll beyond
the clay of the Rays outfield at the many collectibles stands featuring Rays
items and the rest of baseball.  Or maybe the new events that started in 2008
will peak your interest from Metro PCS where a Rays player will phone someone
for you to show them your Rays commitment. All in all there are a hundred thing
to do during the day. And some of the best might just be to interact with other
Rays fans to celebrate last season, or chat about the possibilities of
2009.




 
 


But whatever brings you to the event, be sure not to miss one of
the two most popular events of the Fan Fest. The clubhouse tour. I know when I
was working with Pepsi a few seasons ago I got to see the remodeled clubhouse
before the rest of the fans because I was helping stock it with soda coolers and
merchandise. At that time it was one of the most beautiful places I had even
seen in my life. It was plush without the air of over indulgence and it seemed
like the perfect place to get ready for battle on the field. So it is a true
treat that people can stroll through the stalls and halls to see what players
get to live every day and every game while with the
team.

 


But
we all know what most people have come to the event for, it is the autograph
sessions that run from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event is one of the most popular
events of the entire Fan Fest, and for a good reason. I have noticed in the past
that certain players are easier in the beginning of the season for signature
than after the games begin, or even near the end of the season. Added to the
magic this year is a special event for Season Ticket holders where players will
be there for pictures with their special wristband holders. Also of importance
is the fact that this season, only kids under 14 and Season Ticket holders will
not have to pay for the right to obtain
autographs.

This
years Fan Fest will promote a $ 10 donation for a chance to obtain a wristband
to gain your favorite Rays players autograph during these session. At the bottom
of the blog, I will provide a list of the scheduled players and their times so
you can coordinate you day to get some face time with your team favorite. The
donation will go to benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation, which is the large
charity started by the Rays to promote giving and services throughout the Tampa
Bay Area. The Rays Baseball Foundation is committed to
supporting youth and education programs throughout the Tampa Bay region. In
2008, the Rays Baseball Foundation proudly invested more than $600,000 in youth
and education programs in the Tampa Bay area through grant programs and
community outreach initiatives.



 
 

Whatever you reason for coming out
for the Rays 2009 Fan Fest, it should be a exciting event with many of the fans
that got to cheer and support the team during their 2008 playoff campaign. Fans
will have a chance to take their picture with the 2008 American League trophy
during the event. The trophy might look small now, but think of how much it
means to this community and the fans. It is a symbol of the yearning of this
area and its fan to support and cheer for a leader. So, why are you not coming
to Fan Fest? If you live far away, that is okay, because I will try and post two
blogs in the next two days about the event. Who knows, it might just be such a
great event that more than two blogs finally get put down on the
Internet.


 
The excitement is building every
moment in me, and I will be sure to take a host of photos to try and covey the
excitement and the anticipation of Rays
baseball in 2009.  Before I go
today, let me include the signing schedule here provided by the Tampa
Tribune
so we can all coordinate our baseballs and bats before coming into
the stadium. Also listed in red will be the special
photo opportunities for Rays Season Ticket holders at the event.
Here is the autograph
schedule (subject to change):

 

 
 

12-1 p.m.

Table 1- John Jaso,
Gabe
Kapler

Table 2 – Juan
Salas,
Ray
Olmedo

Table 3 – Pat
Burrell, Randy Choate,

Table 4 – Tim Beckham, Reid
Brignac

Table 5 – Carl
Crawford


(Season-ticket
holders line, photo only) – James Shields, Fernando
Perez

 
1-2 p.m.

Table 1 – Joe Nelson, Chad
Bradford

Table 2 – B.J.
Upton ,
Willy
Aybar

Table 3 – Chad
Orvella, Michel Hernandez, Derek
Rodriguez

Table 4 -
Julio
DePaula
, Jacob
McGee

Table 5 – Jon
Weber, Jason Cromer,
Calvin
Medlock


(Season ticket
holders line, photo only) – Evan Longoria, Matt
Garza

 
2-3 p.m.

 
Table
1 – Matt Joyce, Grant Balfour

Table 2 – Carlos Pena, Jason
Hammel

Table 3 – Craig
Albernaz,
Ray
Sadler

Table 4 – Jeremy
Cummings, Elliot Johnson

Table 5 – Neil Frontz, Chris Nowak, Dan
Wheeler


(Season ticket
holders line – photo only) – Dioner Navarro, Andy
Sonnanstine

 
3-4 p.m.

Table 1- Steve Henderson,
Joe
Maddon

Table 2- Wade
Davis, David Price

Table
3- Dave Martinez,
George
Hendrick

Table 4- Lance
Cormier,
Brian
Shouse

Table 5- Chris
Richard, Jason Childers, Dewon Day

 
(Season
Ticket Holders Line- Photo Only)- Jason Bartlett, J.P.
Howell

 
4-5 p.m.
 
