Results tagged ‘ Winston Abreu ’

Maddon has One More Math Problem to Solve this Spring

         

 

RRCollections

 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 

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

GailBurton/AP

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

 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

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

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

 
 

 
RRCollections

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

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

 
 

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

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

 

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

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

 
 

 
Steve Nesius/ AP
 

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

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

Looking Forward to the Rays 13th Season


RRCollections

There is going to be something special about the superstitious
number “13” and the Tampa Bay Rays this season. And surprisingly, there is not
just one instance where this number will come hugely into play this year,
but several occasions where “13” might just be the Rays lucky number. There are
a possible three instances where this superstitious number could bode heavily
into the Rays possible 2010 plans, and might also be instrumental in some of the
team’s future beyond 2010.

I have always liked this “strange”
combination of numbers, maybe more since it contains my two favorite numbers,
but the stark reality is that these two digits together will be constantly in
play over the next several weeks and might be right in the thick of it in
determining which direction this Rays team takes in the American East division.
I am  looking forward during the next three days to outline my scenarios
where “13” and the Rays will be side-by-side this Spring.

 

Considering the simple fact that the
2010 season will be the Rays 13th professional baseball season, and (
hopefully) one that will further define the direction of the franchise and
possibly make all the rest of Major League Baseball green with envy. Sure I
want to say I would cherish seeing Rays Manager Joe Maddon hoisting  a beautiful
golden trophy with all 30 MLB teams flags on it to the high heavens during a
cool, crisp October night.

This 2010 team has a viable chance to
cement the phrases “winning” and “Rays”  uttered in the same sentence within the
mindset of all baseball fans and media members around the country this year. The
always negative “devil” has now been exorcised for three seasons, and maybe this
is the year people finally forget that old name and the Rays can move from
underneath that negative persona and flourish like a shining ray of consistent
light.

 

The 13th season is going to be one
of the best in Rays history based entirely on talent in regards to their pitching
and field players. This is one of the first Spring Training in history where the
Rays have come into their Spring camp without a huge number of question marks
dotting multiple field positions and their starting rotation/Bullpen. For the
first time in Rays franchise history, Maddon can have the confidence to pencil
in five names, even before the first Spring Training game as his desired 2010
starting rotation. Even the remote thought process of penciling in a  Rays
rotation  has never been a realistic option so early into Spring Training for a
Rays Manager in the last 12 seasons. 

Sure
there could still be a huge question mark added as to the final decision on
the Rays fifth starter, but current fifth starter Wade Davis and possible option
Andy Sonnanstine both have minor league options still available for the Rays.
This might be another deja vu moment to 2009 when Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel
fought it out to the last moment to finally reign in that fifth rotation spot. 
But could the loser of this competition be a possible trade piece for the
Rays? But this ensuing competition will be great for both of them, and that
makes this 13th Rays season special.

 

And even if the biggest question mark hovering
the Rays field players might be where Ben Zobrist hop, skips and jumps within
the Rays line-up, or lines up on the field in 2010, you can bet there will be
more than capable players to take the vacant spot(s) left by Zobrist with
a vigor and vitality that has been missed during past Spring Training seasons.
And with Maddon stressing that his starting nine will get more chances to hit
during the Spring Training games this year, it can only be a positive sign of
better things to come for the team and better prepared hitting corps coming into
the Rays first game against Baltimore on April 6th in Tropicana
Field.

When was the last time there was even the possibility
of a handful of Rays players possibly formulating all the changes within this
team’s final seasonal make-up.
Sure there
is the fight brewing for the fifth rotation spot between Davis and Sonnanstine,
but the top four slots are pretty much set in stone even before their first
inter-squad workout. The biggest controversy with the starting rotation will
come out of this fifth spot, and maybe if Rays left-handed starter David Price
gets the number 3 rotation slot to break up the right-hand dominated Rays
rotation right down the middle and provides a different adjustment for teams in
2010.

