Results tagged ‘ Wade Davis ’

Could a Rotation 5.5 Scenario Work for the Rays?

 
 
We all know that Tampa Bay Rays prospect Jeremy Hellickson’s name has been on the lips and minds of most MLB Fantasy baseball owners right now. I can admit he is on three of my teams, but what happens now? Most of us who roam the highways and byways of the Rays Republic know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been more than adamant about wanting to pamper Hellickson’s first journey up in the big leagues and Hellickson will be headed to the Rays Bullpen after his next start (Friday in Oakland ).

His next start will also correspond within a few days of the possible timeline for Rays pitchers Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to come back from their recent shoulder stiffness vacation. With the Rays usual starting five then back into the swing of things, Hellickson will be free to free lance or get some spot duty here and there for the Rays. Maybe we can devise a roation 5.5 scenario and effectively use this hot young arm to the Rays rotation’s advantage through the final 46 games? 

Most people have the assumption that Hellickson will do mostly relief duty through the rest of the Rays 2010 season, pretty much exactly what David Price provided for the Rays in 2008. But I have another idea. I have something that just might be a perfect 5.5 scenario of attack the Rays could employ during the rest of the season.


Why not just let Hellickson take at least one spot start from the top three Rays starters during the rest of the 2010 season, plus one of the four games against the New York Yankees in September in New York to give the Rays starting five a short breather. It would give the Rays pitcher with the hottest arm right now a chance to gain momentum, confidence and also provide a alternative in-house to stave off any dead arm syndrome or possible long term injury.
 
With at least a pair of the Rays starters  currently showing a bit of late inning strain on their tired arms, it would be a possible 6-8 innings of work saved on their arms going into the stretch run of the season…and beyond. W
ithin the next few starts, if it seems that Price will not be able to hit that heralded 20-win mark, it would be a great time to even set down the mighty leftie for a game to also save his arm for the Playoff run.

 

This is not a 6-man rotation idea, but something I like to call rotation 5.5, where Hellickson can use his hot arm, plus give some added relief to the guys who have been grinding it out every five days all year long. Of course, this would depend on the match-ups provided by the opposition, but right now the finesse pitching of Hellickson could adapt well opposite almost any pitcher in the Major Leagues.


It’s just a thought. A rambling of my brain cells that tells me this could work in a perfect crescendo of pitching performances for the Rays. Hellickson has been groomed as a starter, and a small segment of his time can be used for relief, but you really have to be cautious when you fool with a pitcher’s mindset going from a starter’s mentality to the every day grind of a reliever not knowing if he is playing, or watching that game. You only have to look to the Yankees and what has been done with Joba Chamberlain to see how quickly you can confuse and ruin a great pitcher.

if you can get Hellickson a few extra starts before his formal “coming out” party in Spring 2011,then it can only help the young Iowa native. With 46 games left to play, and 28 of those against teams playing .500 or better, it might be time to use the Durham secret weapon to its fullest. Sure there will be boasted bravado from any of the five Rays usual starters that they do not need a tag team pitching match-ups down the stretch, but the Rays have been playing a gambler’s hand for a long time with no huge setbacks and injuries on their starting pitching front.

 

Do you want to really tease with disaster when the prize is gleaming right in front of your eyes?  Hellickson could be a huge and key ingredient to how far the Rays go in the 2010 post season. Just like Price, he has the goods and the talent to help fortify the Rays in either the Bullpen or the rotation down the stretch. Even though Hellickson is now the first Rays pitcher to EVER go 3-0 in his first three starts, it is the poise and finesse he has shown both on and off the mound that make him a multi-functional weapon for the Rays.

No matter which way the team decides to use Hellickson over those next 46 games, you can expect Hellickson to want the ball, hit the mound throwing, and providing a chance for his team to succeed… a great mirror image of Price’s same role in 2008.
 

I Think Hellickson Needs a Moving Van

 
Duane Burelson/AP
You could see his dedication to his craft this Spring when he pitched with the “Big Club” until they optioned him to the minor league camp on March 15,2010. The kid had something special about him. He projects a shy and reserved side to him, but the minute he brushes up against that pitching rubber, Jeremy Hellickson is all about the game.

Most Rays Republic fans thought we might have to wait until September call-ups before we got another shot to see the kid named “Hell Boy” compete again at the highest level. But after last night’s performance, I am thinking the Rays might not be in any hurry to give him another ticket back to Durham, North Carolina. Hellickson last night became only the third pitcher since 1920 to post 7 innings in a game and allow less than 3 hits in his first two starts. Hellickson also joined the late Joe Kennedy (2001 ) as the only other Rays starter to ever post two “W’s” in his first two starts.

But if you had watched any of the Rays Spring Training outings by Hellickson, you already knew the kid had a great understanding of the pitching process, and had some of the best stuff in the minor leagues, but needed a little polishing around the edges. But if Hellickson can keep up his consistent performances, he might just have to have someone motor on up to Durham and get his stuff and bring it down to Tampa Bay permanently. Sure you might think his 1.29 ERA over these two starts will gets his biggest test on Sunday when Hellickson get a chance for three wins in a row against the surging Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. I have a feeling it isn’t in Hellickson’s pitching nature tot shy away from the big games.

All you have to do is go back in time briefly to the 2009 Triple-A Championship game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to see a perfect example of his high standards and commitment to his craft. Hellickson ended up throwing 5 scoreless innings and earning the Bobby Murcer trophy as the games Most Valuable Player. But maybe you only need to go as far as looking at his Durham stat sheet for 2010 to see that he is ready for the step up to the Major Leagues.
Since his first MLB start against the Minnesota Twins on August 2nd to tonight’s start, Hellickson was optioned back to Durham, but got a call-up just yesterday to replace former Bulls teammate Wade Davis who was experiencing shoulder stiffness and went on the 15-day DL for the Rays.

Even with not starting a single game in Triple-A since the beginning of August, Hellickson still leads the International League in wins ( 12 ), ERA (2.45) and strikeouts (123). Hellickson’s 12 wins is currently the second best win total in the minor league baseball system. And Hellickson has gotten great run support from his Bull’s teammates in his 30 starts over his past two Bulls seasons The Bulls have gone an impressive 22-5 over that span when Hellickson takes the mound.


 
Steve Nesius/AP
But what might be even more impressive is his consistency over his minor league career that has now transformed so well in his first two Major League starts. Over Hellickson’s minor league career, he has maintained 9.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, plus posting a career minor league record of 49-16 with a 2.66 ERA in 103 starts. And if you need to bolster his credentials up a little more, Baseball America in their mid-season Top 25 list, posted Hellickson as the fourth best prospect in the game right now and the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.

And all of that hinges on the huge upward curve in Hellickson’s maturation process this season that draws nothing but praise from Rays catcher John Jaso, who also caught many of Hellickson’s starts in 2009. Jaso told FSN Sports in-game commentator Todd Kalas that Hellickson was coming to him before the game and between innings trying to devise a set of pitching parameters for them both to join together on when he took the mound last night.

Here is a guy who was pitching only his second ever MLB game, and he is already starting to try a dictate and formulate an effective plan to get the upper hand on his competition. That also speaks very highly to the competitive nature and fire that burns deep within Hellickson to want to take control of some of the aspects of the game as such an early stage. But you would expect that maturity and confidence level from a guy who started for the Team USA squad at the 81st All Star Futures game in Anaheim, California. In that contest, Hellickson only pitcher two innings, but secured the win after a resounding 9-1 victory by his Team USA squad.

 

All this from a guy who only appeared in 2.2 inning this Spring for the Rays and, posted 9 strikeouts, no hit or runs allowed in his short time in the big league camp. But he made an immediate impression on the World Champions as he struck out both Yankee hitters Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in his 2010 debut on March 5th in Tampa. All this from a guy Rays Republic fans have been itching to see up with the big club. And now that Hellickson is here, he is earning every letter and syllable of his persona Hellboy.


