Results tagged ‘ Willy Aybar ’

Bird is the Word Last night

 

                Orioles 7,      Rays 5

           
                   Mike Ricigliano/www.baltimoresun.com

During last night’s game, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds kept going through my mind.  You might remember the scene where they were stuck in the gas station and the pumps were about to blow up and the anxious and terrified adults were looking for options, but none came to their minds. That is the same rationale that was floating through my head after watching seven innings of the Tampa Bay Rays scrambling for answers and coming up blank.

I mean I could have only had to watch the game from the first pitch just past 7 pm until American Idol began on Fox Television at 8 pm, and I would have seen all the Rays offense in that contest.  I know there were more scoring chances in the game after that huge second inning, but the Rays did not execute or even seemed to have the ability to provide any additional show of consistent offense after that inning.  The wildest play of the night had to be on a fly ball hit by Ben Zobrist and a wild game of “catch me if you can” in centerfield by Adam Jones and Ty Wiggington.

That play was a negative Web Gem all its own. Jones came in for the ball and Wiggington stood to his right to watch him glove the ball for an easy out. But instead we had a Three Stooges (Wiggy was playing the part of Curly Joe) routine where Jones misplayed the ball and it popped off his glove and smacked Wiggy in the chest and he had a chance to be the hero, but the ball finally fell to the grass.  For his efforts, Jones did get an error on the play.

From the third inning on tonight the Rays only got five additional hits in the game. Unfortunately the Rays did provide the Orioles defense with 2 strikeouts and two double plays in those last 7 innings to secure their 14th win of the season. Missing were Akinora Iwamura and Pat Burrell from the Rays lineup tonight. Rays Manager Joe Maddon had decided to give Aki the night off since he has been working extra hard recently and did play extensively  and looked a bit fatigued coming off the field after the Red Sox series. And Burrell has been battling a neck situation that had come and gone for the last week or so.

Considering this might have been a perfect match up for Burrell tonight, one has to wonder if the Burrell injury might be a little more than advertised by Maddon. And it is a shame he could not even use him as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning when George Sherrill, the leftie closer for the Orioles was on the mound. Both Sherrill and Hendrickson might have been great pitchers for Burrell to get some needed hit and confidence at the plate from in this game. Hopefully, we can see Burrell again at the plate in Wednesday nights contest.

 
Nick Wass / AP

Rays Did Have Offense..Early

As I stated before, the top of the second inning was a great display of what the Rays can do against a struggling pitcher. They seemed to be putting pressure on the jugular in that inning and never let Hendrickson get any reprieve until Carlos Pena finally flied out to Nick Markakis to end the inning. But the damage was already done by then by the Rays, who had a 5-1 lead at that point. In that inning Gabe Kapler hit a nice sacrifice fly to deep left field to score Willy Aybar, who had singled to lead-off the inning. It was Kapler’s first RBI as a Ray.

Dioner Navarro then hit a RBI-single up the middle to score Jason Bartlett, who had doubled down the third baseline earlier in the inning. B J Upton then walked to put men on the corners with Carl Crawford coming to the plate. Crawford, who had doubled in his first at bat, took a hanging breaking pitch and hit a 2-run double to deep left that Orioles leftfielder Felix Pie tried to dive for, but came up short.  Evan Longoria then extended his RBI streak when he put a pitch off the out-of-town scoreboard in rightfield to drive in Crawford.

Carlos Pena then hit a long fly out to  Nick Markakis to end the inning with the Rays now up 5-1. In that inning, the three outs recorded against the Rays were also hit balls.  But a few great thing did happen for the Rays. Crawford moved past Aubrey Huff with his 2 RBI in the inning to become the All-Time Rays RBI Leader for the young franchise. And Longoria, after the Orioles announcers were debating if he could keep up his RBI pace, hit his ball off the scoreboard with the next pitch. Longoria is still the MLB RBI Leader, now with 45 on the year.

               
                Nick Wass / AP

Sonny is No Longer Money

Man how it pains me to write that last line. I really like the lunch pail work ethic of Andy Sonnanstine. I can see that he has the drive and passion to go out there ever five days and throw until his heart gives out, or his arm falls off. But when is enough going to be enough here. At this time last year he had a 4-1 record, not the 2009 version that sports a 1-4 record with a inflated 7.27 ERA. Is there something wrong here, or am I just be too critical of a guy we had total faith in last season and might have a few struggles on the mound in 2009.

I am not a Pitching Coach, so my opinion is based solely on what I see and what I know about pitching, but there is something tell tale about him in 2009. I am not saying he is tipping his pitches, but something is tipping off the hitters more this season than in 2008.  Or could it just be something a simple as he is not re-inventing himself a bit every start. Maybe the team Volvo has finally hit the point where team have scouted him so much they can even tel
l when he is exhaling now.

That does happen in the pitcher’s career, and they have to re-adjust or re-invent their pitching style to confuse and make hitter get back off their heels waiting for his breaking ball. I am not going to call for a change just yet because it might be fixable, but it will have to be fixed at this level and he can not go down to the minors and work on it. It either has to be done up here, or he might just be on his way out the door in Tampa Bay. Coming into the 2009 season, you looked at Sonnanstine as a consistent pitcher, but so far in 2009, that consistency is based more in the negative than positive so far.

Last night, he lasted only two innings, or 69 pitches before getting the hook with the Rays behind 7-5. Every one of the Orioles runs were attributed to Sonny last night. That second inning only paled in comparison to Hendrickson’s by two great plays by the Rays outfield. If not for those plays, the Orioles might have tacked on two additional runs.  I know the minds in the Rays dugout are spinning right now trying to figure out what to do with this situation.

Like I mentioned before, it could be a simple mechanic adjustment like Scott Kazmir, or it just might be the end of Sonny’s run as a start with the Rays. Either way, the bleeding has to stop. The Rays had a killer inning in the top of the second and had no reason to have to stand out there and see all their hard work go bouncing by them in the bottom half of that inning. Change has to happen……….either good or bad, but it has to begin starting today for Sonny.


Nick Wass / AP

Wednesdays Wild Writs

****  The Rays got a huge boost from their outfielders’ in the bottom of the second inning.  After Designated hitter Lou Montanez hit an RBI-double to right-centerfield. Greg Zaun hit a single to rightfield that Gabe Kapler quickly got a hold of and sent a rocket to Dioner Navarro at home to easily get Montanez trying to score. The ball was a one-hopper that came up to Navarro perfectly to secure Kapler’s third outfield assist of the year. That ties the part-timer with Carl Crawford for the team lead.

The second outfield assist came from centerfield as B J Upton got Cesar Izturis and second base for his first outfield assist of the year. Upton, who was the Rays leader in outfield assists in 2008 with 12 assists. This play, along with Kapler’s earlier assist in the same inning, kept two more runs from scoring for the Orioles in the second inning.

**** Every one was curious what had happened to the missing left fielder for the Orioles in the top of the fourth inning. It seems that during the bottom of the third inning after Pie had struck out looking against Grant Balfour, he reportedly was sent to the University of Maryland Hospital complaining of stomach discomfort and after a CT scan, he will be in the Orioles dugout for tonight’s game.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley was not aware of the situation in the top of the fourth inning and went into the Oriole’s clubhouse looking for Pie, but had to send out Ty Wiggington to play left field for the inning. “We thought it was just a temporary thing, that he had a stomach ailment or virus, upset stomach,” Trembley said. “I went to the home plate umpire and told him and he said, ‘I’ll give you a couple minutes.’ And I told Wigginton to get ready and Pie couldn’t come back, so that’s why we had to make a change.”

Pie, who is hitting .180 right now  has essentially lost his starting left field position to Lou Montanez after being brought over from the Chicago Cubs in the off season to shore up that spot in the outfield. Ex-Ray Joey Gathright was recently traded also from the Cubs to the Orioles for infield/outfielder Ryan Freel. Gathright does have major league experience, and could be a nice speedy option in left field for the Orioles to consider for the position.

**** I give Sunsports some credit for at least giving us the audio feed from Oriole Park at Camden Yards as they were trying to fix their video problems last night. We got to hear the pre-game voices of Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats as they ran down the match-up and only missed Upton long drive to the 364 mark in centerfield, and Crawford’s ninth double of the season. We got back into the 20th Century right as Longoria began his first at bat of the night, which ended up being a liner to center field to move Crawford to third base.

**** After the game, Todd Kalas interviewed both Aubrey Huff and Kapler about their feelings on the recent demonstrations by players and pitchers in the league. Huff told Kalas that he had ” gotten several text messages”.  I still thin it is a bit humorous that Huffdaddy had to wait two years before he got a chance to rub that fist pump back at Joba Chamberlain before Sunday;s 3-run homer. But it was Kapler’s comments that showed the best representation of what most of the league might be thinking on this subject:
 

“Personally,my standpoint is is that if the fans enjoy it.  And it is good for all of us, and as long as it is not, you know, completely over the top and out of line, I think that anything that makes puts fans in the seats, ends up paying all of our salaries. media folks included, So I do not mind seeing a little bit of showboat or something good roots out there.”

I think Kapler has a great grasp of this whole situation having played with the Boston Red Sox for several seasons, then taking off for the Japanese League, which views cheering and also displays of showmanship completely different than in the United States. Then he comes back to the MLB and managed in the minor leagues for a year before deciding in 2008 he still had the desire and passion to play the game.

Classic Rays versus Red Sox Game

 

               Red Sox 4,       Rays 3


Michael Dwyer / AP

This One Did NOT Hurt As Much

Every season you have games that will come down a test of wills at the plate. In last night’s game, Jonathan Papelbon won this first face-off of the season against the Rays. But even if you are a Red Sox or a Tampa Bay Rays fan, you had to enjoy this game for the pure pleasure of it being a ever-changing affair from the first pitch on. There was everything you want in a featured baseball game on ESPN.

You have the tale of the struggling hitter, the emotional pitchers from both teams, the outfielder who replaced a former Fenway legend who is making his own legacy, and you had a scattered amount of hits and runs to keep everyone interested until the last out. Heck, even the ninth inning pinch-hit by Carlos Pena had me at hello. Coming into that at bat, Pena was 1 for 3 against Papelbon with a home run. There was that instant anxiety that Pena, the MLB home run leader could take any pitch yard on him.

And there was the fact that Papelbon is usually at his best in this kind of scenario. Even with the count 3-2, you had to imagine what was going to happen next in this game. The only thing that spoiled it for me was the strikeouts. I know I am being a bit critical here, but I wanted to see the Boston defense step up and show their teeth or their obvious weakness tonight. When Dustin Pedroia left the game with a gimpy hammy, you knew the pressure would fall upon the Red Sox shoulder even harder to win this first series from the troublesome Rays.

But in the end, it was the flamboyant closer thrusting his fists and doing his best Joba Chamberlain impression. I am only hoping that the next time a Ray hits a homer off Papelbon, he gets the same greeting as Joba after Aubrey Huff took him yard on Sunday. This was the Rays 20th game against the American League East opponents , with two more on tap before they finally greet another A L Central opponent at home this next coming weekend. I mean let’s think about the game in a really abbreviated form.

The Red Sox ace, Josh Beckett had given up 25 runs and 44 hits since his Opening Day win over the Rays in Fenway. He had blossomed to a 8.13 ERA. He was ripe for the picking, and the Rays did not take full advantage of a guy who was having trouble with his fastball. But that is the game. You never know where your offense or your pitching will be at any moment.

The game did begin with a classic National League style run production after Carl Crawford got on base with a slap single to Mike Lowell at third base. Pat Burrell hit a nice slow rolling RBI-single to deep left and Crawford did what you have to do when he scored on the play. He bowled over Jason Varitek like we were taught in Little League. It was not a locomotive collision, but it was the classic side punch to get him off the plate and send a message slam. The Rays wanted this game, and even a great catcher was not going to stand in Crawford’s way tonight.


Michael Dwyer / AP

And what was even better, Willy Aybar, who gracefully pushed a catcher in Minnesota and cost the Rays a run in a Rays loss got a front row seat to it. Aybar now can see with his own eyes what playing the Rays way really means. You go all out no matter what…..even into a catcher. You might remember in Spring Training 2008, Elliot Johnson blew Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli to the backstop with a massive slam. Ironic that it was also seen as a catalyst by the Rays of the potential and the power of this teams confidence in 2008.