And even in the Rays Bullpen, there are signs it might
be down to a total of one or two slots depending on the numbers of pitchers the
Rays want to carry going into the 2010 season.
It could come down to the Rays decision on relievers Dale Thayer,
Winston Abreu or maybe a healthy Joaquin Benoit to win one of the two last
slots. But Sonnanstine could also figure into this mix as a long
reliever/6th starter option sitting in the Bullpen. And who knows,
maybe someone else coming into the Rays camp from the minor leagues might blow
the doors off the Rays Coaching staff and wiggle their name into the
conversation. That is why they call this part of the year
“training”.

 

But this 13th season could also be
the breakout year for many of the Rays field players. We all know that
outfielder Matt Joyce was upset last Spring after starting the season on the
Major League roster to go back down to Triple-A Durham after Rays centerfielder
B J Upton came back after his shoulder surgery, but the whole experience also
gave Joyce ample time to play daily and develop more in the minors with an eye
towards regaining his rightfield slot for good this Spring.

Maddon and Triple-A Manger Charlie Montoya have both praising
Joyce’s 2009 development and his adherence to the Rays ” wish list” given to him
before he left for the minors. It might have been this forward stride in their
confidence in Joyce’s ability for the Rays not to pursue a left-handed
outfielder this off season and that Joyce made all the right moves and the
strides to be penciled-in  as a starter in the Rays
rightfield.

 

 


But then again, we get the “Zobrist” factor that
will come immediately into play here. With Zobrist not having a defined position
and a defined role right now in the Rays field positions, he might just be a
human pinball bouncing from infield to outfield  to start the season until some
sort of stability forms, hopefully not due to an injury. And with that, it makes
the competition between prospects Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac one of the
most interesting and closely watched Rays competitions coming into Spring
Training.

This fight is going to be for one of the coveted
“utility” player roles on the Rays along with Rays holdover Willy Aybar. But
with the possibilities of Aybar nursing a bad wrist through much of the Spring
Training schedule. It might be their ultimate chances this Spring to either fade
out or shine  and possibly make this Rays squad, even if Aybar would go on the
D L.
And right now, there is a distinct
possibility that until Aybar takes his first swings in the batting cages, that
both could possibly be penciled into the Rays roster.

But
if I had to point towards someone right now, it seems that Brignac might be the
guy right now to have the edge defensively because he can play all the infield
positions but first base. But the Rays are going to push and raise the bar
for Rodriguez by having him play every position around the diamond this Spring
to test his abilities and evaluate his readiness to be pushed towards the Major
League level.

 

And right now based on possible logistics, you
have to consider that second base will be mostly a transient position for either
of them since second base gives the Rays a instant option to get Zobrist in the
line-up if Joyce come out  this Spring hitting the cover off the ball. But isn’t
it great to know that 4 infielders could decide the formulation of the Rays
2010 roster to such a degree. And there is only one shoe-in at this time
(Zobrist) that could be guaranteed a roster spot while the other three fight it
out to what degrees they will ultimately play in the Rays 2010 plans.

 
 

Got to love that as a fan. You can finally take a
side, much like the “Vampire/Werewolf” teams formed by the “Twilight” movie
series. We could see possible “Team Joyce” or even “Team S-Rod” or Team Brig”
T-shirts don the stands around the Grapefruit League pushing each of them
farther  along in this realm of competition. And maybe I am the first to say it
out loud, but this infield competition will greatly effected on what
ultimately happens with Joyce and a possible Rightfield slot. This
13th Rays season is going to be fun-packed from the get-go, and we
will definitely see the strongest Rays squad to ever take the field when the
rosters are finalized around the time the Rays face their own affiliate
and Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls in Durham’s home stadium on April
3,2010.
 
 

How fitting that the Rays will be playing
their Triple-A affiliate in their last warm-up game before heading back to Tampa
Bay to get ready for the 2010 Major League Baseball season. How great is it that
the Durham fans might actually be the first to see the formative Rays
everyday line-up the team will field in 2010. But then again, how bad is it
going to be for one of these borderline Rays players to be told after the game
they might be remaining in Durham, and not have a plane ticket for the flight
back to Tampa Bay for the season.