Right now Hellickson’s Rays future looks bright as the team might be able to keep him within their 25-man roster right up until the roster expand on September 1st. Not bad for a Des Moines, Iowa farmhand the Rays drafted in the fourth round out of Hoover High School in 2005. It has only taken 5 years for Hellickson to develop, mature and become the Rays next big thing. And if his career preparation plans are anything like his in-game plans, he is here to stay for along, long time.
 

Upton’s Injury caused some Instant Trade Thoughts

 

 

Within seconds of B J Upton’s collapse onto the Tropicana Field turf last night, I went into General Manager mode trying to think off the cuff of any recent Rays possible trade scenario, or even a totally multi-team aligned situation for completing a trade with any clarity today. As I sat there last night with camera in hand watching our Centerfielder who has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors, lying on the green Field Turf in obvious pain, the trade wheeling and dealing cogs were turning in my head.

Upton had just made a routine Centerfield catch of Detroit’s lead-off hitter Austin Jackson’s fly ball into the middle of the Rays outfield, but Upton went down to the ground like a sack of potatoes clutching his lower leg. Instantly it was time to venture into Rays trade mode.

Somehow it seemed like something as simple as Upton catching his metal cleat a bit off center in the blades of the artificial turf had caused his to roll his ankle on his follow-through to get the ball back into the infield.

As Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays Manager Joe Maddon jogged out to Upton’s location, a flood of recent Rays trade names began to swiftly race through my head of any possible Major League players that could fit firmly within the Rays needs. Not even thinking at this moment if Upton’s injury was long term, or even day-to-day, I want to revisit a few recent trade whispers to see if they were still relevant to the Rays needs.


 

Knowing in the back of my mind, that there had been recent darkened hallway whispers that Rays top outfield prospect, Desmond Jennings might not be ready for the day-to-day grind of the Major Leagues, the sight of Upton laying on the field instantly put me on the offensive to find a viable MLB ready option. There have been more than a few openly discussed prominent names from around the Major Leagues possibly finding a home soon with the Rays.

There had been more than one mention of even Upton possibly being mentioned as a trade piece with the Philadelphia Phillies for future free agent/rental player Jayson Werth, but the Rays seemed to be firmly committed to using their highly praised and stocked farm system as the catalyst for any player changes and were not actively considering anyone on their Major League roster. A trade of this nature would have brought a few new challenges to the Rays. Considering a short term investment like Werth would be a totally new adventure for Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and the team.


The Rays have discussed bringing in short term players during the Trade Deadline period before, but the Rays have never pulled the trigger with any vigor. There was also some recent Rays trade chatter with the Kansas City Royals for a guy who could play almost anywhere, but that discussion was silenced and shelved quickly after multipurpose player David DeJesus suffered a broken thumb and could be out a substantial amount of time.

 

The Rays had discussing this trade with the Royals, and it seemed like the Royals were eager and willing to possibly trade for Rays farm hand LHP Jake McGee and send DeJesus to the Rays, but that scenario is just dust in the wind now. But would McGee have been enough to secure DeJesus?


There have been other names floating out in the MLB stratosphere with outfield possibilities for the Rays, but either the trade price would too steep, or the return product might not be a great trade-off. There was huge speculation a few weeks ago that Brew Crew member Corey Hart might find himself in the Rays outfield mix, but the demands from the Brewers were way too high, and could have made the Rays immediately discontinue any discussions. But there was a low cost option that was also floated by the Rays of maybe acquiring outfielder Jeff Francoeur from the New York Mets. The only problem with that scenario is that Francoeur is not the player he was two years ago when he was patrolling the Braves outfield.

But another scenario might have opened up just around the time of Upton’s injury last night on another baseball diamond up in Washington D.C. when Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg was shelved after findo out he had considerable inflammation in his right throwing shoulder. With Nationals starters Luis Atilano and J.D. Martin also on the mend, it could this recent injury bug within the Nationals rotation bring down the asking price of Washington slugger Adam Dunn, who has been known to be on the Rays “Wish List”.

A recent clarification by Dunn that he did not want to DH, but wanted to daily play in the field, might limit his possible usage for the Rays. But Dunn might be that missing right-handed bat the Rays have been eager for all season long. But at what cost will it take to even get Dunn? Would sending a minor leaguer like starter Matt Moore be enough of a trade off to get a rental player? The Nationals might be seeking a MLB ready guy like Wade Davis or Andy Sonnanstine to fill in until their young pitching staff gets healthy. So would a trade for Dunn who could be waltzing right back to the Nationals after the season be worth the two month rental price right now?
 
More and more this week I am considering the true option that the Rays might be better served with just staying pat with their current options and fighting for a Playoff spot with the guys who got them here.
With Rocco Baldelli getting into game day shape, there is a possibility he could be a useful right-handed bat the Rays could use down the stretch with minimal fiscal damage.

 

With the Rays announcing after last night’s game that Upton has a possible ankle sprain and might just miss a few Rays starts before possibly being in Centerfield for Friday night clash with the New York Yankees, the Rays have adequate in-house options like Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist to cover a short term absence of Upton from the line-up. But the moment Upton hit the turf, my mind was wandering through the rosters of a few clubs looking for the suitable replacement to garner the Rays the best chance of success. 

So I will put away my trade master cap and return to just being a Rays fan and trying to guess what direction Friedman and company might go before the end of the Trade Deadline. Will the Rays stand pat with the guys who got them here in the first place, or possibly rent a guy for a few months and hope for a great return in their invested trade. No matter what they do, there will be discussions and banter to go along with it. But that is the nature of the trade beast. Someone will always be unhappy, someone will always see holes, and people will always want more….That is the Rays Republic Way.

 

Does Jobu Make Housecalls?


 
Chris O’Meara/AP

I now know how it feels to be “that other guy”. You know the one I am talking about right now. The “guy” who somehow does it right, works his tale off doing his job day after day, dating the right girl for him, polishing up that 1969 Camaro hood to a shine like the Sun, then as Jackie Gleason once said: “Pow!, right in the kisser.” He gets smacked in the teeth by reality. And just like that, he has to rebuild and recharge to pull himself off that canvas to answer the bell.


It is that same sense of realism that the Tampa Bay Rays are facing right now. Three games ago no one in their right mind could of, or would have predicted this horrific outcome. Some of the Red Sox Nation in attendance who came down to root for their visiting team never envisioned something like this series sweep when they boarded those flights from Logan to TIA. If this series were to emulate a boxing match, it would have been called by the referee in the third round by TKO. It was a classic Northeastern beat down plain and simple.

The Rays have to immediately rebuild after their customary 30-minute grace period to try and refocus and re-institute Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s main mantra of the 2010 season. This team needs to rise from this horrid beating the Red Sox put to them and push that anger and emotion within their offense and reclaim what is rightfully theirs……A first place squad doesn’t give up, doesn’t lay down, and doesn’t show fear…It stands tall, even if bloody and tired, and asks for more please.

This Boston series was a vivid reality check for the Rays that their starting pitching might “set the tone” for their rise this season, but it can just as quickly be their slope to falling too. The offense can not afford to take a single inning, a plate appearance, or a single swing off, or the offensive machine could break down just as it did the last three nights. Even with the power display put on by Rays slugger Carlos Pena with a long solo blast that came only feet short of the Trop’s back wall in that first contest, only five other hits sprinkles Tropicana Field’s turf during that initial Monday loss.

The Rays early Spring mantra of GTMI, or “Get The Man In” fell on hard times as the Rays went 1-6 with RISP, and stranded another 5 souls on the base. This statistic alone firmly stuck the fork deep into the Rays flesh and the fact the Red Sox pitching staff sent 17 consecutive hitters back to the dugout after Jason Bartlett’s double in that same contest , it twisted the fork harder into the Rays underbelly for their first loss to Boston this season.