I hope the message got through to people on that bench. The emotion and the confidence is still within that roster, they just have to physically bring it to the surface, and the win will pile up again for the Rays. I heard a guy last night complain about B J Upton’s lack of aggression at the plate. Well, if he had really seen his last 10 at bat this series, you would see the slow evolution of his swing and that he is not long for a huge game. He needs to outwardly display that confidence, then the team will also respond accordingly.
 

People do not visualize that Upton is a key component in the Rays machine.  Without him 100 percent on-board and showing his abilities, this time is running on 7 cylinders. Great illustration of this was Upton’s blast down toward the leftfield corner in the fifth inning for a double. Then Crawford hit a bloop single in front of Jason Bay for an RBI single. With that RBI, Crawford is now tied with former Rays Aubrey Huff for the team RBI record ( 449). But if Upton needs to have a example of what it takes, he only has to look towards the On-Deck circle to Crawford.

Earlier in the year Crawford was beginning to slump a bit, but now he is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. And to add to that fire is the fact he is also the most feared man on the base paths right now. Of course in Boston they throw a few well phrased adult superlatives with his name, but that comes with success. Considering the fact that there are three players who have not hit their stride yet ( Dioner Navarro,Pat Burrell, Upton), this team is only 3-games below .500 right now. That is only 3-games off last years pace, and we have a harder schedule in 2009.

So we leave the confines of Fenway with out first losing series of the year against the Red Sox.  But this time, even the Red Sox Nation have to agree that this series was one of the best in the history of these two divisional rivals. Not just for the Rays huge win on Sat., but for the close games that could have gone either way with a few breaks. The best thing about this ever growing rivalry is that it is not going to die down anytime soon. Both teams are loaded in the minors, and they both will find incredible ways to beat the other team today, tomorrow and in the immediate future.


Michael Dwyer / AP

De-Fense, De-Fense

For some time, one of the biggest improvement over the Rays in recent years has been their commitment to their defense. Well, you have to give a huge amount of style points to the Rays last night, because their defense kept them in this contest. For one of the first games in recent memory, the Rays did not complete a single double play on the Boston hitters. But then again, the Rays defenders did keep their base runners to a minimum  thanks in part to a former Ray.

Nick Green has been removed from the Rays system for a few years, but he still has a fond place for the Rays. I do not think that was on his mind when he tried to stretch two single into doubles last night, but the Rays will thank him for the outfield assists and the outs. The first one came in the third inning off a hard hit ball bouncing off the Green Monster in leftfield that Crawford took fast and threw hard and true to the base to nab Green for Crawford’s team leading third assist of the year.

But then again in the fourth inning Green again tried to test his former infield teammate Ben Zobrist when he hit an RBI-single in the fourth inning to rightfield, and Zor-illa turned and fired a strike to nab him for the second time tonight to also get his second outfield assist of the season. Bartlett did not have to move an inch to take Zobrist’s throw in and tag Green in time to end the fourth inning on that play. I think the rest of the American League can attest to Upton and Gabe Gross having the rocket arms on this team, but Crawford and Zobrist will get their shots to disprove their own detractors this season. 

But the Rays defense was not perfect tonight either. Crawford almost got the Rays into early trouble when he overthrew to second base on a double by Jason Bay in the second inning. The ball went high and wide from Bartlett and the Rays had to scramble to get it before Bay knew what had happened on the play. But the Rays did have a helper in some of the defensive troubles tonight. The Red Sox secret weapon for years has been the Green Monster.

Several times in the game the wall made its presence known and take simple balls off it and transform them into directional switching ricochets that made the Rays scramble a bit. But every team has that home field advantage, but in Boston, it is a huge green painted wall that grins every time a ball hit it.


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Pink Cleats almost become Verboten

I actually love the fact that MLB celebrates the holiday of Mother’s Day the way they do every season. I mean I remember a few years ago if you bought a certain dollar amount in the Team Store you got a make-up bag and small pillow embroidered with the pink ribbon and the MLB logo. Well, my  mother had passed in the last year, but I gave the pillow and the case to my daughter’s mother and she loved the thought, but she is a hockey fan. Oh well, such is life.

But the fact that the teams were a sea of pink wristbands and stretchable bands everywhere on their arms and wrists was amazing. And the pink bats were out on force with players suing them throughout baseball on Sunday. And with those bats being collected again and being offered on MLB.com’s auction site will bring in more great amounts of funds for the possible final solution to this  cancer that has taken so many of the people we love and know from our lives. 

Among those who are expected to wear the pink Reebok cleats are twelve players from the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, as well as the game’s umpiring crew and the entire Red Sox staff including Manager Terry Francona. Players “getting their pink on” include David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Tim Wakefield of the Red Sox and Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour and James Shields of the Rays, along with other players from both teams.

But I love the fact that MLB and the MBL Player Union finally let the player where those Reebok cleats with the pink striping in the game yesterday. There might not have been a huge display of the pink shoes, but thanks to Rays reliever Joe Nelson, it might not have even happened if not for his insight and call to the union about the exclusion of the shoes. You see, Nelson doesn’t get a pink bat, and his armbands can not adorn his body and arms on the mound. All he would have had to honor his mother-in-law that day would have been the glue able ribbon on his uniform top.

But after consulting the union and getting a ” we will work it out” response from the union on the Reebok situation, he was able to put on those pink striped cleats and show his support for this awesome cause. The original reason that the cleats were forbidden to be worn on the field was an outside of MLB sanctioned charity getting the proceeds from the future auction of these shoes. By the union and MLB taking into consideration the multiples of players and families that might be effected by exclusion of this display of support and honor, I commend MLB and the Player’s Union for their quick and positive actions.  The charity to be honored with the cleats is the Avon Foundation for women.

Most of the time this kind of decision-making can not be made on the fly. For the league and the union to step up and get a fast resolution and supportive stance will be a huge win-win for them in not only the public’s eye, but in the players too. Way to Go MLB and MLBPA for your insight and gracious admittance of this sign of support for guys who do not get to go to bat, or hit the mound during the game. You know their mother’s love you for it.

Just to let you know, the Florida Marlins also received batting gloves and cleats from Easton this week to wear on Sunday during their game against the Colorado Rockies. These items are also going to be made available in a future auction to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Marlins stars Hanley Ramirez, Luis Gonzalez and Cody Ross, who wear Easton goods during the season will be the highlighted players wearing the pink-hued accessories. It is just a great thing that so many of the games best have taken the time to honor not only their mothers’ today, but a chance to eliminate a horror that plagues women daily all over the world
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Dramatic Moments Doom Rays

 

                 Twins 4,     Rays 3


Jim Mone / AP

Momentum Swung like a Pendulum

I still can  not believe what I saw last night during that game against the Minnesota Twins. These are the types of games we used to come out on top of in 2008.  For some reason the karma or the magical ingredient is missing so far in this 2009 edition of the Rays. I mean that is a perfect example of the way we won games in 2008. We would fight and claw and produce hits and run scoring opportunities, then magically, a hit or a homer would open the floodgates for home plate celebrations. It is still time for this team to get back into that same groove, but we might have to dig to find it right now.

The person I feel the sorriest for right now is Rays reliever J P Howell. The guy is 0-2 this year after going 6-0 to begin 2008, and he should not have even had to go to the mound last night. How many defensive chances did we have in last nights game that could have turned the tide the Rays direction. Seriously here, there were plays that the usual Rays were adapt at getting, and one that would have secure the win even before Justin Morneau came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. Is this defense the same reproduction of the 2008 model, or is it lacking a bit of intensity right now.

I know a barrel of hard hit balls can get through the holes in the infield, but when you do the “Maddon ” twist and add another infielder to the mix, a sharp hit ball should not take you out of the game. I mean on that special shift in the ninth inning, with the bases juiced, you know the pressure is at its highest level of the game. Morneau hit a screamer that takes a bad hop right in front of Akinora Iwamura and he has to field the ball off his stomach. With the Rays maybe still having a chance to end the inning, and a chance to win it, Aki tosses the ball to second base to get the force out on Brendan Harris. With Harris out, the ball is quickly thrown to Carlos Pena at first base, but not in time and Twin’s catcher Jose Morales hit the plate with the winning run.

The split second that the ball hit Aki in the stomach might have gave the Twins that victory. For if he had been able to cleanly get the ball and toss it to second an instant earlier, the Rays would have been up to bat in the top of the 10th inning. Those plays used to seem routine to the Rays in 2008, but in 2009, they are having to work for every out and run.  Minnesota did what it took to win the game.period. They played the perfect National League scoring card to a “T”. They got Morales on base with a lead-off single. Nick Punto put down a nice bunt to move him over to second base and into scoring position. Denard Span hit a beautiful ball just past the mound for an infield single and put Morales 90 feet from the win. Then the ex-Ray Harris came up to pinch hit for Alexi Casilla and got walked. Then Morneau hit a routine grounder to Aki………..the rest is history.

          
         Jim Mone / AP

Three Key Moments in the Game


I saw three moments in that game last night that seemed to seal the loss for the Rays. If any of these events had gone the other way, that is in the Rays favor, it would have been a Rays win. I know it is speculation that these events could have, or would have been different, but you got to believe they did have a momentum change for the team.  Let’s start with the one that had me on the edge of my chair cursing out a base running blunder.

The first incident happened in the fifth inning, with the Rays down 2-0. Willy Aybar lead off the inning with a one-hopper to the left field wall for a double. With Aybar already in scoring position, it seemed like a easy chance for the Rays to cut into the Twin’s lead. Gabe Kapler hit Aybar over to third with a grounder to second for the first out of the inning. Then Dioner Navarro hit a ball to short that Punto decided to come home with for a force out at the plate on Aybar. Now the thing that got to me here was that Aybar was not moving on the play to the plate, or he would have scored before the throw. Instead he took a late break to the plate that Punto saw and he changed his throw from first to the plate.

The ball was there in enought time for Morales to post up in front of the plate perfectly to keep Aybar from sliding past him. Aybar was straight up when he bashed into Morales and sent him flying backwards, but he had enough time to firmly secure the ball and the aggressive thrust by Aybar was moot. I am sorry, but maybe it is the football player in me, but I used to dig my shoulder into the catcher and drive him off the plate from below to give him a sense of fear from landing on his head, not politely send him reeling backwards like a possum.

Incident number two might be more 50-50 to some people, but every time I saw that replay on television, I think I saw more of a chance to get that ball. In the bottom of the first inning, Rays starter James Shield issued a lead-off walk to Span. These lead-off incidents always come back to haunt you unless you get a quick double play ball out of it. Alexi Casilla then came up and struck out to post the first out of the inning. Morneau then came to the plate with the ability to hit one out on every pitch. Shields tried to go inside on him and the ball caught more of the plate than he expected and Morneau drilled the ball deep into left-center field. 

Carl Crawford was there with a bead on the ball as it began to slowly come out of the air. He jumped high along the 7 foot outfield wall as the ball began to fall rapidly. He made a perfect play on the ball, but it somehow managed to dribble from his glove and Morneau had himself a 2-run homer to start the game. You want to yell Fan Interference, or something when you see a play like that. But there was not a Twins fan near the seat before it hit the concrete beyond the wall. Crawford seemed to  have had the ball, but it slipped out of his grasp and it gave the Twins an early lead. 9 times out of 10, Crawford is coming down with that ball for an ESPN Web Gem, but tonight, it was instead labeled as Morneau’s fifth homer of the season.

Incident number three was not as obvious to a lot of people. 
But it is beginning to destroy offensive chances for the Rays. As of today, Evan Longoria is hitting the cover off the ball at a .365 clip. His power hitting and timely singles have been a major player in the Rays wins. His 10 doubles also are a team high and makes him a scoring threat every time he hit the plate. But there is another Longoria stat that is beginning to rear its ugly head, and it is taking the Rays out of numerous scoring chances this season. The reason I mention this is that every time this has happened recently, it has taken the Rays fastest base runner off the base paths and made Rays rallies more difficult.