Table 1
-Bobby Ramos,
Jim
Hickey

Table 2 – James
Houser, Mitch Talbot

Table 3 – Shawn Riggans, Justin
Ruggiano

Table 4 – Scott
Kazmir, Carlos Hernandez

Table 5 – Brian Anderson, Tom Foley, Todd
Greene


(Season ticket
holders line, photo only) – Troy Percival, Jeff Niemann

Photo credits for today’s blog go to  http://www.Raysbaseball.com, Porkfork6 and Mother of Einstein on flicker.com

Rays Fans….Meet Lance Cormier

 


                       
 

With the recent addition of reliever Lance Cormier to the Rays Bullpen, can there be an alternative reason to sign another reliever right now for the team. Could this be a insurance policy signing in case Troy Percival is not ready to take the mound in spring training and the team might be without him to begin the 2009 campaign.  It just seems a bit wild that the team added another body to the Bullpen when at least 11 relievers right have shots at securing a spot on the 25-man roster. And this does not include the prospects of either Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel not having slot for them come April 1st with the team.
 

But let’s get back to Cormier, who in 2008 was with the Baltimore Orioles along with current Rays, Chad Bradford. Cormier was signed by the Orioles on January 21, 2008 with an invite to spring training and a minor league contract in his hand. During the season, he went 3-3 with an 4.02 ERA in 12.1 innings for Baltimore. During 2008, he posted a .240 average against right-handed batters, and was also a great ground ball out pitcher. During his last 9 appearances in 2008, he allowed only 3 earned runs over 15 innings, and lowered his ERA from 4.61 to  a year ending 4.02 ERA. In his only start of the season on September 3rd against the Red Sox, he threw 3 scoreless innings on 2-hits.

 
 


 

Cormier has the distinction of being drafted three time during his MLB career. He was first drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 in the 40th round, but he did not sign with the club and instead attended the University of Alabama. While at Alabama, Cormier did play for the Crimson Tide’s baseball squad and then again in 2001, the Houston Astros drafted him in the 10th round. Again Cormier decided to not sign and went back for his senior season at Alabama. Last, but not least, the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the 4th round in 2002, and he signed with the team.



 


 

Cormier made his way through the Diamondbacks minor league system and made his first start at the major league level against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 19, 2004. In the contest he allowed 5 hits in 1 inning and went on to lose 11-4. After the game he was sent back to the minors and he worked  hard to become the June Pitcher of the Month for the Diamondback organization.  He was brought back up to the majors on July 29th and he won his first start against the Houston Astros 6-4.  In that game he threw 6 innings, struck out 5 batters and recorded his first major league hit.
 

 

He then went on to lose his next two starts and the team put him in the Bullpen. From August 29th to September 11th,  he handcuffed opposing hitters  to an imposing .134 average.  In 2005, Cormier appeared in 67 games for the Diamondbacks. His 7 wins tied him for 4th among National League relievers. He began the season by throwing 18 scoreless innings, and ended the year by compiling a 1.09 ERA over his last 9 games. During the off season, Cormier and starting pitcher Oscar Villareal were traded to the Atlanta Braves for catcher Johnny Estrada.


 

 

Cormier appeared for the Braves for the first time on April 3, 2006. He struggled during his first year with the Braves and at one point was demoted to the minors on August  21, but that demotion did not last long as he was recalled on August 25th and stayed with the Braves the rest of the season. During the 2007 spring training in Florida, he suffered a strained right triceps and went on the 15-day disabled list.  He spent the next two months on the disabled list before starting against the Chicago Cubs in his season debut. He ended up surrendering  8 earned runs in 4 innings against the team. He got his second start against the Cubs later in the week and was again hammered as he then gave up  5 earned runs.
 

 

Cormier was sent down to Triple-A Richmond for seasoning, and after he threw a complete game shutout for the Tide, he was recalled by the Braves.  On August 3rd, in his first action since coming back up, he gave up 2 earned runs in relief against the Colorado Rockies. But on August 11th , he got his first start since June 3, 2007. He allowed 4 runs in 4 innings in that contest and left with a no decision. He then won his next outing allowing only 2 runs in 7 innings. The next start he strung together two consecutive wins for the first time in his career. 



 


 

 

Cormier ended up the 2007 season with the Braves and suffered through a 2-6 record with a 7.06 ERA. The Braves decided to designate him for assignment on November 30, 2007 to make a roster spot for returning pitcher Tom Glavine. The Braves officially released Cormier on December 7, 2007.
 

The scouting report on Cormier shows that he has a fastball and a cutter that are thrown about the same velocity. His fastball tops out at 90 mph, while his cutter ranges from 86-89 mph. His cutter is an excellent pitch for him to induce ground ball out to both sides of the plate. He has a 12-6 curve ball that breaks between  76-78 mph. He also has a sinking change up that he uses rarely to hitters in the past.



 


 
 

So here is the low down on our newest member to the Rays 40-man roster. His versatility as either a long reliever or a short innings guy can be beneficial to the Rays in 2009. With his ground ball numbers showing an ability to get the ball to the infield, his addition should be well suited for the Rays. Even if his signing is not a preamble to protection because Percival may not be ready in time, because he has American League East experience, he is valuable to the Rays in the Bullpen.  Cormier will meet his former team mate Chad Bradford when both men report on Feb 14th to the new Rays Spring Training Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.
 
 

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