I have a weird vision in my
mind that all of them will be donning the Rays home blue and whites for the Rays
Opening Night game against the Baltimore Orioles. For some reason I
see Rodriguez,Brignac, Sonnanstine and Joyce there and being introduced to the
sold-out crowd beaming with pride that they made the cut for the Rays 13th
season roster. But their Spring Training numbers and play will ultimately decide
their fate. Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13. Right now there are 
plenty of other MLB squads that need to fear this 13th Rays season. For I view
it like the Hindu religion as a positive sign and not the negative influences of
the Rays past. “13” will play a major role in the formulation of this season’s
Rays roster, but the next example will have to wait for
tomorrow. 

 

Can Winston Abreu make the Rays Roster?

 


DRaysBay.com

Coming into the middle of February in 2010 when the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catchers begin to report for Spring Training in Port Charlotte, you have to realistically visualize the picture that there might only be one lone slot left on the Rays 25-man roster for another reliever. And considering this Spring invitees will include Durham Bulls relievers like Randy Cromier, Dale Thayer and Calvin Medlock, there is still one name missing off this list who I think might have a real legitimate shot at securing that solo seat on the Rays Bullpen bench for 2010.

Sure, we can debate back and forth for days as to the merits of the other three guys I have mentioned, or a even the merits of other relievers currently on the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits roster who could also make some huge advances and impressions both the field and in the minds of the Rays organizations Coaches minds by the end of March 2010. And the one name missing from this group is Winston Abreu. I think that Abreu has the stuff on the mound and the acquired veteran wisdom needed to secure his first Opening Day roster spot of his 14-year professional career.

Sure some people will certainly point to his extended journeyman minor league career with only two prior Major League promotions to the before the 2009 season with the Baltimore Orioles (2006) and Washington Nationals (2007) as a bit of negative fodder that his name should not even be uttered with such confidence. But then again, in all of his past promotions to the Major League, he has been a stop-gap guy filling in for a veteran persence missing on that Major League roster, and that shows you teams knew he had the abilities.


DockoftheBay.com


But again, in 2009, Abreu did appear to fill that same type of gap for the Rays securing a limited role with the Rays Bullpen after the team put veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen on the Disabled List on June 14th and only gave Abreu two appearances before designating Abreu  for assignment after veteran reliever Chad Bradford was ready to rejoin the Rays Bullpen after an injury.

And sure you can also throw the added negative bonus of the Rays then trading Abreu to the Cleveland Indians on July2,2009 and Abreu only spending about a month on the Indians roster before they also designated him for assignment on August1,2009. But Abreu quickly rebounded and signed with the Rays again and was sent to the Triple-A Durham Bulls for the second time during the 2009 season. And within 30 days of Abreu rejoining the Bulls, he was selected as the International League Pitcher of the Week for August 30th after only surrendering 1 lone hit in his last ten appearances of 2009.

And even if Abreu’s stats while pitching with the Indians held up a gaudy 23.14 ERA for the whole baseball world to see in his only three appearances for the Tribe, most people around baseball seem to remember his actions during a July 27,2009 game at Safeco Field. Abreu took the mound in the ninth inning after Mariner’s starter Chris Jakubuska’s hit Ben Francisco square in the back with his first pitch after surrendering a 2-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera earler in the top of the ninth inning.

Abreu countered in the bottom of the ninth inning with an action that should happen according to the unwritten rule book of baseball and plucked M’s Third Baseman Jack Hannahan. Sure both benches and Bullpens’ cleared and came out onto the field, but order was quickly restored and the game started up right after the Home Plate Umpire ejected Abreu because of the retaliation pitch. Abreu was subsequently given a 3-game suspension for his part, along with a fine for good measures. Most people would see that as a negative blemishe on a pitcher’s mental make-up to try and incite a brawl, but I actually see it in a different light as a veteran pitcher understanding the unspoken code of the game, and doing the right thing for his teammate.