GTMI had become instantly an anemic message of CWGaH (Can We Get a Hit). As the Rays fans walked to our cars for that long exhausting ride home after Monday night’s loss, we instantly gave that night’s win to the Red Sox knowing the “terrible two’s” ,Rays starters James Shields and Matt Garza were throwing the next two nights. With that great thought and vision of victories in our minds, that first loss seemed easier to swallow. The intense bitterness of that loss seemed less salty and diluted with the possibilities of “Big Game” and ” El Diablo” getting redemption for “WD-40″. A betting man would have wagered his salary easily on the duo with a high probability of a “W” on the left side of the Rays record column. Losing either of those match-ups would have entered his mind as he pluck down his wagers.

 
Mike Carlson/AP

Tuesday night, Shields posted a “quality start”, and set the tone by only giving up 4 hits and 2 runs over 8 innings,. But the odd mixture of an ever widening strike zone by Home Plate Umpire Bob Davison and the trickery of Boston starter Jon Lester taking that extra 6 inches off the plate proved to be the Rays recipe for disaster. Lester gave up only a single to Rays Designated Hitter Willy Aybar in the fourth inning to spoil his night. The Rays again were faced with another “slumber of the lumber” epidemic as the Rays went 0-5 with RISP, and stranded 7 Rays on base in their second loss in as many nights.


The invisibility of Maddon’s offensive mantra GTMI, or “Get The Man In” might have become a broken tooth on the spoke of the Rays hitting machine and it brought the whole she-bang to a screeching halt. When the Rays have shown their offensive pratfalls this season, the team has stranded countless men on base, or forgotten where those bases were located. Without a solid smack, slap or a tickle off the Rays bats, this team will feel that bitter taste of losing again. And we knew after that second smack down this second divisional series would go to Boston. But we still felt strong in knowing the Rays were sending their own demon to the mound for the finale, and he could already taste the sweetness.

And in this final swing at the Red Sox you knew that something had to give for the Rays. Something had to be discovered or uncovered that had boosted the Rays chances at failure the previous two nights. But just as quickly as the sixth Red Sox hitter, you saw Garza instantly show the frustration behind the mound, and some sort of implosion was definitely on the horizon. After that first blast by Adrian Beltre, Garza seemed to second guessing his strategy and try to change his team’s outcome in one sweep. Garza’s 5 walks and 3 home runs allowed last night showed his mind along with his control was not as sharp as the whiskers on his chin.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

Garza was having his own purgatory moments on the mound, the Rays hitters found a reoccurring theme of inconsistent hitting. They did string together an early scoring opportunity in the second inning after Blalock lead-off with a single. Blalock then advanced along the base paths and came across the plate on Reid Brignac’s grounder and tie the game and gave the Rays a boost of renewed confidence.
A second costly mistake to Beltre, which quickly deposited 388 feet into the Leftfield stands and the Red Sox quickly took this game solidly out of the Rays grasp.

As the game ended the frustration and the angst was visible from the Rightfield stands as the Rays players began their trip towards the dugout tunnel to the Rays clubhouse. Some chins were down and you wonder what the final remedy or cure will be for this anemic offense situation to rebound. For immediately on Thursday night, the Chicago White Sox will venture into Tropicana Field and after seeing the Rays recent struggles, they might also be smelling fresh blood.


The Rays need to resoundingly wake up their slumbering offense that went a combined 1-14 with RISP in their Wednesday night debacle. Soon the mantra of GTMI might be dead in the water if the team doesn’t institute a lifesaving move to save this home stand. People will point fingers from the stands towards certain Rays players who have failed to connect or contribute lately, but the stark reality is all 25 members of this Rays team are accountable right now. You win as a team, and you lose as a team.

Somehow some way this spell of offensive despair has to end. Hopefully it is a simple attitude or minor adjustment and again we can cheer and say hello to victory soon for the Rays. Either that, or is it going to be a long, long Summer, and we do not want that!

 

Rays are a AL/NL Hybrid Squad

 


 1080theFan.com
 

During the Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankee game last night Rays Television Announcer Dewayne Staats made sure to mention that the Rays have basically played like a “National League style team” this year. And with the Rays sporting the best record (30-11) in both Leagues right now, being a little like the “Senior Circuit” might not be a bad thing heading into the first round of games against a National League foe on their terms.

And with that, the Rays will be totally comfortable playing by the National League standards since they have been playing that style of baseball since the first week in April. The Rays have been masters at executing and perfecting the sacrifice bunt, squeeze bunt and even the suicide squeeze, which have been National League staples among the N L squad’s offensive arsenal.

But what was once considered a N L advantage with the American League teams sending their pitcher’s into the batter’s box for the first time this season, the Rays might have some special surprises awaiting their N L foes.


Sure heading into Houston we will first see Rays starter Matt Garza hit the mound to start the 14th season of Interleague play . And even with the Rays entering this season’s Interleague schedule with a less than .500 record All Time (99-115), they have been a combined 43-29 since Rays Manager Joe Maddon , which is the sixth best record in the Interleague play format since 2006. And over the past two years, only the Minnesota Twins (26-10) own a better Interleague record than the Rays (26-11) coming into their series against the Astros.

But just because this is usually the first time they send their bevy of pitcher’s to the plate, the Rays over the last two years have batted a Major League best .295 in Interleague play and their pitching staff has held their opponents to a .236 average, also best in the Major League. And even during their 2009 campaign into Interleague play, the Rays posted a 13-5 record last season which was beat only by the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim (14-4).

But playing in unfamiliar parks have been a bit of thorn in the Rays sides as they hold a 44-63 record in the National League ballparks, but they have begun to reverse that trend as they have gone 11-7 over the past two seasons in their strange surroundings.


But heading into the confines of Minute Maid Park with its train that moves throughout the outfield during Home Runs, and their unique Centerfield incline with their majestic flagpole in the center, this will only be the second time the Rays have ever wandered into the Astros home turf. But back in 2003, their last visit to Houston, the Rays did not leave with a great bit of Texas hospitality as the Astros swept them during contests from June6-8, 2003. And only one Rays player still remains on their roster from that 2003 squad, and Houston just happens to be his hometown (Carl Crawford).

RRCollection 

But the two teams did meet during 2008 from June 20-22,2008 as the Astros took two out of three from the Rays with former Astros Brandon Backe beating the Rays in their “throwback jerseys on that Sunday contest. Surprisingly, all three of those game were one run contests that season. But there will be quite a few Rays who will have a crowd or two on hand during this road series as Rays starter Jeff Niemann, who will start the Sunday finale, Crawford, Rays set-up man Dan Wheeler, and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey all have Houston roots. But the real treat might just be in how the Rays pitching staff does at the plate during this series.


The Rays pitching staff have been taking their turns in the Batting Cages over the last several weeks with several Rays pitchers showing they might just come out and surprise a few of us during the N L-slate of the Interleague this season. And starting with tonight’s starter Matt Garza, who is a career 0-8 at the plate, but has been showing increased ease and poise at the plate in recent B P sessions with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton.

And Garza has a bit of revenge on his mind as this will be his second start against Houston lifetime. But his last outing on June 20,2008 when he opposed Astros ace Roy Oswalt did not go well as he lost the decision 4-3. But Garza also brings in a nice 3-2 mark All Time in Interleague play with a special one-hitter in 2008 against the Florida Marlins.


And with no Designated Hitter in N L parks, the Rays might be at a distinctive disadvantage seeing that only 5 other members of the entire Rays pitching staff after Garza even have a Batting Average. We could possibly see Lance Cormier ( 5-46 .109 2 RBI ), Dan Wheeler ( 1-7 .143 ) make at least one plate appearance this series. But Rays Saturday starter leftie David Price owns a 1-3 .333 batting average, and last night’s starter James Shields could get a go at the plate in the middle innings if Maddon wants to save his bench players for a late inning rally. Shield sports a 5-22 .227 average with 1 RBI. But the pride and joy of the Rays pitching staff hitters might be their “secret weapon” Rays long man Andy Sonnanstine who is a career 7-21 or .333 with 2 RBI.