It is something everyone does during their year hitting, but so far in 2009, Longoria is making a bad habit of  hitting into these plays day in, and day out. Longoria is currently ranked tied for second in the American League in this category. It is an “offensive” category to me, but not in a good way. So far he has hit  grounded into 6 double plays this season. He is the only member of the Rays with over 2 this season. And in last night’s game in the fourth inning, after Crawford walked to lead-off the inning, Longoria took two pitches to take the Rays scoring chance off the board.  Most people would say, ” So what” to this, but it is a pattern in recent games.

Do I need to go back into the 21 game annuals and show you key moments this has happened? Number 6 is listed above, but how about a few other recent examples. 
Example number 5 .
This past Sunday during the Rays 7-1 loss to the Oakland A’s. In the third inning, with one out and Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford both on base, Longoria hit a ball to second baseman Mark Ellis that he tossed to Orlando Cabrerra, then to Giambi to end the inning and the Rays rally.
Example number 4.
During the Rays last home stand, on Sunday, April 19th in the sixth inning, with again two men on base, Longoria hit into a inning ending double play. That day he had Michel Hernandez on second and Gabe Kapler on first base when he hit a ball to  Alexi Ramirez at short that he flipped to second and on to first base to complete the inning.

I am not trying to throw anyone under the bus here, but this is a habit that the young Longoria can fix before it gets to be a situation for him. Considering the Rays have only hit into 14 double plays all season long shows that Longoria is heads above the rest of the team in that category. In two of the three examples listed, his  action of hitting into a double play might not have changed the course of the contest. But last night, it could have made a monumental change to the game.

          
         
Jim Mone / AP 

Zorilla Needs More Plate Appearances

He was one of those hidden gems on the Rays roster in 2008 when he made 48 starts for the Rays. His bat was just developing into the creature it has further morphed into in 2009. We saw glances of his increased power and his ability during the season. His . 249 average does not jump out at you, but his 10 home runs and 48 RBI’s in limited at bats does make a bold statement about him in 2008. He even put an exclamation point on the last series in Detroit in 2008, by stroking three home runs, including a 420 foot shot to dead center field in that game. His two Grand Slams in 2008, the first against Baltimore on August 29th, then added one against Sidney Ponson in the Rays versus Yankees night cap of the double-header on September 13th.

Now consider he hit all of those in only 193 at bats. that is right, he hit 11 extreme homers in less than 200 plate appearances in the year.  Considering he spent the first 38 games of the season on the disabled list with a left thumb fracture, I guess we can say that Zorilla has made his full transformation into not only the “Super Utility” guy, but also a needed tool for the Rays offense. Yes, I am very high on this guy. Not because he is on my countless Fantasy teams ( Which he is), but because I can see the desire and the drive for several years finally peaking with him gaining more time to show his wares to the Rays coaching staff in 2009. 

Considering he did not come back up to the Rays until August 5th, for his fourth tour of duty with the Rays, what could he have done if he was healthy all season long and not missed a stretch of the year rehabbing and gaining at bats in the minors. But in 2009, he has done nothing to push him onto the bench, or even be considered a secondary player. Right now I truly feel you play your “hot” card. And right now, he is the hottest guy on the Rays roster. Last night is a classic example of his pinch hitting in 2009. He comes up in place of Gabe Kapler in the top of the ninth inning and blasts a shot into the baggie in right-center field to tie the game up for the Rays.

Pressure, what pressure? This season, Zobrist is 2 for 4 as a pinch hitter with 5 RBI’s. Both of those hits have been home runs, including a Grand Slam pinch hit on April 17th. Before this season, in his three prior years with the Rays, he has gone only  0-12 in that role. So the 24-year old is stepping up his game in 2009, trying to gain either a spot in the field every day, or just be a top option off the bench for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Now let me throw another wild fact at you about Zobrist.  And no, it is not the fact that his wife is an extremely talented singer ( Julianne Zobrist ), but it a Rays career record that might impress you. Zobrist is currently tied with Carlos Pena ( 3 ) for the team franchise record for Grand Slams. Oh, and he has hit all three of those Grand slams in only 86 total at bats. He could run for mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida right now and win by a landslide.

                     
                     
Jim Mone / AP

Tuesday Tidbits

**** In last night’s game, 3 of the Rays 9 hits were doubles off Francisco Lariano.  The Rays have now hit  74 extra base hits this year, which is ranked fifth in the American League. Their stolen base percentage of 87.1 is also fifth in the AL this season. The Rays are also fifth in the AL in homers, with 24 this year. But the team is ranked third in doubles this season with 46 so far.  But on a bad note, they are also ranked third in the AL , with 165 total in strikeouts this season. 


**** 
In last night’s game, the Rays had their best chance of the season to increase their win total against left-handers. As it stands now after the loss, the Rays
are 1-8 against southpaws this season.
The only left-hander the Rays have defeated this year was Boston’s Jon Lester in their second game of the season. In that 7-2 Rays first win of the season, they tacked 8-hits and 5-runs on the young leftie. In the upcoming 4-game series at home against the Red Sox, the Rays will not face Lester again as he is starting the Wednesday night game against the Cleveland Indians to conclude their series in Progressive Field.


**** 
Injured literary Ray Fernando Perez will be adding the title public speaker to his resume tomorrow as he will be the guest reader  at the Rays “Open Doors for Children” event at the law offices of Holland & Knight ( 100 N. Tampa Street ) in downtown Tampa at 10:30 am.  The Columbia University graduate will be reading the popular children’s book, H is for Home Run to about 35 children from ” A Brighter Community” Day Care”, which is one of the oldest day cares in Tampa.

**** Tickets still remain for the Thursday and Friday games of the upcoming Boston Red Sox series.  There are limited numbers of seats for the Sat. and Sunday games, but plenty of variety seats for the first two games of this series. The Rays are currently ranked fourth in home attendance in 2009, even with only 7 home games so far in the season. The average of 28, 986 after the seven games is a 60 percent increase over last year’s attendance figures for the team in 2008. The team will play only 13 of their first 35 in the confines of Tropicana field in 2009.

Rays get Failing Grade against the A’s

 

                   Athletics 7,    Rays 1

          
           
Gail Burton / AP 

C C Express Still Rolling On

One of the handful of Rays players who have shown up recently with their offense is Carl Crawford. He has not dominated the base paths so far in 2009, but that just might be a matter of time before he gets that part of his game also revving up at top speed. What has been impressive is the fact he got into am early funk, and has been the only player to show signs of remotely trying to regain his form so far for the Rays. In the last 4 games Crawford has gone 8 for 16 to raise his average from .244 to .295 in that short span. He got 4 hits in on Wed in Seattle, which marks the 18th time in his career he has had 4 hits in a contest. 

He also currently leads the major leagues with 8 infield hits, and also leads the Rays with 56 stolen bases. His increase in infield hits is based on the fact that Rays Manager Joe Maddon wants to see Crawford put the ball on the ground more in 2009. This is in part to his tremendous speed and acceleration out of the left-side of the batters box. So far in 2009, that has seemed to be key for his offensive explosion.   Also on the horizon for Crawford is the Rays franchise RBI record, which is currently 449 RBIs. He is only 4 RBI’s short of Aubrey Huff’s record. Crawford already hold the Rays all time marks in hits, stolen bases, triples, at bats, games played and runs scored in his career.

Since playing in only 108 games in 2008, he is the only Rays to play every game so far in 2009. In Sundays finale in Oakland, Crawford again got two hits during the Rays 7-1 loss.  Crawford’s first hit of the day was a beautiful over Jason Giambi head at first base for the Rays third hit of the day off A’s starter Dana Eveland.  Crawford also got the last hit of the day off Eveland to lead-off the sixth inning when he hit a single to center field. Crawford has been one of the guys on this Rays squad that have tried to make a difference this season. It is that veteran presence and also his work ethic that makes him a team stand-out this year.  Crawford is also one of the Rays leader in hitting with men in scoring position, going 7 for 19 this year for a .364 average. For the roadtrip, Crawford is currently 8 for 30 with 2 stolen bases and 2 RBIs.

      
      
Ted S. Warren / AP

Sonny is Looking Kind of Cloudy

Now the first thing people are going to read into that  title is the fact I think that something is going on criminally  wrong with Sonnanstine right now.  I am not trying to drum up thoughts of wrong doing, or hidden motives here, but his stuff is letting him down right now. Our usual “Volvo” of pitching is showing some of the rust in his armor, and that is not good for him. It is criminal that he is not getting that great breaking ball to do what he wants right now. When that pitch is on, it is one of the best on the team.  But for some reason it has been absent in several of his starts this year.

And even worse, he has now lost his last 5 starts since September 5, 2008 in Toronto. But in his most recent start in Seattle earlier in this roadtrip, he worked 7 innings and got 7 strikeouts against the Mariners, but also gave up 6-hits and 4-runs to take the loss against Seattle.  But it is not for lack of effort that he has either loss those contests or even been given a no-decision in them. Take a recent 2009 start against the New York Yankees at home in which he was opposite lefite Andy Pettitte. He only worked a total of 5 innings, but left with a 4-3 lead and a possible win. But the Rays Bullpen had a bit of a meltdown and they eventually lost that game .

His first start in 2009 was in Baltimore on April 10th during the Rays first road trip of the season. He lost a 5-4 decision in that contest after going 4.2 innings ans surrendering 8-hits and 5-runs in the game.  In that game, it was the first time in his major league career he had walked more than three batters in a game.  This is not the first time he has taken the mound opposite Dana Eveland. they were both on the mound during the  May 1, 2008 game in Oakland that the A’s defeated the Rays 9-1.  But Sonnanstine did not start this game with any indication of problems. He pitched a perfect first inning, even getting Orlando Cabrerra, who was batting .400 against Sonnanstine to strikeout.


Ben Margot / AP


But in the second inning, the A’s got to him early as Matt Holliday lead-off the inning with a walk. Jack Cust then hit a single to right field just over the head of Ben Zobrist, who was in the shift for the Rays. Nomar Garciaparra then hit a ball over Jason Bartlett’s outstretched arms for a RBI single. Kurt Suzuki then came up and delivered the body blow to Sonnanstine on a breaking ball left up in the strikezone for a one-hooper to the left-center field wall. The A’s scored twice on the play.  Sonnanstine then got Travis Buck to hit a ball to Zobrist for the first out of the inning. Mark Ellis then hit a RBI single to left field past Bartlett to stake the A’s to a 4-1 lead.

Coming into today’s game ,Suzuki was hitting . 625 lifetime against Sonnastine.  The from that moment on until the sixth inning, Sonnanstine seemed to find his groove and again got help by the Rays defense to keep the A’s in check. But in the fifth inning, he gave up a lead-off double off the scoreboard in right field to Ryan Sweeney. Cabrerra then followed that with an RBI-double to the right-center field gap. Then for the second time today, an A’s batter h
it through the Rays shift as Giambi stroked a ball to right field just out of the reach of the Rays defenders. Holliday then hit a bloop single to center field just in front of a charging B J Upton. 

After that play, Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and got Sonnanstine and his day was over. For the contest, he ended up going   4 innings and givcing up 10-hits and all seven runs. The outing boosted his ERA to 7.78 for the year as he only survived 79 pitches today. I am not sure what is going wrong with Sonnanstine. It might just be a small mechanical adjustment, or maybe he is not getting the bite on his breaking pitches in 2009 that he had in 2008. But what is known so far in 2009 is the fact that the team’s most reliable guy on the mound is having a few issues right now. Hopefully by the time we get home to Tropicana Field, Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey can find a solution to Sonnanstine’s recent problems.


Elaine Thompson / AP

Offensive Numbers

Over the 12 losses this year for the Rays, they have scored a total of 24 runs. that is an anemic  2 runs a contest. Considering that most of the teams in the American League are scoring at least 3-4 runs a game, the Rays are sitting in the bottom their looking up right now in the American League East. But it is not for lack of effort. The team is getting their hits, but they are not coming with extended at bats or even extended rallies that could produce more runs.