But the main reason I think that we will see Abreu make this year’s Rays 25-man roster might have come about with MLB.Com naming him the Triple-A Reliever of the Year after posting a 3-1 record with a 1.94 ERA during 37 appearances for the Bulls last season.  That might have been the cherry on top of that Triple-A Championship sundae. But with abreu coming back to the Bulls after his Indians disaster and showing his rubber mental consitution by getting 15 saves, you can see Abreu as a reliever who has that proverbial ice water in his veins that the Rays seemed to be missed most of last season.


RRCollections

Abreu has that veteran mustard and wealth of past experience that the Rays Bullpen will need during their 2010 season. And sure he might have a few quirks like carrying his glove with him to the Bullpen restroom during his time up with the Rays, but the guy truly  understands the game from A to Z. The Rays farm system has a bevy of ample arms sitting down in the minor leagues, but they do not have any relievers with prior Major League experience besides Thayer and Abreu right now. When the Rays resigned Abreu on December 14th, I felt they made the move for his expertise, not as a reward for winning a Triple-A title or a post season MLB.Com award.

The guy has take a long journey through the farm systems of the Braves, Cubs,Dodger, Diamondback, Orioles, Nationals, Indians, Royals and now the Rays during his career. And the abundance of knowledge he has as a veteran pitcher could be a valuable asset in 2010 for the Rays. I mean if he was such a middle-of-thepack reliever, then how did he pitch for Bobby Valentine’s 2008 Chiba Lotte Mariner’s squad over in Japan?  You know Valentine stresses pitching on his teams. So coming into this Spring, I am going to be watching Abreu to see if he is one of the guys to get a lot of reps in Spring Training contests.

Last season Abreu made it all the way up with the Rays Spring Training roster until March 16th when the Rays sent him to the minor league camp also located in Port Charlotte, Florida. Hopefully during this this Spring Abreu can make a lasting impression on the Rays Spring Training coaching staff to get a chance to stay and earn a roster spot. Abreu has everything you want in a reliever at the major league level. 

Abreu has pitching ability, the vast experience and a yearning to succeed at the highest level of the game.
And we also know from his little incident in Seattle, that Abreu also understands the little things that
revolve just under the surface around the game of baseball. I guess all Abreu needs now is a chance on the mound to show he should be one of the last decisions of the Rays this Spring, and be sitting on that Rays Bullpen bench watching the first pitch of the 2010 season.

Rays have some Major Pitching Decisons looming

 


Paul J Berewill / AP

I do not envy Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman or Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s job this weekend. They will have to brainstorm and continue to formulate a plan to set two people either on a plane to the minor leagues, or find another alternative for one before the team gets on the plane to head to Toronto at the beginning of the week.  One player ( Winston Abreu) probably already knows his days are numbered and is just going to enjoy what time he has left before he is heading back to Triple-A this season.

But the second player that will needed to be plucked from the rotation and either sent down to the minors, traded, or maybe even relegated to the Bullpen might be the toughest decision for the Rays this season.  And I do not envy those two men at all for the deepest cut this year for the team. We all know that Rays starter Scott Kazmir is rumored to be starting one of the games this weekend, and with that becoming a reality, it means one of the two other starters this weekend either Jeff Neimann or David Price might be sitting on the hot seat.

But then again, did Andy Sonnanstine do enough to even secure his job last night. We all know he got roughed up in the first inning then completely solidified and became the starter we needed last night. Sonnanstine has the mental ability to start in the league without question. The only problem is that now we have a three headed monster to contend with here, and which head is the one to be chopped off. All three have merits to be here another day in the rotation, but someone has to give way again by Monday when the Rays have anticipated that Rays reliever Chad Bradford would be ready for duty.

That throws another gallon of gasoline in the fire because with his promotion back onto the Rays roster, one of the big three will have to give way. I want to play shadow General Manager here for a moment and try and decide, convince or maybe even throw some personal opinion into the barrel with the rest of Maddon and Friedman’s thoughts.  We all know that Bradford is further along in his rehab that initially anticipated and could even be restored to the roster by the weekend.