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But most Rays fans might remember his May 17,2009 clutch performance when a line-up card snafu had Sonnanstine batting in the 3-hole after a mix-up on the initial lineup card given to the Home Plate Umpire before that contest. For some odd reason, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria was suppose to be the game’s DH, but was listed on the lineup card as a second Rays Third Baseman and was disqualified from the lineup. Sonnanstine responded with a 1-3 day with a RBI double.


And with Sonnanstines first step into the batter’s box, he became the first AL pitcher to be in the lineup in an AL ballpark since Chicago White Sox pitcher Ken Brett stepped in the box on September 23, 1976 against the Minnesota Twins. On that date, Sonnanstine also became the first Rays pitcher to ever head to the Batter’s box in an AL home game, plus was the first Rays pitcher to ever bat at Tropicana Field.  

Because of that hitting success, Maddon used Sonnanstine again on May 23,2009 as a Pinch Hitter against the Florida Marlins at then Pro Player Stadium, he then again stepped into the box on June 21, 2009 against the New York Mets at Citi Field. During those appearances, Sonnanstine became only the second Rays pitcher following James Shields example from his June 28,2008 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Three Rivers Stadium. Sonnanstine also pinch ran on June 6, 2009 in a AL game against the New York Yankees and scored a run for the Rays.

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But after the aforementioned five Rays pitching “hitters”, the rest of the Rays Bullpen and starter have laid golden goose eggs to a tune of going 0-19 lifetime during Interleague play. Rays starters have combined for a 6-38 mark or a .157 average combined, but Wade Davis has never made an appearance yet in a Major League batter’s box.  The Rays Bullpen (including Wheeler, Cormier and Sonnanstine ) have gone 13 for 93 or a .140 Batting Average in Interleague play. Hopefully we will not have to see Rays relievers Randy Choate (0-5), Rafael Soriano (0-4), Grant Balfour (0-1) or Joaquin Benoit (0-9) make plate appearances during this series.

 
So they Rays, who have the basis of a National League squad down pat will come into their first series against a N L foe with a bit of confidence and a few tricks up their sleeves. But with that one extra hitter missing from the ninth spot in the Rays lineup, it is going to be really interesting to see how Maddon utilizes his troops and his pitching staff for spot duty at the plate.
And who knows, it could be the advent of the short game by putting down a well executed bunt or even a single through the hole that provides the difference in one of these three contests. But playing ” small ball” is the advent of the National League system. And even if they are considered a totally power-based American League team, they think like a National League squad, which could be dangerous for the Astros this weekend.
 

Giving the Rays Some ZZ Top Lovin’

 

With Texas Rockers ZZ Top set to perform after the Tampa Bay Rays play the Kansas City Royals tonight, it only seemed appropriate that maybe I should try and pair up a few of the Rays players with some classic ZZ Top songs. Every once in a while it is fun to just take a moment out and sit back and relax and either poke fun or show the respect I have for this Rays team and their stable of workhorse style players.

I could have rambled towards a posting of Kentucky Derby hopeful candidates that currently play for the Rays, but we already know that coming in one-two in that race might be the sprinter Carl Crawford and the long strides of B J Upton neck and neck at the wire. Honestly might come down to if CC has a forward neck bob at the moment he hit’s the finish line. But it only seemed fitting that I take a few names and personalities off the Rays roster and give them a one-night only ZZ Top song. I can tell you that I-Tunes is going to love me today with this research.



Raysonthe Runway

Sharp Dressed Man:


Now this one might seem like a pretty self explanatory song choice for Rays fashion plate and G Q model in residence slugger Carlos Pena. But I actually have two Rays figures in this choice. The first is of course Pena who has been the fashion sensible member of the Rays since day one. But my other selection might fool a few people, but he is trying with what he’s got, and for that I got to give Rays Television announcer Brian Anderson an Honorable Mention in this song choice.

Anderson might not have the fashion runway swagger of Carlos Pena, or even the handsome looks that make more than a few women faint, but Anderson is a budding fashion police poster child who seems to get better with every road trip. Maybe Pena is secretly taking Anderson out on road trips and getting him a new tie or stylish sports coat or tie to go with his daily ensemble on the Rays broadcasts. No matter what the true story is, we all know Pena is the true fashionista on the Rays roster, but Anderson might be raiding his closet if Pena is not careful…maybe.


 
Raysbaseball.com/ MLB.com

Gimme All Your Lovin’:

I got to go classic tongue-in-cheek here and give this royally down to Rays All-Star and female heartthrob Evan Longoria. For during the last Rays road trip while the team was in Boston for a 4-game series, Longoria made the Boston papers with complaint letters that he was sending multiple texts to a unique collective group of women in the Beantown area. What was so amazing is that people somehow seemed a bit shocked about all of this.

I do not see how this could be a surprise to anyone. Major League Baseball players get handed cellphone numbers and even room keys all the time for prospective romantic interludes, but most disregard them as “groupies” or even trouble waiting to happen. But the fact that is totally humorous is that these same women had Longo’s digits in their cellphones, so they can not play as innocent either here as they might have had conversation with Longoria either before they met their current squeezes, or during their courtship.

Either way, it really has just up the ante and further advanced the mystic and allure of Longoria to women from coast-to-coast. So the next time your “significant other” gets a text message that she either smiles at or giggles like a schoolgirl, just ask her point blank is it from Longoria. It probably is not, but you never know, some guys might think it was an ultimate compliment if Longo was texting his girl….Not me, but there might be someone like that out there in the Rays Republic.


 
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Legs:

This actually might have been the easiest song to place with a Rays player basically because I seem to smile and chuckle every time I see him attempt an extra base or turn the corner for a try at a triple during a Rays contest. Carl Crawford has streamlined his glide around the base paths over the last several years to provide more energy and push to accelerate his speed within a few strides. But still when he rounds the First Base bag and he seems to be leaning at a 45 degree angle and chugging those arms back and forth, his legs always seems to come out in my photos as magical blurs or looking like time lapse photography.

So it was a perfect choice to include Crawford’s name as the player associated with “Legs”. And even if this song ultimately illustrates a love for the female form, I hope Crawford can take that I am using a bit of literary license here to portray this song towards his burst of speed and not the way his lower lips seems to drag like a English Bulldog when he is pumping towards an extra base. And I want to apologize in print if you read the lyrics to the second verse and think I am referring to Crawford with hair down to his fanny….I am not….Seriously ( My Grey’s Anatomy voice)….Seriously!

 
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Cheap Sunglasses:

You might think this would be a natural for Rays Manager Joe Maddon, but I have another victim, I mean choice for this classic ZZ Top tune. To me this song screams out Rays starting pitcher Matt Garza. Maybe it is just me, but Garza sporting that James Shields T-shirt during his side Bullpen session yesterday showed me that he is ultimately the “Too hip for school” guy on this team. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Garza has always had that persona to me. The one where he seems to display and cool and clam demeanor under that bundle of emotions and inner frustration sometimes with himself on the mound. He usually can wear those cheap sunglasses as a outer shield to keep him from actually showing his highly charged confidence and emotions. But then again, Tom Cruise pulled it off with the same pair of cheap sunglasses in “Risky Business” and it turned him into a movie superstar. Maybe Garza can turn his cheap sunglasses into a Cy Young?

 
Rob Carr/ AP

Blue Jeans Blues:


I am not sure why this next one seems to fit just by the title of the song, but I see Rays fifth starter Wade Davis as the perfect poster child for this song. Maybe it is that outer shell he has that eludes most strife and controversy as he seems to glide through his starts even against some of the opposing teams top pitchers. Davis has provided some interesting performances already in 2010, and has been totally in control and often times kind of in his own personal zone of tranquility while attempting to provide pitching brilliance so early in 2010.