Consider Sundays game as a great example. In the game the Rays got multiple base runners only twice in the game. In the second inning, Pat Burrell, who has been a walking machine in recent games got on base with a lead-off walk.  Then Willy Aybar, who has seen minimal at bats this year so far got a single to left field to put two men on base with no outs. Ben Zobrist then moved Burrell to third, but Aybar was out on a force out and second base. That put men on the corners with one out. Dioner Navarro then put down a great bunt
to score Burrell down the first baseline. Navarro put the ball in front of Jason Giambi, who had to come in and take the ball, and finally threw to Mark Ellis covering first for the out.

That produced the Rays only run of the game. But that was not for lack of effort that the Rays did not plate another un. In the third inning, Jason Bartlett battled with Eveland for nine pitches before finally singling to center field. He then moved to third on Carl Crawford’s single, but was stranded there after Evan Longoria hit into a double play to end the inning.   Then in the sixth inning, Carl Crawford singled to center to give the Rays their third man on base to lead-off an inning in the contest. 

Longoria then walked to put two men on base, but a double play by Burrell left only Crawford an third base with two outs. Aybar the hit a foul ball out to third baseman Nomar Garciaparra to end the inning. From that point on, the A’s relievers shut down the Rays. The A’s Bullpen retired the next 9 men in a row to send the Rays to their 11th loss.

         
                          www.tradewindsresort.com


 Trade Winds Resort Rays Watch Parties for 2009


The Trade Winds Island Grand, the Offical Beach Reosrt of the Tampa Bay Rays are inviting all baseball fans out for a fun-filled, family-friendly event to watch our Rays while basking in the glow of the bautiful Florida sunshine. I went out for yesterday’s event, but I did not take my camera because it was the first time I had been to the reposrt in 10 years and did not know if the hotel had accomodations to secure it while I was frolicking on the beach. I did however get my traditional first sunburn of the season, but it is not a birght red lobster color, but a mild case of me forgetting to use sunscreen on my legs and stomach again.

Speaking of stomach, the Resort did a first class job of having snacks and ample food selections for the hungry Rays fans. There was a wide array of food options from burgers and grilled chicken, to wings and bratwurst with hot sauerkraut for purchase at the event. As many of the kids went to the three-story inflatable waterslide( me too), the adults took their spots in front of the huge viewing screen to get an early spot for the Rays broadcast. 

The game was broadcast right there on the beach so you could enjoy sun, sand and the Rays all in one small area. The Rays Radio Network, including Rich Herrera did the pre game and post game shows live on WDAE 620 during the event.  The event also featured giveaways from both the Rays and the resort. One sought after prize was the gift certificate for stays at the Resort in the future. I have to say it was an awesome event, with a great turnout and will not be the last one this year for either the Rays or the Trade Winds. Here is a list of future Rays Watch parties in case you want to place them on your calendar:


Thursday, May 7 – 7:05 p.m. – vs. New York Yankees

Sunday, June 7 – 1:05 p.m. – vs. New York Yankees


Sunday, July 19 – 2:10 p.m. – vs. Kansas City Royals


Sunday, August 30 – 1:05 p.m. – vs. Detroit Tigers


Sunday, September 13 – 1:35 p.m. – vs. Boston Red Sox


These events are open to the public, and the Resort will be giving complimentary parking to Rays fans until the lots are full. I was a blast spending the day at the bach along with fellow Rays fans and employees. Hidden in the crowd were members of the Rays front office and staff enjoying this great weather outside watching their favorite team take on the Oakland A’s.   So be sure to mark those calendars to come on out and participate in future Rays Watch parties here at the Trade Winds Resort on St. Petersburg Beach. Only thing better would have been a Rays victory.


Sundays Semiconscious Thoughts

**** To illustrate the importance of Jason Bartlett since the 2008 All-Star break, he is  the highest hitting shortstop in the majors since that time hitting  for a .340 average. In 2009, Bartlett is currently hitting . 364, which includes his 1 for 3 effort Sunday. Bartlett  trailed only Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees in 2008, with a .286 average.  On Friday he had his 6th career day of gathering 4 hits when he went 4 for 5 in the Rays win over the A’s.  He is also hitting .409 this season against right handers going into Sunday game.

**** After today’s loss, the Rays are now 1-7 against left-handers in 2009. 
        They have now lost their last five series since taking 2 out of 3 in Boston to begin the season.
        The Rays are now 7-12, which equals their start in 2000 and also 2004. From 2006 to 2008, the Rays were 8-11 after 19 games. And are currently one game off of their 2008 pace. 
       

**** Evan Longoria ( .375 ) and Jason Bartlett ( .365 ) are neck and neck in their pursuit of the best April in Rays history. Longoria currently hold the top spot with former Ray Rocco Baldelli ( .366 ) holding the second spot with his great start in 2003.
          The Rays lead the majors in infield hits with 25. Carl Crawford has8 of those hits, and Bartlett has the 7 to be currently first and second in the MLB in that category.
         

Can Zorilla Overtake the Gabe connection?

 

 

Chris O’Meara / AP
 

Wow, No Tampa Bay Rays baseball until 10 pm tonight. I am not sure what I am going to do with myself because the shows I want to watch also come on at 10 pm. Maybe a split screen will work, but then I might get confused and think that Tommy Gavin ( Denis Leary ) is playing DH for the Rays. Sorry, I am not going to get confused by that, but there are some thing that recently have hit the papers, internet and also the radio waves that have me scratching my head a bit. They might not matter to 3/4′s of the country, but they matter to us down here in Rays-ville. 

 

 
 
I mean we have a few questions, and I am thinking of putting on my special World Series game used Rays cap and try and figure out some of the possible answers. I think I am going to play on my mind’s thought right now and throw out a few examples and also maybe a suggestion as to our outfield situation and see what bubbles up to the surface here. So I am about to pop the old World Series cap given to me off the head of a Rays back-up and see what transpires, or even communicates itself to my little mind. They say that objects like this can store up energy and  stored thoughts, hopefully they have garnered some baseball thoughts that can help me evolve this problem into a solution,or at least a wishful thought.
 
 

 
Let’s get into the meat of this right field outfield quagmire. We might have a  more of a problem if B J Upton’s bum quad does need more down time. But hopefully we will not have to again do the Curly Shuffle to put the Two Gabes’ out there at the same time. I want to go on record as telling everyone that the Two Gabe’s can not play in the field at the same time. I think they both have ample ability to play in an MLB outfield, but with them both out there it opens a huge gaping wound in the Rays speed and agility in the  center field and right side of the stadium. If Upton is down for any length of time, this three-headed monster will have to adjust and put a member of it into center field for awhile. But which one of the three Amigos would make the best fit if this situation rears its ugly head?
 

 
 
 If you even saw an inning of the game on Sunday, you saw the massive drop off of even closing range speed on hard hit fly balls even into the shallow gaps in the outfield.  Combine that with neither of them wanting to shout out, or even call balls in the air, and you get both of them falling to the turf ala Rays 1999-style. The good thing in all of that is that Gabe Kapler did catch the ball and it did not dribble to the wall or fall from his mitt after the collision. But can we forget the base running mishaps by both of the Gabes’ this year that have cost this team runs. I know we are going to be super aggressive as a team this year, but to openly show your lack of concentration in plays in scoring position actually puts you in a bad light. They were moves that defied logic, but they will end up on someone’s Rays gag reel this season.

 


Gail Burton / AP

Both Gabe has their positives. Kapler brings an energy and a leadership that will spark the Rays they way Eric Hinske did in 2008. But he has lost a step or two from the Kapler that used to fling his body everywhere in the Boston outfield years ago in the Trop. But his bat might be waking up, and that would be a huge up-side for the Rays. I will never question his commitment to this team, but he has to also finally admit to himself he is not the same player and has limitations now.  But he is a good outfielder, but his arm and his closing speed on fly balls had dropped off in the last few years. He is not a liability as long as his average is creeping towards the Mendoza Line and above.
 

 
 
Now on to Gabe Gross. There is no question in my mind that he can, and will make a difference in this right field. The problem right now is that he seems to be a bit confused as to his role. He knows he is the swing guy on this platoon, but he also seems to be looking over his shoulder for Ben Zobrist to maybe steal his thunder and job soon. That might actually happen at some point this season. For the last year Gross has been the rocket arm for the Rays getting outfield assists because the American League questioned his true arm strength, but after posting some impressing plays to gun down people like Ichiro at third base, his arm is a true asset to the Rays. But is his offensive number going to compare this year?
 

 
 
That is s huge question. Last season he matched the Rays single season record for Walk-off RBIs, with 3 for the year, including his first home run off a leftie ( Matt Thorton / Chicago White Sox). For him to remain a vital part of this Rays team he has to again spark that second set of the lineup and get his average going northbound. Fans are already calling for Matt Joyce from Triple-A to supplant one of the two Gabes’ in this offense. That day will come. I can see one of them either being DFA’d or even traded after June 1st, but the Rays have to stay with their choice for now. But unlike some teams, they also have another option in the outfield.


Mike Carlson / AP
 

Joe Maddon is crazy about Ben Zobrist as a player, person and as a plug-in anywhere in the field for the team. He has grown so much in the last year in the organization’s eyes as a utility player. But he is also beginning to grow out of that role and might make it difficult for the team to leave him off the field in 2009. Take for example his playing time early on here in 2009. He had made play after play in right field, including an outfield assist in his start in Baltimore. He is growing more confident and secure in the outfield for the Rays, even in center field. I would not be surprised if he get the starting nod tonight in Seattle if the team decides to rest Upton for another day or two.  But it is not like Zobirst is a one-hit wonder, he has been building himself and his playing time up in the last two years because of his versatility and abilities.

 
 

He is the one guy on this squad, which includes the hidden talents of Willy Aybar that has gone unnoticed as a limited role player for the Rays. But no matter what you think of his playing talents on the field, his hitting ability has gone through the roof since his 2007 days for the Rays. In that season he hit .158 in   less than 100 at bats for the team. And in that time he only hit 3 extra base hits, which included a single home run. But after an injury in Spring Training in 2008, it seemed that Zobrist finally came into himself since we got him in that trade in Houston that also brought us pitcher Mitch Talbot, and jettisoned Aubrey Huff to the Astros.  We forget he spent only 18 games in Triple-A before the Rays brought him up in 2006. But between then and now he has grown leaps and bounds, especially at the plate.
 

 
If you take 2008 as his break-out year in the eyes of the Rays, you might be correct. He had been high on their radar for several years, but showed an extra gear in 2008 when he finally came up for good and hit .252 for the season in 62 games. But that is not the stat that impressed and also endeared him to Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Before 2008, he was basically only thought about in the infield situation and roles, but in that year he blossomed out into the grasses of the outfield and made his mark bigger on the team. He might have only had one outfield assist compared to Gross’s five, but it was the quality of play that inspired Maddon and his staff to give him more time out there. But if it was not his extreme improvement in his outfield play, his bat might have been the deciding factor.
 

 
 
In 2008, his bat came alive. His .253 average might not show this fact, but his extra power and also ability to cause some chaos on the base paths did not go unnoticed by the team.  He made 13 starts in the outfield in 2008, which was on surpassed by his 32 games at shortstop during Jason Bartlett’s injury. He had made his name a force in the outfield discussions for the Rays. His bat came out of nowhere this year and stuck in the minds of Rays fans and coaches. He hit two Grand Slams, the first in Baltimore on August 29th and another in Yankee Stadium on September 13th in the nightcap of a doubleheader. And add on his 12 homers in 2008 came on only 198 plate appearances. 
 


The Rays had found a bench power option who could also play every day in the outfield.  But Zobrist put the finishing touches on 2008 by hitting three homers in the season ending series in Detroit.  So let’s just pop out his finishing numbers for a second here, 12 homers, 30 RBI’s and 25 walks in less than 200 plate appearances. Tampa Bay had finally found their hidden gem, and their outfield ” can do” guy.