And I am not trying to play on his nickname “W D-40″ to provide some raw angle of southern gentleman meets ferocious beast, but the guy is from Lake Wales, Florida and is as calm as a cucumber and soft-spoken as they come. But then again, when things are clicking like they are right now for Davis, there is nothing to worry about anyways….really.

 
Steve Nesius/ AP

Got Me Under Pressure:

For some reason I think this song actually could apply for most of this Rays team this season. Sure I could of thrown this out as a Rafael Soriano selection based mostly on his new role as the Rays closer, but in actuality, I think this entire Rays roster is feeling the pressure this season. Most of them know that this might be the last season that this collective body of players get a chance to revisit or remove some of the pain and feeling of not completing the task at hand that still lurks within some of their minds from 2008.

It might be the last time Crawford, Pena and even Dioner Navarro and possibly Jason Bartlett all hit the field at the same time to try and right a situation that seemed to melt them apart like the cold weather on that unusual October night. Maybe it is the mantra adopted by Maddon for 2010 that no longer uses mathematical situations, but asks the simple question: ” WIN or What’s Important Now”. Maybe it is that urgency of completing the mission, of finally breathing a sigh of relief that will act as the whistle from this pressure cooker called the MLB season.

ZZ Top is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member. They got their start just like so many other musicians did struggling in the small bars and honky tonks in the Texas landscape. But their telling of the stories and the message in their lyrics, they got the rest of the country to not only experience a bit of Texas, but of their own personal cultures and rituals.

But hopefully in the next several months the Rays can duplicate the success and get the admiration of the rest of the Major League Baseball world to again see them for the hardworking and diligent team that they are….And maybe after it is all said and done, the Rays could actually shadow another ZZ Top song as a team.

 
Chris O’Meara/ AP

For if the Rays hit that desired pinnacle they seek so dearly in 2010. If this Rays team can climb that last rung of the ladder and stand proudly at the top with a golden trophy in their mitts, then maybe they can all collectively sing “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” on the pitching mound as they shower each other with praise, champagne and memories just like ZZ Top has given all of us over their long career.

Got to go people. Got a small errand to do since I am getting Photo Credentials to shoot the ZZ Top Concert tonight. And yes, tomorrow will be a ZZ Top post Concert Photo blog. See you later Gator…

Yankees “Team Effort” Slams Rays

 
 
Mike Carlson/AP

It was kind of funny how everyone around me, including Rays fans, wanted to see me shouting and spouting out sports metaphors all over the place on Saturday afternoon after the New York Yankees used a bona fide “team effort” to dominate during their 10-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Rays. But the stark reality of MLB-style baseball is that these types of lop-sided, miscues, one-sided baseball contests happen several times a year to every one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams.

With only 5 Rays games in the 2010 books, you might not expect, or want it to happen today, but I knew this type of rude awakening was hovering on the distant horizon. Most baseball fans call these types of games “emotionless”, or that the “team didn’t seem to not have their heart into it tonight”. But the honest truth is that no matter how hard The Rays played today, no matter if the Rays go on to either win 100+ games a year or just sit at .500 with 81 wins, these types of nightmarish games come up and bite even the World Series Champions when they least expect them.

But do not think I have totally losing it here, but sometimes a game like this can be an early “wake-up” call to a emotional team like the Rays who seemed to dominate the Grapefruit League this Spring Training season, and might have forgotten for a moment some of their basic situational hitting skills that have made them great in the past several years.

 

Sure I wish this type of stagnant offensive contest did not happen against our division rival, the Yankees, and give their biggest rival even one day of an early season emotional advantage going into the rubber match on Sunday, but it happened. Now it is time to take stock, repair the damage and get ready for a brighter tomorrow. But I hate that these types of game can give a team like the Yankees even a slight idea of thinking the 2010 season might be more of a cake-walk than a rough and tumble set of series against these same feisty Rays.

But then again, if the Yankees do want to get over-confident and cocky, that is also fine with me because then it will make their eventual downfall in other Rays series games during the 2010 season a bit more…..tasty.

 

So you just have to rise from your blue Rays seat and salute the overall team effort by both Yankees starting pitcher C C Sabathia and his Yankee defense behind him today who got 18 of those key outs for Sabathia on ground or fly ball outs during this contest. And how amazing that earlier in this game it was scoreless and we were watching a budding pitchers’ duel between the Yankees 2009 19-game winner Sabathia and Rays Rookie Wade (WD-40) Davis.

 
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Even with Sabathia pinpointing that small white baseball within the Umpire’s small strike zone all game long, it was really the Yankee defense that made sure the game remained scoreless until the Yankees exploded for four runs by the beginning of the fifth inning.

 

And from that point the Yankee defense showed its solid backbone and helped carry Sabathia to his first win of the season. But this not to suggest Sabathia was inconsistent on the mound, but he only got two strikeouts from that point in the rest of the game as he relied on the Yankees defense to bring this win home. A key moment in securing this shutout win might have been when Sabathia got Pat Burrell to strikeout to end the bottom of the fifth inning with Evan Longoria standing on Third Base. Sabathia’s effort starved the Rays of a certain run that inning, and paced the way for the rest of the game.
 

And sure I felt a relieved when the pinstriped fans in the stands began to bellyache, moan and groan in the bottom of the eighth inning when with two outs, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach ruined their world dominance scenario with a sharply-hit single through the 5-6 hole for the first hit of the game. It was as if Shoppach had hit a Grand Slam the way the Trop’s Rays-colored crowd visualized this lone drone hit to new Yankee Marcus Thames in Leftfield as a emotional release of all our stress and pent-up emotions that day.

The hit seemed to bewilder all those wearing pinstriped jerseys as they actively were counting aloud each and every Rays out like a countdown of an actual Space Shuttle launching, and throwing around “Yankee legend” banter around about Sabathia’s performance.

 

I have to admit, the pain is still there from the last No-hit bid by Chicago White Sox hurler Mark Buerhle, and I did not want to feel that same pain again today, especially at the hand’s of the Yankees. I was one of the Rays fans in the stands willing to take a deep inhale and exhale every particle of the air molecules in my lungs to try and help propel a Rays batted ball to the wall, or even visualize the speeding ball going through the hole by mentally trying to hold up a infielder’s glove for that first whiff of a chance today.
 

But at that point it was an 8-0 Yankee lead and the end was within sight even after Shoppach was balked to second and then this Rays chance to rebound was squashed six pitches later when Rays pinch hitter Gabe Kapler fouled out to Leftfield to extinguish another Rays possibility to pull themselves off the canvas in this game. It was great to see Ben Zobrist just an inning later hit a long fly ball that just seemed to run out of fuel on its flight path to going into the Rightfield stands and ended up one bouncing off the outfield wall towards ex-Ray Randy Winn, who was manning Rightfield at that point.
 

 
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These type of emotional train wreck games happen in a 162-game season. But with only 5 games in the 2010 MLB books, this type of game should not have happened against a divisional rival. It instantly put us a game behind them not only in the standings, but also in the hole towards winning the 2010 yearly series against the Yankees. In 2008 when the Rays had their most productive season, the team had a dominant year against their divisional rivals taking it to them every game and eventually pulling out the yearly series, which ended up being the difference between a American League East title and a lower spot in the standings.

 

A MLB team stubs its toes more than a few times during a season, but it how they rebound or answer the call the next contest that shows the stamina or the short-coming of a team. I expect a better game on Sunday, a more physical contest and one where the fight will come early to the Yankees and Rays pride will shine again. And even if a loss does happen, if the team leaves it all out on the field, and comes to play aggressive and emotional baseball, then they might conquer that Saturday set-back, which might have done more damage behind the scenes than between the foul lines. How a team rebounds from a game like this can be a clear indication of the unseen character of a squad.
 
 
 

Rays Pitching still has Question Marks

 
 
Www.TBO.com

The only thing right now keeping Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Wade Davis as a question mark entering the final weeks of the Spring is Davis himself. Davis could have made some movement towards silencing his critics, and possibly securing his fifth spot in the rotation with a good outing, but instead Davis stubbed his toes. And that lackluster outing has added fuel to the fire that Davis might not be with the Rays on April 6th for the Home Opener and might be headed down to Durham for a month or so to regroup.

 

And before his last outing, the idea of the Rays sending Davis down to stop his Major League service clock seemed to be the only logical reason to ship Davis back to the minors until at least the middle of May and sticking with Mr “Plug In”, Andy Sonnanstine on the Rays roster. The versatility of Sonnanstine right now might lay heavily on their upcoming fifth rotation decision as Sonnanstine could effectively switch from Bullpen or staring positions as needed until either Davis or J P Howell are again shown to be a positive move for the club.
 

And it was only last Spring that Davis also took himself out of the thought process for the battle for the Rays fifth spot in the rotation in 2009 with another similar bad outing at the wrong time. But this year, after a great late season campaign up starting games for the Rays, it seems that Davis had his future with the Rays in 2010 firmly in his pitching hands. And with Sonnanstine not flinching at all, but showing his resourceful nature and rebounding effectively from a bad 2009, it seems that the Rays could, should and might send Davis back for a month to push his service clock back a season.
 

And this move is totally reminiscent of the way the Rays pushed Third Base prospect Evan Longoria back to Durham in 2008 for a small period of time before Longoria was then brought up weeks later due to an injury to Willy Aybar. But with the Rays recent injury bug there is speculation that both could make the Rays roster without incident this Spring and push away the competition for the fifth spot. Which poses a few questions to me. If both starters make the roster, with one pitcher doing spot duty as a long reliever, will that reorganize the overall chemistry and roles of the Rays Bullpen, with the exceptions being closer Rafael Soriano and Dan Wheeler?
 

And if Sonnanstine is given the additional slot on the Rays 25-man roster, does that mean that Joaquin Benoit doesn’t have a realistic chance to make the Rays roster? There have been moments where Benoit has looked like his former Rangers heydays, and others where he has looked like he is still seeking the answers. But Benoit has done exactly what the Rays have asked of him, and is currently tied with several relievers in total game appearances this Spring, plus Benoit has looked extremely good over the last week. Could Benoit be peaking at the right moment to get in the mindset of the Rays Coaches as the clock winds down this Spring?
 

And with Howell out for at least a month, could fellow lefties Heath Phillips or even Carlos Hernandez get a chance again at the Major League level to occupy Howell’s spot in the Rays Bullpen, then bring about some major decisions by the Rays when Howell returns. Or could the Rays take their chances and try to sneak either pitcher through waivers and back to the minors upon Howell’s return?
 

Howell’s injury brings up the new thought of both Davis and Sonnanstine staying up with the big club, but could the move compromise the Rays Bullpen’s overall integrity a bit. With Sonnanstine joining the motley crew, could the move force former long reliever Lance Cormier into Howell’s old role on the short term, or do the Rays hope that Benoit can assume Howell’s role of facing hitters from both sides of the plate, and leave Cormier to mostly specialized rightie roles, or as a second possible long reliever?
 

 
Gail Burton/AP

But then there is another Bullpen question that some people have been mumbling about since late in 2009. Could Rays reliever Grant Balfour be a problem or could he be hiding something? Balfour has been decreasing his overall pitch velocity and looking pretty vulnerable to hitters over the last several months of 2009. Could he just of had a weak arm also towards the end of 2009 from his overuse in 2008 and 2009, or could he just have run out of tricks and the hitters are wise to him now? And again this Spring, Balfour has not had the best Spring again here in 2010 showing either he is a slow starter, or maybe the 2008 season’s magic might have finally left his fingers.

 

There are still many pitching questions left to be answered, but the Rays have said that a definite decision on their 2010 rotation will be coming soon. One highly probable suggestion is to flip-flop current the 3 and 4 starters Jeff Neimann and David Price to break up the right-handed heavy Rays front of the rotation. Something that was unique for the Rays in 2009 was their addition of the second leftie when Price finally joined the Rays mid-season rotation so the Rays could break up the righty-lefty batting order match-ups during every series, but with Scott Kazmir now gone, only David Price remains in the Rays rotation.

The move would effectively eliminate a lefty dominant line-up for an entire Rays opponent’s series, and break up any chance of another teams getting into a hitting rhythm against the Rays by possibly facing three right-handers in a row. Big decisions, hard decisions. But then again, that is why the Rays brass get paid the big money.

 

My personal hopes are that the team uses Benoit effectively in the Rays Bullpen to begin the season, with Sonnanstine as the fifth starter for about a month. That would give Benoit a chance to show he still has the stuff to compete at the Major League level. When Benoit is on the ball, he is simply magical on the mound. And this move could also effectively buy the Rays an added year of Davis’s services, plus give the team more time to showcase Sonnanstine’s talents if they decide they might want to seek a trade, or they could simply send Sonnanstine back to the minors as a insurance policy against further pitching injuries.
 

Whatever the Rays decide, the team has to effectively decide what the roles Rays player’s like Benoit, Cormier and leftie Randy Choate will perform before they can streamline their thought process and make an adequate and concise decision. This might be the final season the Rays have this much offensive firepower for awhile, so the team needs to make the right adjustments and the right moves to counter that offense with a great pitching staff and effective Bullpen in 2010.

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

Rays Manager Joe Maddon is famous for using the quote, ” Starting pitching sets the tone of the game.” If the team doesn’t find the right solutions to shore up their back-end of the rotation, it will just fester into a situation every 5 days for the Rays. Davis and Sonnastine have to provide that comfort and confidence level over the next few days for the Rays to begin their final decision process. But with a swift decision, it also sets up the Rays pitchers to get into a rhythm now, even before the season begins and adjust accordingly to their rotation slots.

The Rays had a few setbacks recently on their pitching front, with Howell going down this weekend and question marks still surrounding several Bullpen 2010 roles and abilities. But in the end, the Rays have to do what is right for the team to fulfill their quest to again play deep into October. With both sides of the ball clicking for the Rays, the sky could be the limit in 2010, but quickly even that scenario can falter if an injury bug decides to hit the team, or a starter falters early….but then again, that is why we play 162 games before crowning a Division Champion.

Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

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With Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon seeming to go (on the surface) from genius to deflated mathematical slogans over the last two Rays seasons, it will not be the last time Rays fans see Maddon hits upon a numerical formula for the formulation of his young Rays squad. Just on the horizon, there will be another call for a numerical sequence to shape and ultimately sort out his final 2010 Rays 25-man roster.

And the final direction this 2010 Rays team takes in 2010 will be heavily based on this mathematical breakdown, even before their Home Opener on April 6,2010. And this simple math problem might say a lot about how solid and confident this Rays Coaching staff, and Maddon feel about the key elements of their 2010 squad before firmly heading into the Rays 13th Major League Baseball season.

 
 

One statistical breakdown remains unsolved, and it will definitely define the early roster of this team. This one still undecided simple mathematical conclusion could become the balancing fulcrum towards the realizations of multiple scenarios for possible failure, or ultimate success going into the 2010 season. For these two sets of simultaneous and sequenced numbers will decide the final set-up of the Rays roster. How the Rays split their 2010 roster into their “13 & 12″ segments will be a huge indicator of how the Rays perceive their team’s strengths coming out of Spring Training, and into the early divisional firestorm with American League East ramifications starting with Game 1.