Chris O’Meara / AP

And his 2008 is beginning to look like another added chapter to this great story. We have only played in 13 games, but already Zobrist has appeared in 9 contests and gone to the plate 26 times for the Rays. He is boasting a .308 average with 5 extra base hits, three of them for homers. His 9 RBI’s is currently tied for 26th in the American League, and he is a back-up player. So you can probably read my mind here on the future of Zobrist with the Rays. My only concern right now is if we do move him into a more constant role in the outfield, will be leave the infield vulnerable to injury or even understaffed.  ( Hint: We currently have Adam Kennedy at Triple-A )
 

 
Why not play Zobrist in any spot where you need a bat and an able player. Seriously, players have made great careers having the versatility and abilities of Zobrist’s style.  He is grounded, confident and totally committed to doing things “The Rays Way.” If you ever see the camera panning the dugout, he is always up near the coaches probably easedropping on their conversations to learn more and more about the way they want this team to run on all its cylinders. I am thinking he might just be that extra gear, or even the NO2 that could move this team upward this year. So you have to ask yourself if he could fit into this platoon method that the team is trying to institute in right field this year. 
 


I actually think he is a huge upgrade over the current right field players, and could supplant either of them in a heartbeat. He has shown the effort and the stamina to dive for balls, make the difficult play, and proved himself at the plate. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention above that he hit his third Grand Slam last week against the White Sox as a pinch-hitter. You want to talk about pressure situation……there is your kettle banging moment. But in the end, it is not my decision or any other bloggers as to the future of Zobrist. But here is something most people have forgotten about him. 
 

 
He is totally inter-changeable wit
h either Gross or Kapler. He can play, and has proven it in 2009. Oh, and forget all that rightie-leftie match-up garbage with him. He is a switch hitter who is plowing the ball  at a .400 clip from the left side this season, with an .800 Slugging Percentage so far this year.  Right field was a main concern of the Rays before Spring Training. They gave Joyce every chance to change their minds, and also saw some great things for the future  in his 5 games with the team before getting moved to Triple-A. But my choice for an everyday right fielder is no secret. I will give either of the Gabe connection some more time to show their want and desire to stay here, but a decision will be made at some point this year concerning them, why not make it early so they can hook onto another team.

 

 
 
Gail Burton / AP

Joyce might be the future, but Zobrist is making a huge play to be the present guy to bring this team some needed wins and offensive moments based on his offensive tear in 2008. Can Gross’s .136 average with no extra bases and a lone RBI be the key  to the team’s ultimate decision. Or could Kapler’s .173, with only 3 doubles be his ticket to the bench. The Rays are in a pickle offensively right now. They are hitting .266 as a team with a league leading 109 strikeouts. Could the injection of some positive Zobrist energy and play be the ticket, or will the current tandem, who went 2 for 13 in the recent White Sox series, with no RBI’s or runs scored for the Rays. Oh, by the way, Zobrist went 4 for 6 , with 6 RBI’s in that series. Can the choice be any easier right now?
 
 

AJ is more than OK against the Rays

 

 

     Yankees 7,    Rays 2

 

 

 

Replica Rings are the Bomb

 


I have to admit that when the Rays first told us they were going to give away American League Championship replica rings, my mind did wander to the Cracker Jack box rings and the plastic painted adjustable rings that team gave away in the 1990′s. I had a bad nightmare of maybe getting a ring that would turn my finger green or even fall off from lack of circulation because it was too small, or even had bad blemishes to the finish.  But I was beyond pleasantly surprised when they handed me my ring on Tuesday night.

 

 

I came through the Season Ticket holder door as always and was presented with a blue satin sack promoting a local high end shopping mall on the outside of it. I knew that this establishment would not be privy to anthing cheap, so I looked quickly into the sack and found a gem of collectible quality hidden inside a small platic bag. The moment I first took a gander at this ring, my heart took a leap. It was beyond the simple words that I had read on numerous websites and had even thought in my own mind. The ring was beyond expectations and truly will be near me for a long, long time.

 

But I was in shock later in the night when a few Yankee fans were selling their rings for $ 5.  I have to say, it was the best 25 dollars I have ever spent in the past 10 years. I am not putting them on Ebay or even trying to  recoup anything financial with them. For me they will be additional rings to wear for the next 10 years. Mine is a bit snug on my finger and I will have to sand the inside down a bit to fit over my broken old knuckles, but I will wear them. Oh yes, they will be on my bony fingers for a long time. Treasures like this do not come along in life too often. This ring was no cheap substitute, it has real weight and real appeal. And it will be on my finger for a long time. Well, at least until I can figure out a way to get a real one……

 

 

 

 

AJ was more than OK

 

This is the thing that initially scared me about A J Burnett signing with the New York Yankees this season. He finally got a team that can score runs behind him this season.  Last year. when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays, they had to have an outstanding game offensively to reward him some nights. But mostly he did it by himself by keeping the score close and letting his team catch up and overtake the opposition most nights. It is scary to consider that he was just that good, but lacked the firepower behind him. He now has that firepower, and his pitching confidence is sky high.

 

Burnett threw  some impressive pitches last night. His breaking balls were falling off the plate at alarming rates. And his fastball seemed to have a new life of its own. He was truly on the moment on the mound. It  was an awesome effort by a guy who has been close before to a no-hitter and miss. Well, last night he did not get that honor either, thanks to a Carl Crawford single to left field that broke up his no-hitter bid. But just how good was he up to that pivotial bottom of the seventhinning point?

 

Through 6 prior innings, Burnett had only allowed  Rays DH Pat Burrell to reach base on a walk in the bottom of the second inning.  Burrell even fought back from a 1-2 count to get his free pass off of Burnett. From the first pitch of the night until Crawford hit his single Burnett threw 74 pitches before giving up a single hit. But you have to also credit Crawford , who fought off Burnett with 5 straight foul balls before connecting on the Rays first hit. It was a classic pitcher versus hitter moment, with Crawford winning this time.

 

But that seemed to open the flood gates as Evan Longoria then hit a single to left on the first pitch he saw from Burnett. The Yankee starter was beginning to show some kinks in his armor tonight. Then Carlos Pena got an RBI single to right to score Crawford and also take the shitout away from Burnett. But the big blow again came from Burrell, who hit a RBI sacrifice fly to right field that scored Longoria and tied the game at 2-2. The Rays had battled for seven innings against a hot pitcher, and had finally broken through enough to get a tied contest.

 

 

         

 

Bullpen has a case of the Hiccups

 

Last night was not a typical night for the Rays Bullpen. The Rays had tied the game at 2-2 and gave the Bullpen a chance to secure the tie for them to try and take advantage of the Yankees in the eighth and ninth innings. But a few odd pitching performances gave the Yankees their fourth win of the season. Rays starter Matt Garza had thrown 7 innings of 5 hit 2 run ball and left the game after 112 pitches. The Rays problems on offense magnified the pitching of Garza, who actually had a decent outing by striking out nine Yankees tonight.

 

So with a chance at a free Papa John’s pizza in the wings, J P Howell took the mound for the Rays. Brett Gardner lead-off the Yankees top of the eighth inning with a double to deep left that split Crawford and B J Upton.  Derek Jeter then hit a ball up the middle to put two on for the Yankees with no outs.  With Gardner at thrid and Jeter at first,  Mark Teixeira then came up and hit a blast into deep left field and Crawford did not attempt to throw Gardner out at the plate. That put the Yankees back in front 3-2.  Jorge Posada then hit a ball back to Howell that he quickly threw to Carlos Pena to get out of the inning with only surrendering the lone run.

 

But in the ninth inning, the Yankees took control of the game from the Rays. Dan Wheeler came on to pitch and he got rudely awoken by Robinson Cano, who took for first pitch he saw for a single to left field to lead off the inning. Melky Caberra then kept the merry-go-round going by hitting a single to right on the second pitch he saw from Wheeler.  After Wheeler got two quick out from Ramiro Pena and Jose Molina, it looked like he might be able to control this inning. But Gardner hit a ground rule double that went over the pulled -in Upton and bounced over the center field wall.

 

 

The Rays tried to play the odds and keep the outfielders in close to make a play at the plate more effective. The play backfired as Gardner’s blast was in the air a long time and Upton did give an honest chase for the ball, but could not get a glove on it before it hit the turf and bounced over the wall.  Jeter then put the exclamation point on the game by hitting a 2-run homer to right field that just reached the first row seats. That gave the Yankees a 7-2 lead and the Rays could not convert any offense in the bottom of the ninth inning.

 

 

Tuesday Tidbits

 

After the game the Rays learned that they will be missing Longoria, who is on his way to California to attend to family matters for the next two games. It is expected that he will return in time for Friday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox at Tropicana Field. While he is out of the Rays lineup, Willy Aybar will be manning third base for Longoria.

 

The Rays also officially put Shawn Riggans on the 15-day disabled list for right shoulder tendonitis. The move was made retroactive to April 10th. A collateral  move was made to bring up Michel Hernandez from Durham to catch while Riggans is out of the lineup. Hernadez might see his first action of the year tomorrow in the Rays 4:08 pm start against the Yankees.

 

Photo credits:     1) www.raysbaseball.com

                         2) Chris O’Meara / AP

                         3) Chris O’Meara / AP  

                         4) Chris O’Meara / AP 

 

 

Rays beat Pirates in First Night Game of the Year

 
                      
 
I can tell you it has been a wild couple of days here in the old Renegade lair. I went to the game, as we all know on Sunday and my laptop worked pretty well during the draft. I was able to save my copy and only had to add the photos and the credits and it would be done. Well I charged the new little toy up and took it again to the game on Monday night to Bradenton and did my blog doing play-by-play with that game too. But when I got to the house, my new toy decided to act like a spoiled Christmas toy that stops working 24 hours after the kids play with it for the first time.
 

I was scared I might have gotten a virus or maybe even fried the hard drive already.  But I took it into a friend’s computer shop on Tuesday and he told me that there was  small cache of missing files that went along with Window Mail that would prevent the sending or even the opening of mail on that application.  Somehow the computer itself decided to deep six itself into the deep deep green of the cyber seas. So I took it to the store where I bought it, and they had a Tech Department. I told them how I had two word files and two recorded files on the computer, and I needed to extract them before I gave them the unit to send back or try and fix for me. I decided I just wanted to exchange the unit, but that I could not access them because of the touch pad and the odd files being missing in action.

 
Well, they attached a exterior mouse and got to the two Word files and downloaded them onto a disc for me that day, and I finally got Sunday’s game online tonight. I was only using the WIFI to connect to the Internet and check mail and do comments update left on my blog.  I had not tried to use the Mail system either on my Windows or Yahoo account until Monday night. But for some reason, and it had a time stamp of Monday afternoon, the files were missing that could coordinate those requests. He told me that maybe there was a glitch in the system at the source and during a update it might have erased it by mistake. So now I had to fear that a exterior source could swallow up a chunk of my internal programs.

 
 I asked if I did anything wrong here, and they stressed that sometimes things go wrong before we get our computer and usually programs inside them correct the situation , or at least alert you to a damaging scenario. I did not get a warning, a “Danger Danger Will Robinson” or any type of Bells or Whistles. But with the Cowbells around me the last few days I am not hearing all that well right now. Anyways, they happily replaced the unit and also threw in a 1 year maintenance program free of charge. Who say customer service is dead? But considering I paid about over $ 700 dollars for a top of the line system that will be obsolete by December 2009, I liked the gesture. So here I am finally getting Monday night game on here at 2 am on Weds.  No jokes, the things I do for my baseball love is sickening sometimes ( Not really, but it does tickle).
 

 
Rays 6, Pirates 4
 

 
During the second game of this home-and home series with the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two days, the Tampa Bay Rays have seen their offense and their relievers show some polar opposites in plus and minus situations. Today would mark one of the first night games of the season for the Rays and they now know that the season is just around the corner. With less than 21 days until the ball goes to the plate for real, the team can  now focus on their seasonal objectives and get ready for the second run at a divisional title or pennant. Starting for the Rays today will be their number four starter, Andy Sonnanstine. You know the thing I love about this guy is that he is the consistent member of the rotation in 2008. If it was not for a stroke of bad luck in late August and September, he would have lead this team with over 15 wins last year. No one has ever done that as a Ray, much less a guys less than the number 3 starter for the team.

 
 
               

 

Pittsburgh will take the field wearing their St Patrick’s Day green caps because this is their last home game before they hit the road tomorrow to play the New York Yankees in Tampa. On the mound for the Pirates will be Paul Maholm, who is predicted to be one of the front runners of their rotation this season. Leading off for the Rays tonight will be shortstop Jason Bartlett.  Maholm gets an 0-2 count on Bartlett before he get s nice call over the outside corner for a called third strike  and the first out of the game. Gabe Kapler then comes to the plate and hit a hard grounder to Adam LaRoche, who takes in the ball and throws to Andy LaRoche at first base tonight. Evan Longoria then swings at an outside breaking ball for a swing strikeout and the Rays are retired 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning.