How Maddon and his staff decide if they want to start the season with 13 pitchers and 12 bench players or vice versa will be an early tell tale sign to the confidence level this Coaching staff has with its roster, and its solution towards early challenges.

 
 

For the Rays can not have a downward spiral in the month of April, like in 2009, when the Rays went quickly towards an unpredictable 9-14 early record, and put themselves in “catch-up” mode for the rest of the season. How this Rays squad separates their personnel into those “13-12″ splits might be a instant indication if the Rays organization believes their pitching will need to get the “upper hand”, or if the hitting/fielding players will get the chance to man that “13th seat” at the table.

But you can count on more than a few players trying to force the Rays hands and have their names put in ink onto that “13th” numbered roster spot this Spring. These young and hungry players will do everything humanly possible to make the Rays staff’s decision tougher, and hope to make it lean towards their names with an impressive performance during Spring Training. And the ultimate reward just might make their first Opening Day MLB roster.

 

If the Bullpen pulls it together and borderline relievers like Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer make the roster, it could tilt that invisible line towards the team ultimately carrying 13 pitchers. And even the addition of former Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine thrown into the pitching mix, either in the Bullpen, or as a possible fifth starter. This could throw the whole equation quickly into the pitching sides favor early on this Spring. But that in itself presents an interesting and complex decision all by itself.

GailBurton/AP

 
With returning fifth starter Wade Davis and Sonnanstine squaring off in the only battle this Spring for a starting job, could the eventual loser of that battle just be sent packing to another team like Jason Hammel in 2009, or could they just be sent down to Triple-A Durham knowing they might be the first call-up of the season?

 
 

I have a feeling right now Maddon and his Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might be leaning towards extending that “13th slot” towards a pitcher, but there are also going to be some tough and interesting decisions to be made in the Rays infield and outfield mix that might make that entire pitching situation moot.

We already know that outfielder Matt Joyce is going to try to prove once and for all to the Rays Coaching Staff and Maddon that he deserves that Rightfield slot going into the season, and maybe for the next several years. And even if Joyce wins that spot (which I think he does), it is small factoring process compared to the highly competitive dogfight that will ultimately decide the fate of the Rays second utility guy between Reid Brignac and newcomer Sean Rodriguez.

 
 
And right now, I am basing this opinion solely on drills and exercises I have seen at the Rays complex, it seems at this moment that the Rays staff’s eyes are focusing tightly on Rodriguez’s defensive abilities more and more every day. But real soon we will see just how slick Rodriguez is at second base when Grapefruit League games begin on Wednesday with the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Florida.

And maybe Brignac’s roster “pop-ups” to the majors in 2009 might have given the Rays staff more of an comprehensive book on Brignac’s abilities coming into this Spring, and possibly Brignac’s scorecard already has a few penciled-in notes and scratches from the Rays Coaching staff, while Rodriguez is a blank slate with everything to gain heading into the Spring Training games.

Sure Rodriguez was a key trade component of the Rays trading left-handed starter Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late July 2009, but this will be the first time most Rays fans and the Tampa Bay media will get an extended chance to see what the kid can do……now or in the near future for the Rays.

 
 
And if you realistically count the Rays bench players right now, with players like Carlos Pena, Kelly Shoppach, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, B J Upton, Gabe Kapler, Pat Burrell and the injured Willy Aybar, you already have 11 Rays players penciled into that first 11 possible bench slots ob the 25-man roster.

If more than one of these young players like Joyce, Rodriguez, Brignac or even Elliot Johnson makes a lasting impression that they “have to be” on this roster, this could ultimately shake up the preconceived notion of 13 pitchers and twist the equation quickly towards 13 bench players. And that scenario has a very distinctive possibility of happening this Spring. These numbers games for the first time in Rays short history, might effectively come down to total game day performances and not the foresight predictions on their talents, or a daily growing maturity in their abilities to play at the Major League level.

 
 

But, the wrist injury to Aybar might be one of the biggest question mark still unanswered totally into this first set of Grapefruit League games. If he is down and out for an extended time, or even gets put on the 15-day Disabled List to start the regular MLB season, the Rays could keep an extra bench player down with the Rays instead of sending them to the minor league camp or even up to Durham.

So there might be a lot of day-to-day evaluations and recommendations discussed with Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield in the next week or so to see if there is a viable option of Aybar playing before the Major League season begins, or they shut Aybar down from hitting drills and let him effectively rehab back into game shape before pressing this same numbers issue again during the Rays season.

 
 

And if Aybar does go on the D L, it could also be a bit of a last gasp of making this roster for one of the reliever fighting it out to become a Rays Bullpen member, or could evolve into a chance for the loser of the Sonnanstine/Davis battle to be kept on the Major League roster as a possible long reliever like Lance Cormier.

My personal gut reaction is that the Rays seem to want to do everything in their power to try and keep Sonnanstine up at this level, but if he falls into that 13th slot and Aybar comes back, he would be the first to fall from the 25-man roster. You already know that Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Cormier, Dan Wheeler, Randy Choate (leftie specialist), J P Howell along with Wade Davis, James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price and Jeff Niemann take up 11 pitching spots before even considering Abreu, Thayer or Joaquin Benoit as a Bullpen option.

 
 

 
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That would leave a possible one viable slots, with a second up in the air right now if the Rays want to carry 13 pitchers. You could pencil in Sonnanstine into one of those two spaces, but with him and Davis both having minor league options, they could always be sent down with the adage that it came down to that “13th ” spot. And even with Thayer and Abreu showing mixed results at this level, you have to think of the two, Abreu would get a longer look based on his 2009 MiLB.com designation as the Triple-A Reliever of the Year.

But not going in Abreu’s favor is his short stint with Cleveland in 2009, when he seemed to imploded a bit on the mound and almost started an all out brawl in a game versus Seattle. But both relievers have paid their minor league dues and could force the Rays hand and send Sonnanstine to Durham, even with great outings this Spring.

 
 

This is only my scenario of the whole situation and is only my personal glance into the Rays possible decision on this issue. I see the loser of the Davis and Sonnanstine battle to be immediate trade bait offered before MLB rosters finalize and if a good trade option can not be found, the loser of the fifth rotation battle will be sent back to Durham knowing they are the first starting pitcher recalled by the Rays.

I think there are a few NL teams that would jump on Sonnanstine if he has a great Spring, but there is still time to see about his 2010 situation. I truly feel that Joyce will win his battle for Rightfield, and will platoon with Ben Zobrist to begin the season until Joyce shows he can hit left-handers with consistency, then it open another can of worms for the Rays as to a final playing position for Zobrist.

 

Out of the infield battle, I see Sean Rodriguez maybe having a slight edge right now, but I feel it is Brignac’s job to lose since he has the confidence and skill level to play at the Major League level. And if Aybar does go on the D L , they both could get a realistic shot to make the initial Rays 25-man Opening Day roster. But I also think in the end, the Rays will shop Brignac and he could be somewhere else either before the 2010 season, or within the first few months of the season.

It is funny how two of the Rays past “utility” guys, Aybar and Zobrist based on their great seasons in 2008 and 2009 will play a part so deep into the Rays decisions in 2010. But that just goes to show you the improved depth and wealth of talent sitting in Port Charlotte right now, just at the Major League camp level.

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

Some people consider the number “13” to be mostly evil with no redemption for any good. But that same number “13” for one Rays player this Spring Training season will be a blessing, and a chance to show they have what it takes to survive and play daily at this level of the game. Whoever gets that coveted “13th” spot in 2010, no matter if they are a Rays pitcher, or field player, they will know internally that they survived one of the most competitive Rays Spring Training camps.

It might not seem so tough to some of the Rays fans watching the workouts and drills, but this Spring’s competition level has been raised very, very high, and the final Rays player to grace that “13th” spot decision has to consider himself lucky indeed, for they get a chance to grow with this Rays team as they again set their sights on games in October.
 