 

 
Sonnanstine ends up with his warm-up tosses and  faces Nyger Morgan as the first Pirate hitter tonight. Morgan hit a long fly ball to Justin Ruggiano in center field for the first out. Freddy Sanchez, who is playing second base tonight then comes up and hits a soft grounder to Ray Olmedo at second base. He takes the ball and quickly throws it to Willy Aybar, who is manning first base tonight for the Rays. Nate McLouth then hit a swirling ball of the end of his bat that drops in front of Bartlett, but he can not get control of the ball in time to get the swift outfielder. McLouth is on with an infield single.  On the third pitch to Ryan Doumit at the plate, Dioner Navarro can not control a breaking ball in the dirt and McLouth scrambles down to second base, and into scoring position for the Pirates. Doumit then misses a great breaking pitch by Sonnanstine for a swing strikeout.
 

 
 
One of the wild thing about the stadium tonight is the green bases. That is right, the usual pearl white bases have a green paint job tonight in honor of the Irish holiday tomorrow, but there is no green beer in the stands.  Maholm again take the mound for the Pirates and faces Pat Burrell for the first time tonight. Burrell quickly strikes out to put one out on the board for the Rays. Aybar then comes up and hit a grounder to Sanchez at second base, that he quickly gets over to LaRoche in time for the second out.  Ben Zobrist then comes up and hits a single into center field for the Rays first hit of the night.  Dioner Navarro then comes up and hits a ball straight to Jack Wilson at shortstop and he flips the ball to Sanchez to complete a 6-4 force out of Zobrist to end the Rays chances this inning.
 



 

Sonnanstine again came out for the Rays, who will have St Patrick’s Day off and will probably spend the day working out at the complex. Tomorrow also marks the first day of the minor league players beginning to play inter-squad games with other teams to get ready for their season. The first batter to the plate this inning is Adam LaRoche. He hit a sharp ball towards third base that Longoria takes in stride and quickly throws to Aybar to secure the first out. Jose Tabata then comes up and is  a victim of Sonnanstine’s off-speed pitch for a called third strike, and the Pirates second out. Craig Monroe, who has been pretty successful on the base paths this spring then comes up and hits a long fly ball to Kapler in right field for the third out of the inning. It is an easy 1-2-3 inning for Sonnanstine and the Rays.
 
 

 
Maholm again comes out in the third inning and the sun is setting here in Bradenton, Florida and we get set for our first time under the lights this year. Ruggiano comes up first for the Rays and gets walked by Maholm to start off the inning. Olmedo then hit a sharp grounder to Sanchez, who tosses the ball to Wilson who then throws a strike to first base to get a nice 4-6-3 double play on the Rays. With two quick outs, Maholm is in control and get Bartlett to strike out for the second straight time tonight to end the inning.
 

Sonnanstine comes out again for Tampa Bay and first faces Andy LaRoche. He then hit a ball up the middle out of the reach of Bartlett and Olmedo to lead off the inning with a single. Wilson then comes up and hits a weak grounder to Olmedo, who turns and fires to first bases because LaRoche is almost to second by the time he gets the ball in his glove. Morgan then hit a sharp ball towards Aybar who get the ball and tosses it to Sonnanstine for an easy 3-1 put out. The Pirates now have a man in scoring position and two outs in the inning. Sanchez then hit a ball down the third baseline past Longoria that travels to the corner for a RBI double. LaRoche scores on the play and gives the Pirates an early 1-0 lead in the contest. McLouth however hit a grounder to Olmedo that he easily get to Aybar to retire the side.

 

Maholm then comes out again for the top of the fourth inning with his first lead of the night. Kapler is the first batter he faces and he drive a ball towards Adam LaRoche at third base that he misplays and over throws first base for an e-5 on the play. So that give the Rays a base runner to lead off the inning. Longoria then hit a ball off the end of his bat high in the air over second base, and Sanchez takes it in for the first out of the inning. Burrell then comes up and hit it towards Adam LaRoche at third base and he begins a perfect 5-4-3 double play to get the Pirates out of the inning.  At this point in the game, the Rays only have a single hit by Zobrist in the top of the second inning. 
 

Sonnastine does not come back out for the bottom of the fourth inning and the Rays send out reliever Brain Shouse. For the night, Sonnanstine went 3 innings and gave up 3 hits and a single run and two strikeouts. The first batter to face Shouse will be Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit. He hit a hard ball toward shortstop the handcuffs Bartlett and he can not get the handle on the ball in time to get Doumit. He ends up with an infield hit on the play. Adam LaRoche then  gets fooled on a sidearm breaking pitch from the Rays leftie for the first out of the inning. Tabata then hit a double down the right field line and puts both men in scoring position with one out. Monroe then hit s a ball to Bartlett that his only play is to first base and Doumit scores on the play.  Andy LaRoche then walks to put two men on base again for the Pirates. Wilson then hit a bouncer back to Shouse on the mound that he throws to first base to get the third out if the inning. At this point, the Pirates have a 2-0 lead on the Rays.
 

Maholm again comes out for the top of the fifth inning and faces Aybar first in the inning. Aybar hit a ball towards McLouth in center field for the first out.  Zobrist then hit a high fly ball to Tabata in left field for a quick second out in the inning. Navarro then comes up and hit a ball towards Wilson at short stop that he can not get a good handle on and  he is on the outskirts of the infield when he attempts to try and get Navarro at first base. He is awarded a infield hit and the Rays have a base runner with two outs. But Pirate Manager John Russell has seen enough and goes out to relieve Maholm with Dave Davidson. For the night, Paul Maholm went 4.2 innings and gave up only 2 hits and got 4 strikeouts for the Pirates. Ruggiano is the first Rays batter to face Davidson, and he quickly hit a ball to LaRoche, who fired to Sanchez at second for the force out of Navarro to end the inning.

 
The Rays send David Price to the mound in the bottom of the fifth inning. This is Price’s second appearance of the spring. the first batter to face him will be Morgan. He hit a solid liner towards third base that is snared by Longoria for the first out.  Sanchez then hit another ball towards Longoria that he easily scoops and tosses to Aybar for the second out of the inning. McLouth then walks to give the Pirates a base runner with two out. With Doumit again at the plate, Price ends up throwing a wild pitch and McLouth advances to second base on the play. Doumit ends up hitting a ball to Ruggiano in center field to end the inning for the Pirates.

 

Davidson again takes the mound for the top of the sixth inning. Olmedo then walks on 6 pitches and steals second base during Bartlett’s at bat. On the next pitch, Bartlett hit a ball down the third baseline past LaRoche for an RBI single. Kapler the  comes up and is walked on 5 pitches to put men on first and second with no outs in the inning. At that time, Russell again comes out and takes the ball from Davidson. In comes reliever Brian Slocum to pitch for the Pirates. To this point, the Rays have scored a run, and have gotten two walks and a hit in the inning. With Longoria at the plate, the Rays call for a double steal and both Bartlett and Kapler move to third and second base  safely on the play.
 
 

Longoria is also walked and the bases are loaded with no outs in the inning.  Burrell then comes to the plate and gets an RBI without hitting the ball as Slocum also walks him for the second straight walk of his outing and ties the game for the Rays.. Aybar then hit a hard shot to Adam LaRoche at third base for the first out of the inning, but he scores Kapler to give the Rays the lead in the game, 3-2. Zobrist then comes up and is walked to again  to put another runner on base for the Rays. Navarro then hit a shot down to first base that Adam LaRoche take unassisted for the second out of the inning. But on the play, Longoria came in to score to put the Rays  up 4-2. Ruggiano then came up and also walked to give Slocum 4 walks in the inning. But Olmedo hit a fly ball to Tabata in left field to get Slocum out of the inning. But the Rays had scored 4 runs on 1 hit and 7 walks in the inning.
 
 

Price again took the mound for the Rays in the bottom of the 6th inning with the first lead of the night.  He gave up a lead-off ground rule double to Adam LaRoche that was touched by a fan down in the right field wall ( wearing a Yankee hat ) area right before the Pirates Bullpen cut-out.  the ball would have been at least a double, but if the fan had not touched it, he could have stretched it into a triple. Tabata then struck out swinging for the first out of the inning. Monroe then hit a ball  that one-hopped to the wall in the gap in left-center field for an RBI double. Andy LaRoche then walked to put two Pirates on with one out. Wilson then came up and struck out swinging to give the Pirates one more out in the inning. Morgan then was called out on a called third strike and Price got out of the inning only surrendering the lone run.  But the Pirates pulled back within one run 4-3.

 
Darryle Veal came out to pitch the top of the seventh inning for the Pirates. Adam Kennedy got a single to left field to lead-off the inning for the Rays. Veal then walked  Ray Sadler to put two men on with no outs. Gabe Gross then hit a long fly ball to McLouth in center field, but it was not deep enough for Kennedy to advance on the play.  During Michel Hernandez’s at bat, Veal threw a wild pitch and both Sadler and Kennedy advanced a base on the play. Hernandez ended up being called out on strikes to give the Rays their second out of the inning. Morgan Ensberg then walked to load the bases for the Rays. But it was short-lived as Reid Brignac hit a foul pop-up to Adam LaRoche at third base for the final out of the inning.

 
Price again came out for the bottom of the seventh inning and Luis Cruz lead off for the Pirates. He ended up sending a Price change-up back up the middle for a lead-off single. Jeff Salazar then hit a ball to Ensberg, who took over for Longoria at third base and he threw to Kennedy at second to get the force out.  Rays Manager Joe Maddon then came out and replaced Price with Randy Choate. for the night, Price went 2.1 innings and gave up 3 hits and a lone run, but also had 2 walks and three strikeouts. The first batter to face Choate was Robinzon Diaz. He hit a single up the middle to advance the runners, but they did not test Ruggiano’s arm in center field. Garrett Jones then came to the plate with two men  on and one out. He hit a ball in front of the plate that new Rays catcher Nevin Ashley took and threw to Chris Richard for the second out. Both men advanced on the play.  Tabata then hit a ball to shortstop that Brignac threw to Richard to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

The Pirate then sent Jesse Chavez to the mound for the top of the eighth inning.  Ashley lead off for the Rays and walked on 6 pitches. Jon Weber then hit a towering shot to right field for a two run homer to put the Rays up 6-3. Richard then hit a liner to Tabata that he did not have to move to field for the first out of the inning. Kennedy then struck out, but the ball got away from Diaz behind the plate, but he regrouped and threw to first to record the put out. Sadler then hit a ball down towards third base that Neil Walker took in and threw to Garret Jones to end the inning.
 
 

Choate came out again for the Rays in the bottom of the eighth inning. Monroe was first to the plate and hit a single to left field to start off the inning.  Walker then struck out on a nice breaking pitch from Choate for the first out of the inning. Brian Bixler then was called out on strikes to get two quick out on the Pirates. Morgan then hit a ball sharply towards Brignac that took a high bounce near the side of the mound and he could not control it in time to get Morgan at first base. So the Pirate now had men at first and second with two outs. Cruz then came up and hit a ball towards Ensberg at third base. He took the ball and stepped on the bag to complete the force out of Monroe to end the inning for the Pirates.
 
 

Jeremy Powell came out for the top of the ninth inning. the first Rays to face him was Gross, who hit a ball down to Jones that he easily took and stepped on the first base bag for an unassisted out. Hernandez then walked on 6 pitches to give the Rays a base runner. Ensberg then struck out swinging to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Brignac also hit a slow roller towards Jones that he easily took for his second unassisted play of the inning for the third out.