Rays Pitchers and Catchers Report…The Photo Blog

 



Today I want to conclude the photos that I took out at the Rays Spring Training complex on Friday morning. Hopefully each and every one of you will get a chance sometimes in your life to either get out to Arizona or Florida to see this yearly migration and training exercise featuring some of the most talented and fit athletes. No matter what team, or the location, these are our “Boys of Summer”,  and to catch them in this energetic elementary state away from the confines of the regular season.

 
 
This is the time of the season where the team begins to forge their team’s identity for the upcoming season, and prepare for their first battle in April 2010. Hope you all enjoy the rest of my photos of the Tampa Bay Rays as they “officially” began the quest to prepare for another enthusiastic and winning 2010 season.

One of the necessary “evils” of Spring Training is the television and media requests for interviews and short sound bytes about the upcoming season. Here we have former Rays Rookie of the Year candidate pitcher Jeff Niemann being interviewed by a local television crew about his expectation for the 2010 Rays season. You can not tell by the photo, but Niemann is growing a ” Abe Lincoln”-style beard that is just beginning to come into its own. He has not decided if he will keep it for the season, but combined with rookie pitcher Wade Davis, they could be the “bearded” back end of the Rays rotation this season. 


One of the great things about the way the Charlotte County Sports Park is setup is the short walk across the player’s parking lot before they hit the Rays clubhouse front door. It is an excellent spot to get autographs and also chat with your favorite players. Also, there are some players who are more pat to sign during Spring Training then they do during the regular season, and this is a great time to get those final pieces to your autograph collection. 

Welcome to Tampa Bay Kelly Shoppach. I think he felt like a hunted man as most of the Tampa Bay media was waiting for him and the other catchers’ to come in last during the days event and he was kind enough to give and every one of them a sound byte for their nightly telecast. 

Shoppach is pictured here in the middle of the media throng with local sportscasters popping microphones in front of his face as they ask about the upcoming competition to see who is going to be the Rays starting catcher for the season. Most people think the competition is going to be fierce between Shoppach and incumbent Dioner Navarro for the Rays starting catching job. I actually think it might come down to game situations as Shoppach is more apt at getting on base, while Navarro can provide some power at times in the lineup. Should be a fun time watching these two go through the Spring. 


I remember when I was playing sports, I used to hate hitting the “sharks” as I used to call them. The problem with some media members is they are always seeking the negative items and looking for an extreme angle on the team. People have asked me why I try and take a more positive approach to my blogs and my commentary, the proof is right above in this picture. With all the media onrush, I think a positive spin on even the worst situation can do wonders. But, I do have my own targets ( Hickey, Burrell).   

It was so great to see all of the guys out there tossing the ball around and laughing and commenting to each other throughout the workouts. Every pitcher performed drills today in anticipation of the Rays Fan fest on Saturday, in which most of the Rays pitchers’ will take that long trek up to Tropicana Field to participate in autograph signings and photo opportunities with Rays fans.  

 

I have always looked at Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer as our own personal “Yoda”. I remember someone saying one time that Zim has ” forgotten more baseball than any of us will ever research or see in our lifetimes”. And I have to agree with that quote 100 percent. He is always willing and eager to sign for fans, and is a true iconic figure that Rays fans are lucky to talk and learn from during times like Spring Training. It is funny, I used to pump his gas back in the 1970’s at my dad’s gas station, and no matter where you encounter Zimmer, he is always a great person to talk baseball with….always.

 

I was talking to Kevin Barr, who is the Rays Strength and Conditioning coach for a few minutes on Friday, and he is as excited as the guys to get back to work in 2010. One of the great aspects of Ray Manager Joe Maddon’s Coaching staff is their positive enthusiasm and their confident approach to situations with the Rays players. No matter if it on-the-field problems, or getting back into game shape after an injury, this staff is centered in positive energy and it feeds off them to the players.

I was excited to head on down to the far end of the complex after the pitchers’ came in for the day and see the Rays catchers in camp doing time in the hitting cages. One of the guy who caught my attention was Joe Dillon, who is trying to make this Rays roster as a multipurpose player. Last season he was Maddon’s choice as an emergency third catcher, but with a great Spring, he could make the roster as a bench and infield utility man. Plus he was tagging the ball down the third baseline today with some extreme power.

I am always surprised by the new exercises and physical fitness regiment that they Rays include in their daily workouts. No matter if it is the extra large rubber bands to strengthen their calves and legs, or the flex tubing to help stretch out their arms and shoulders, each Spring there is something new in the Rays exercise arsenal. 

 

And it was great to see the guys starting to hit drills during the first day with everyone participating but Rays new closer Rafael Soriano who has been battling some chest congestion due to a vicious cold. He might have only thrown a few long toss balls today, but he was there for Maddon’s meeting and looks imposing in his Rays uniform. 


 

But the “man of the hour” was Rays owner Stuart Sternberg who fielded a barrage of questions from the media on subjects ranging from the Hillsborough County stadium buzz to the Rays possible scenarios to keep Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena for 2011. Another issue that was on the media’s mind was the payroll concerns for 2011 and the rumors of Rays Season Tickets being down for this season.
 

One of the true sights of Spring. Most of the Rays players came out in their game spikes, but they also brought along their running shoes for their post long toss running exercises and workout on another field. With most of their cleats not broken in yet, using these running shoes might be one of the best options to keep blisters and foot situations under control so early in the Spring Training process. 

 

Rays reliever J P Howell and Rays starter Matt Garza are shown in these two photos ” airing it out” in their long toss portion of the Friday exercises. Howell was throwing with a group that contained fellow Bullpen mates Dan Wheeler and Lance Cormier before Cormier and Garza hooked up and put on a long-toss show with both pitchers throwing consistent balls in the air from the leftfield foul line to almost centerfield before they stopped and moved onto the pitching drills segment of the daily events. 

 

 

Maddon has a very experienced minor league Coaching Staff, who also were in attendance today to help in the drills and also be his eyes and ears at all five separate drill locations. With the Rays minor league system being considered one of the best in baseball, these Coaches are the backbone of that entire system.

 

 

Most of the morning exercises were devoted to stretching and limbering up for the daily grind of drills and activities to see what shape each of the Rays players might be in prior to the team turning up the dial and getting more intense in the next few days. And with every pitcher basically not doing intense workout on Saturday because of their travels to Fan Fest, it was a time to push the envelope a bit.  

 

Jaoquin Benoit, pictured above is one of the many non-roster Spring invitees to the Rays camp and could make the Rays decision a bit more difficult with a great Spring. Most consider him on the outside looking in, but he could secure a spot in the Rays bullpen with a few impressive outings this Spring. The Rays begin their Spring Training schedule in 10 days. 


It was a great turnout of fans both from Charlotte County, and some who came as far as Boston and Chicago for the Rays first “official” day of Spring Training camp. Just another sign that the Rays Republic is beginning to get fans from all over the country excited about Rays baseball.

One of the things I respect most about Maddon is that he leads by example.  He is one of the most positive people I have ever met, and he is always preaching and showing confidence and the essence of positive thinking to his players. But something else I have noticed the last few years, he is always the last person off the Spring Training field.

Not unlike Lt. Colonel Hal Moore in the Vietnam War epic “We Were Soldiers”, Maddon has lead by example and been a constant force of steady, confident leadership for his team. And just like Moore would not step off the ground and into a transport helicopter until every last solider was transported or removed from the battlefield in the Ia Drang Valley, Maddon also shows that unity daily in his activities with his team.

So this was my short and eventful day at the Rays complex as pitchers and catchers officially reported to the Rays to begin the 2010 campaign to get back to the playoffs. There will be another 10 days of extreme workouts and drills before game action begins, and less than 45 days until the Rays open their season at Tropicana field against the Baltimore Orioles. Hope you enjoyed the photos, because I enjoyed getting them for all of us to enjoy…

 

 

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