 

 

The Rays Rule 5 Draftee Derek Rodriguez took the mound for the Rays trying to preserve the win for the team. The Rays will have to make a decision in the next 20 days to either return Rodriguez to his former team, or try and find a spot for him on their 25-man roster. they could also offer him back to his old team and then work out a trade to keep him in the Rays farm system. First up in the bottom of the ninth is Salazar who hit a fly ball to Ruggiano for the first out. Diaz then comes up and rips a ball down the first base line past Richard and it hits the wall and bounces out to Sadler in right field for a double. Jones then also hit a RBI-single down the line past Richard for his 8th RBI this spring. Tabata then hit a ball towards Brignac that he flips to Kennedy to get Jones. With Tabata on with a fielder’s Choice, the Pirates have a man on base, with the tying run at the plate. Steve Pearce then  hit a ball towards Kennedy, but the ball is rolling slow since Pearce shattered his bat on the play. Kennedy easily get to the ball in time to throw out Pearce and end the game with the Rays taking it 6-4.

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

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 
 
 

First Dive into “Live” Baseball Drafting

 

 


So there I was yesterday staring at the ball field beyond my laptop screen and wondering what the day will bring. I am I know I will see some great Rays baseball, but I also had a 3 pm “live draft on ESPN.com for the newly formed MLBloggers League. I man in the last week people in the league have been sending up all sorts of smoke signals that they ” did not know how to play”, or that they ” Were there just for fun. Well, I am not sure about the first and last part having much reality considering the first few draft rounds of the draft.

 

I mean I do have a few teams on ESPN.com, and I do play Fantasy games on there year round, but this is the first time I have participated in a “live” draft and a league setting. I usually go it alone, except for Fantasy Football, which I won my division for the fifth year in a row.  But I was note if I was up for the unsettling reality that the guy on my board might be picked right before me, and I would have less than 2 minutes to regroup and find another way to get it done.  So as I was sipping a cold Dr Pepper at the Rays complex in Port Charlotte, Florida waiting for the league’s time to come up, I watched the Rays versus the Pittsburgh Pirates game from a shady area near the Rays offices in right field.

 
 

I wanted to sit at the Miller Lite Tiki Bar, but decided that I might have too many armchair managers if I tried to even involve one person in my decision process. So I sat out by the Kid’s area among the young moms and their kids rambling around me like the Indians to Custer. I even had a few Rays officials strolling back to the office and locker rooms come on over and tell me a few sleepers picks they had on their minds. I have to be honest, I am using one of them tomorrow when the players come off waivers. I will explain it more a bit later in the blog.

 

So I wander on into the chat room segment of the draft and do my usual run around the room and see what the climate was like. Believe me, these people were set for a winner takes all poker challenge and no one really let their hand be known ahead of time. I mean I had two different lists of the top 4 guys for my selection next to me ready for the first pick. I was going for power ans steals in my offense, and wins and strikeouts on my pitching staff. I was getting more and more anxious as people were beginnig to bluff who they might want…or might be willing to trade for in the daily doings of the draft.


 

 
First Round
 

I mean we had the youngest member of our league picking first in Elizabeth of The Future Sox Blog. And considering we had 14 members in our two divisions of the league, I was too upset getting the eighth slot to start my draft. So as it gets hit the 3 pm hour, Elizabeth of course takes the top player on the board, Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins. But then we had the first pick of the day that mystified me, not because of the pick, but it was only the second pick of the draft. Mets Main Man decided to take Phillies starter Cole Hamels with the first selection. I am not sure if that was a wise decision, but if he goes and wins 20 games………..I will be the first to admire that pick.  Julia of “Julia’s Rants” picked Red Sox Kevin Youkilis with her pick, but that was not a huge shocker to anyone in the room.  the only thing that worried me was why she did not get Dustin Pedroia, who by far the best second baseman on the board.

 
 


My first selection was all power. Ryan Braun of the Brewers had a great second half, and I have the feeling he is now feeling more secure in his MLB skin. He is also having a great World Baseball Classic tourney, so he was a no brainer for me. The  we had the first controversy of the day. “Braves World” decided to mess with “Team Clemson” by drafting Grady Sizemore. I could feel the tension through the computer screen knowing that “Team Clemson” missed it by one draft spot of getting her man. But Melissa of “Team Clemson” rebounded nicely and acquired Dustin Pedroia with her first pick. That was actually one of the guys that I thought would never fall beyond the first 8 picks. Maybe people are believing that MLB2009 commercial.

 
 


The next two draftees went toward their team alliances when Jen, from “Team Diatribe” stayed true to her White Sox roots and took Alexi Ramirez, who will be getting a bulk of the time at shortstop in 2009. Then “How Bout Them Orangebirds” took his hometown hero, Nick Markakis with his first round pick. Was is interesting about Orangebird is the fact he dad was helping him in the selection process. I only mention this because he proudly admitted it in the chat room that he dad was awesome at Fantasy Baseball. So he might be the guy to watch today.

 

 

 


 

Second Round:

 
 
So we meander on to the second round and my first guy I was secretly wanting comes off the board when with the first pick of the round, “The Metsblog of Raleigh” take Tiger Miguel Cabrera. then Orangebird come rolling out of left field with a pick of catcher Matt Wieters. I am not sure if he is going to be with the big club come April, but for future consideration, and a possible chance at the Rookie of the Year honors, I think we might see him by May.  Then “Team Diatribe” get my third guy I coveted on my list when she stole Evan Longoria from me. I do not have to say anything else here do I Jenn?  With my second pick I took the guy who I respect and can call my friend, Josh Hamilton. There is no way I was going to have a team without him on my roster………..period.
 
 
 
The second round rolled along with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Manny Ramirez falling off the board. Then in a wild shocker, “Team Future Sox Blog” took Orlando Hudson of the L A Dodgers with her second pick.  I think it was a gutsy move, but truly , I do not see it as a huge plus right now, but the year has not even started yet. What I am seeing in this first two rounds is that most people have followed the common thread of getting the best possible athlete and player for the squads. Some of the picks might be out there, but in the end, it is going to be fun. that being said, I am going to just hit the third round, then I am going to highlight my picks and some insight into the MLBloggers League draft.

 

 
                        
 

Third Round
 
 
The first closer to come off the board is  a no-brainer, but “Bob’s Boston Green Sox” picked him with the fifth pick of the third round. Considering the highly motivated Red Sox bloggers in this league, that might have been a very wise decision to get him off the board early.  My pick was originally going to be Roy Halladay, but he was snatched up just prior to my pick by “Austin James Dreamers”. This would not be the first time today I thought he had a spy over my shoulder picking right before me. I instead took my second pitcher on the board, Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres. This team might not a huge boatload of wins this year, but Peavy will be like Scott Kazmir did for the last three years when the Rays were not winning. He is just going to go out there and pitch and hope his offense and defense can get him the wins.
 
 
 

I ponder back and forth if I should pick Cleveland ace Cliff Lee or Peavy. But considering the power that is coming to light in the American League Central, I decided that the National League West might be more compatible for wins this year.  That being said, two picks later team alliance again came to light as “Team Clemson” took Cliff Lee, and “Team Diatribe” put her faith in a full recovery for Carlos Quentin of the White Sox. Both are solid picks and should do great for them. The last pick of the third round did make me scratch my head. Joe Mauer of the Twins is going for a second opinion now about his back pain after having his off season operation on his kidneys. I am not seeing this as a positive reinforcement to take him so early in the draft. But, if he comes back soon ” The Metsblog of Raleigh” might have a beautiful sleeper pick.

 


 
 
Fourth Round:   Arizona Diamondback Starting Pitcher Dan Haren.
         Power pitcher who also gets a lot of strikeouts and limited walks 

Fifth Round:      Tampa Bay Rays Left Fielder Carl Crawford
          Increasing power and steals and triples are a bonus

Sixth Round:      Seattle Mariner Starting Pitcher Felix Hernandez
          He is power all day long, and his walks are decreasing finally. 

Seventh Round: Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol
          I am banking on him getting it done with a low Opponents B.A.

Eighth Round:    Baltimore Orioles 1B/3B/DH Aubrey Huff
          I think this one might have upset Orangebird a bit. Power and great numbers throughout his MLB career.

Ninth Round:     Los Angeles Angels closer Brian Fuentes
          First he is a leftie, plus a closer……….double whammy on hitters.

Tenth Round:      Chicago White Sox DH Jim Thome
          I always see power number from Thome, plus he is in a good lineup to see pitches every at bat. You can not walk him to get past any good hitters.

11th Round:         Tampa Bay Rays Left Fielder/ DH  Pat Burrell
         I just think he is the real deal. I also got a Trade Request to give him up for Josh Willingham…….Please…………
 
12th Round         Colorado Rockies  Outfielder Brad Hawpe
                            25 Homers, 85 RBI, .283 average

13th Round:           Florida Marlins Starting Pitcher  Ricky Nolasco
                             15 wins, 182 strikeouts, 1.10 WHIP

14th Round:           Cleveland Indians Shortstop Jhonny Peralta
                              23 homers, 83 RBIs and 104 runs scored last year

15th Round:           Detroit Tigers catcher Brandon Inge
                             I consider this one of my sleepers. He is due for another breakout year.

16th Round:          Colorado Rockies 1st Baseman Todd Helton
                            He might be hitting the twilight of his career, but he can still hit the ball. 

17th Round:          Milwaukee Brewer 2nd Baseman Rickie Weeks
                             I always thought the Rays should have drafted him. He is about to have a breakout year in 2009…………..Sleeper.

18th Round:          Tampa Bay Rays Set-up Man Jason Isringhausen
                           The guy has 283 saves and he fell to the 18th round. He pitched great in front of me why I was drafting him yesterday.  Nydol Sleeper Pick.

19th Round:         Tampa Bay Rays Reliever J P Howell
                            I love watching this guy pitch. He also got plugged by a Curtis Granderson B P ball and has not pitched since in the WBC.
 

20th Round:         Detroit Tigers Starting Pitcher Armando Gallerraga
                           Another sleeper. Had 13 wins and 126 strikeouts last year.
 
 
Rest of the picks:

Kahili Greene, SS, St Louis Cardinals. Change a scenery will do him good also at the plate. Could ne a light SLEEPER.

Jason Giambi, DH Oakland A’s.    I got him in the 22nd round. He might not a great fielder, but 32 homer and 96 RBI’s for the 22nd round is a STEAL.

Jeff Niemann, SP Tampa Bay Rays.   I might be going out on a limb, but I am picking him to be the winner of the fifth rotation spot for the Rays in 2009.

Bronson Arroyo, SP, Cincinnati Reds.    I am still shaking my head as to why he fell to the 24th round, but I am predicting a come back year.

Willy Aybar, Utility Guru, Tampa Bay Rays. To me he is the best super utility guy in the league. He hit 10 homers and 33 RBI in less than 330 at bats.

Frankiln Gutierrez, OF, Seattle Mariners.    Another great young outfielder that was traded in the off season and maybe people forgot where he went.

Aaron Heilman, RP, Chicago Cubs.  I have had this guy on my teams for three years and he has always given me good numbers. Stabilizing career, no big highs or lows.

Ryan Church, OF ,Washington Nationals.    He was the best available player, but 12 homers and 49 RBI’s was during an injury plagued season.

Edwin Jackson, SP, Detroit Tigers.     I have made no secret I am a “Action Jackson” fan. His 14 wins in 2009 was not a fluke… Mild SLEEPER.

David Purcey, SP, Toronto Blue Jays.   With the flux in the Blue Jay rotation this guy will be the number 3 guy, and no one knows him. The Rays faced him twice last year and he held them to a .196 batting average…MAJOR SLEEPER.
 

 
 
My last eight picks after that were to fill my roster and most will not even start the season on my team. When the waiver period ends tomorrow I am going to go on a hunt for a few hidden gems. I know of a few that were not picked, including one pitcher who is coming off an injury-filled 2009, but rumors are he is throwing harder than  he did in 2007 when he was totally healthy. I am not going to tell you his name, because you will then just go out and scam him for yourselves. But he was a starting 5 pitcher for a division leading team. That is all I will give you.
 

 
Now come the time where people are going to evaluate and re-evaluate their teams in the next few days and trades will be passed along by the league members. I only have three concerns, and they are not huge ones with my squad. I have gotten a few trade requests, but I have declined both of them so far. I have designated my three “keepers“, or players I want to retain again in 2010. If you really must know, they are pitcher Jake Peavy , outfielder Josh Hamilton, and Carl Crawford. I did get a bit of a surprise today when I went into the message boards on the league site. So far I have 3 votes as the Draft Champion. The total votes are only up to 6 right now, and that could change, but I am happy with my draft and only missed out on maybe 4 guys I wanted.
 

 
I do have to admit, sitting in the shade with the Rays baseball game going on right beyond me made me a bit flustered and nervous at time, but I was able to track the outs and also do my draft without only one incident. My last two picks were fast picks because my touch pad on my laptop began to act funny and did not work correctly. So I just drafted whoever was up on my draft board in the left side of the page. They are drops anyways, so it was no biggie. Well, I hope everyone else had fun. Now it is time to read just and fine tune all our rosters and look forward to the 22 match ups during the season. In advance, everyone I wish you luck, great waiver pick-ups and no crying in baseball.  It is almost time to PLAY BALL!!!!

 

 

 

Photo credits for today’s blog: 1) WelcometotheWitze’sWorld@Flickr.com

                                                 2) Edgarlin@Flickr.com

                                                 3) www.Bleacherreport.com

                                                 4) www.Brunosdraftkits.com

                                                 5) www.Rotolabs.com

 

 

 
 

Rays Handle Red Sox for First Spring Win

 

 
I remember a line that Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio pre-game and post-game host used to say about winning. “Your wife looks better, the kids are smarter, and life just feels great.” After watching today’s game I have a few more to add to that list. When you are winning, the cocoa butter smells like ambrosia and the long drive home flies by and you seem to be driving on air.  Okay, I might be embellishing it all a bit, but the first win the the spring can make you believe again. It is not like I have been down in the dumps or sitting with the local winos complaining about lack of hitting and spotty pitching. Okay, I have been sitting with the winos, only because they are friends of Rays Manager Joe Maddon from his “Thanks-mas” celebrations.

 
But the real key to today’s game was the change in traffic priorities that saw almost everyone into the parking lots and at least going towards the gates by the first pitch. The Rays did some fast work to upgrade and facilitate the need for a speedy coming and going to the ballpark. Me, I have not left yet. I am sitting in the shade here at the Charlotte Sports Park trying to decide if I want to eat dinner down here before taking the drive back to reality. Because it is Friday, and nearing beer-thirty, I am hesitant to hit the lonesome highway yet. I might just wait for a few of the Rays players and ask them what is their choice for fine dinning aka bar food with a gorgeous server in the Port Charlotte area. That is right people, I am not in the mood for the dollar value menu today, I want some hot wings and I want them now!

 
But let’s forget about my stomach and talked a bit about the game today against the Boston Red Sox. It is the first time since Game 7 of the ALCS that these two teams have squared off. Missing were most of the Red Sox starting staff, who were back at their training complex doing workouts and maybe a little shopping. But it was the first time for all of us in the Rays Republic to try and get used to the fact that Rocco Baldelli was wearing the Red jersey today. I guess I will be used to it about the time they also use the green jersey for St. Patrick’s Day. Rocco did come on over and was very cordial to the Rays faithful and chatted with former manager Joe Maddon during Batting Practice today. He looks rested, cheery and ready to rumble this season.

 

 

 

The Rays sent big right-hander Jeff Niemann to the mound today as he tries to win a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. He has the odd choices of either making the roster as a starter, a reliever, or even being in another uniform on Opening Day.  Niemann did show his nerves as he gave up a single to Red Sox lead-off hitter Jacoby Ellsbury to start the game.  Ellsbury moved over to third base, but Niemann then began to settle down and got out of the first inning with no real damage.  The Rays were facing Michael Bowden today who actually wore three different jerseys last season in the Red Sox organization. He did finally make it to the majors for one start in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.
 

But Bowden did have  bad case of the nerves also and Rays lead-off hitter Fernando Perez took his pitch up the middle to also give the Rays a baserunner to lead off the ballgame.  Perez then stole second base on Bowden and after an apparent off throw to try and pick Perez off second, he advanced to third base on the bad throw. All this time Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett was standing at the plate, and he eventually hit a nice flutter ball towards Angel Chavez and third who had no play at the plate and threw to first to record the first out of the inning. Evan Longoria got the second out of the inning and  D H Pat Burrell came up  and hit a sharp grounder towards Chavez that he knocked down, but could not control in time to get Burrell. Willy Aybar the  came up and stroked a single to right field to put men on first and second for the Rays. Dioner Navarro then came up and hit a sharp ball to second that was handled and quickly thrown to first to end the inning with the Rays up 1-0.
 

Niemann came out again for the second inning and got the Red Sox to go down 1-2-3, with two strikeouts in the inning. The Rays quickly got going again as Ben Zobrist  lead off the second inning with a walk. He was quickly erased from the basepaths on a 6-4-3 double play ball hit off the bat of Gabe Gross. With two outs in the inning, it looked like Bowden might have survived and would leave the game with a nice line for the day. But Elliott Johnson had other plans as he  Hit a double into left field that seemed to confuse Jason Bay. The Red Sox outfielder seemed to have lost the ball in the sun and it one-hopped to the left field wall.  Perez then came up and walked to give the Rays two men on base with two outs in the inning. Bartlett again came up and hit another nice looper over Bay’s head to score both Johnson and Perez and put the Rays up 3-0. Boston then made a pitching change and Bowden was done for the day.
 

Enrique Gonzalez came on for the Red Sox and still needed only one out to get out of the inning. He did not fair any better than Bowden as he left up a breaking ball and Longoria smacked the ball into the boardwalk area above left field for a 5-0 Rays lead. Gonzalez finally got Burrell to fly out to Ellsbury to end the inning.  The Rays sent Brian Shouse out to face Boston in the top of the third inning. In the inning, Shouse gave up only one hit, to former Rays player Nick Green before settling down and getting out of the inning with no other problems. Quickly Navarro and Zobrist got on base for the Rays Gross then hit a single to center field to load the bases for the team. Johnson then came up and hit a hard grounder to center that scored both Navarro and Zobrist.  Johnson ended up on second base advancing on the throw home and was in scoring position for Perez.  He then hit a nice ball to the left field wall and tried to advance for a triple, but Bay got the ball into Green who gunned him down at third for the first out of the inning. Bartlett then came up and hit a single to left, but was stranded on base after Longoria and Burrell got quick outs.
 

At that point, the Rays were up 10-0 on the Red Sox. Jason Childers came on in relief for the Rays and got Youkilis to strikeout before giving up a towering foul ball down the right field line to Baldelli. He ended up walking Rocco and gave Boston a baserunner. But Bay hit a ball to Bartlett, who scooped it over to Johnson to start a 6-4-3 double play and get out of the inning. The Red Sox brought on Devern Hansack to face the Rays and the team went down 1-2-3 for the first time today. Hansack got two strikeouts in the inning.

 

 

The top of the fifth inning saw Rays 2008 Rule-5 draft pick Derek Rodriguez come on to pitch. Rodriguez did not have a lot of major league experience, and it showed as the Boston hitters took advantage of him quickly. Non-roster invitees Brad Wilkerson and Dusty Brown got on base quickly, with Brown putting ball over right fielder Gross’s head. Then Green came up and hit a soft fly ball to center field that Perez could not get to before it fell to the grass . That scored Wilkerson and put the Red Sox finally on the board in the game.  Chavez then got on base and Ellsbury hit a ball to rookie Tim Beckham at short that he could not handle to start a double play.
 
 

Beckham was given his first error as a Rays even before he took his first at bat for the team.   Jed Lowrie then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Brown and tacked another run on the board for the Red Sox.  Youkilis then came up and hit a hard fly ball to center, but the runners did not advance on the play.  Baldelli then came up and stroked a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Lars Anderson. Baldelli ended up scoring Green on the play and picked up his first RBI as a Red Sox. Bay then came out and got a quick out for the Red Sox before James Houser came on to pitch for the Rays. Houser got Wilkerson to commit on a bad pitch and the inning ended with the score Rays 10-4. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Red Sox got the Rays to go down 1-2-3 for the second consecutive inning.
 

The sixth inning saw Mark Wagner get on base with a lead-off walk, but the Red Sox did not take advantage of the situation as Houser closed down the team on three straight batters. Boston sent non-roster invitee Charlie Zink to the mound for the bottom of the sixth inning. Zink, a knuckleballer had the Rays guessing and quickly outs from Justin Ruggiano, Reid Brignac and Morgan Ensberg to again post a 1-2-3 inning against the Rays. The Rays sent Lance Cormier to the hill in the seventh inning and he got a quick strikeout from  Zack Daeges.  Then he got Chris Carter to hit a pop up to Ray Olmedo at third base.  Anderson then came up and quickly was deposed of to end the inning.

 


 

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rays took advantage of Zink to get a walk by Rays catcher John Jaso. Then Chris Richards came up and hit a towering homer out to right field that struck the murals on the side of the Rays offices for a two-run home run. Tim Beckham then came up and got an infield single in his first at bat as a Ray. Jon Weber then struck out, and Ray Sadler got the honor of getting plucked by Zink with a pitch. If you are ever going to be hit by a pitch, being hit by a knuckleballer might be the best gig in baseball. But the Rays could not capitalize with two men on base as Olmedo and Ruggiano both flied out to center to end the inning.
 

Jason Comier then came on to face Boston in the eighth inning and Got Daeges to strikeout before also getting Chris Ambres to commit to an out. With two outs in the inning, Wagner hit a nice ball into the center field gap over Ruggiano’s head for a double.  But he ended up stranded on second after a strikeout by Ivan Ochoa ended the inning.  Boston sent  a reliever named Green to the mound to start the bottom of the eight. You can tell this is Spring Training when a player is not even listed on the traveling roster and he gets to pitch in a game. Green got the Rays out quickly in the inning to again post a 1-2-3 inning for Boston pitching. With Neal Frontz now on the mound for the Rays, he got  Ochoa, Gil Velazquez and minor league player Johnathan Van Every to go down to end the game for the Red Sox.
 

All in all it was a great day for baseball in Florida as the sun was extremely hot, around 79 degrees at first pitch, and a breeze did not hit the stadium until the fourth inning. It would have been a great day to come out to the ballpark and sit in the grass berm and suntan, or just relax ans watch some baseball.   In the game, the Rays aw that Niemann is not going to make their decision easy as to what to do with the tall former pitcher from Rice University.  Niemann was not perfect, but he did bounce back and showed some great off-speed pitches today to get some critical strikes on batters.
 

Johnson and Perez got long looks by the Rays coaching staff today. Both players also made their decisions a bit more difficult by going an identical 2-3, with 2 runs and 2 RBI for the Rays. The only difference in their box scores is a walk in the second inning by Perez. Johnson is hitting a robust .429 in the first three games of spring and might be making a name for himself this time around for a roster spot. The Rays also had another pair who went 2-3 on the Day. Willy Aybar and Jason Bartlett also  were busy on the basepaths today, with Bartlett also getting 3 early RBI’s in the game.

The only real disappointment for the Rays might be in the performance of Derek Rodriguez. But considering that this was his first real exposure to major league hitting, his one innings might not be as bad as the line score shows for him today. He did give up 3 hits and 4 runs, to post a 13.50 ERA this spring, but he got great experience today by facing a great hitting team that will help him in his pitching development. During the day, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman spoke about Rodriguez and basically said that he cost the team only $50,000, and to get a look at a guy for six weeks and maybe hold onto him all year, that is a small price to pay.
 


Tomorrow’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks field in Clearwater, Florida will be shown on MLB.TV. If you have purchased the MLB.TV package, come on over and see one of the best looking ballparks in the minor leagues. I love the way this ballpark is set up, and I always have a great time when I come out here for a game. 
 

I will be in left field at the game tomorrow, and hope I can make some type of catch in the game. But you can never expect things in baseball so here are the tentative pitching match ups for both teams: Starting for the Phillies tomorrow will be Kyle Kendricks ( RH ), who will be followed by Drew Taylor ( RH ), Clay Condrey ( RH ), Scott Eyre ( LH ) and then Brad Lidge ( RH ). The Rays will counter with Mitch Talbot ( RH ), J P Howell ( LH ), Dewon Day ( RH ), Jason Hammel ( RH ), Randy Choate ( LH ).
 

Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.stpetersburgtimes.com, RRCollections.
 
 
 

 

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