But my logical, or maybe biased view might be to use the obvious choice of sending down Abreu today or tomorrow to make that first roster space ready for Kazmir if he indeed is given a start this weekend in place of Price or Niemann. And with that happening, just move the current rotation down 1 to keep a rightie( Shields), leftie( Kazmir), rightie (Garza), leftie (Price), rightie (Niemann) match-up.  Okay you are quickly noticing my second part of the rotation here with the absence of a name.

I am over a barrel here because I love the spunk of Sonnanstine and actually think he is turning the corner.  His mental make-up is the thing I wish both Niemann and Price have right now. That is what makes this more of a toss-up than a sure thing. I can make excuses for either Sonnanstine or Price going down, but in reality, if we send down Price right now we might send the wrong message to him too. As I have mentioned before, in 2003 when Kazmir first made his Rays debut, he went 2-3 and showed impressive results in strikeouts and movement on his pitches, but you knew 2004 was going to be his year.

Price has been basically anointed by the media to be a darling since his playoff heroics of 2008, but that doesn’t give you the leg up to assume or take a roster spot in the major leagues. He did need that additional seasoning in the minors, and maybe it might not have been the right time to bring him up, but it is history now and if you send him back it might put him behind in his development. For some reason now I am of the mindset that for him to go back to Durham would revert his development a bit. 

Kazmir and James Shields had to learn to adjust at this level and turned out fine for the Rays. Matt Garza took huge steps in 2008 to prove he was a top tier pitcher in the league. That Texas tussle might have actually been the best moment of his career because it got him to see a problem outside of just pitching that was taking his mind off the business on the mound. Heck, even if Price got lite up a bit on Tuesday night in that first inning the fact he threw 30 strikes on 40 pitches in itself is pretty amazing.

So here is the rub. You got three guys who deserve the spots, but only two slots to fill. How do you decide who is the odd man out?


Steve Nesius / AP

1st contender…………….Jeff Niemann 


You got a former First Round draft pick that you have invested both time and money into who is finally coming into his own on the mound after only 16 career starts. He is currently tied with James Shields for the team lead in wins with 6, and is second among American League rookie pitcher this season in wins.

Not only that, he has matured and developed quickly since his first start of the season where he got shell shocked by the Baltimore Orioles and his six victories puts him 4 behind Rolando Arrojo’s current Rays rookie record.  The team has won 8 of his last 9 starts and are 10-4 overall when he has taken the mound in 2009.  This statistic is the best among the five starters on the Rays staff this season.  

He is getting 8.17 runs per 9 innings, the second best support in the AL after Boston’s Tim Wakefield. The Rays have scored 40 runs in his last 4 starts and have scored 8 runs or more in 10 of his 14 starts.  He has not allowed a home run  in 26.1 innings or since May 23rd at Florida (Uggla).  Niemann also has the only complete game shutout by a rookie pitcher this season in the majors.  He threw only 100 pitches in that shut out, with between 9-14 pitches each inning of that contest. 

The one really bad side to maybe even considering taking Niemann out of the rotation might be the effect it would have on his starting ability in the rest of the season. Being a major league reliever is a different mindset since you have to be ready every day to pitch. That is a totally different mental preparation for a game than studying two days in advance of your next start to get totally invested in the opposition’s hitting patterns. Relievers tend to learn on the fly at times, which might stunt his growth as a starter.


Kathy Willens / AP

2nd Contender……………….Andy Sonnanstine.

I have to say I re
ally like the way he handled that adversity last night, but for some reason it did feel like more of the same from him this season. He has gotten in deep dodo before in 2009 and fought log and hard to resurface with confidence and  a renewed vigor to pitch, and I respect that in him.  But the reality is that even though he is now tied with Neimann and Shields with six wins,he has had to endure more stress and rocky starts than the other two starters.

But he is  a sure thing at home this season, I will give him that. In 2009 he is 5-0 in six home starts this season. Compare that to his road record and he is night and day this season. On the road he is 1-7 with a 8.22 ERA.  But on top of some of those great home numbers is a few statistics that might frighten the daylights out of you. He had allowed a home run in 8 straight starts before he blanked the Philadelphia Phillies last night. During that span he has allowed 14 dingers.  But that is not the only warning signal to boast a red flag for Sonnanstine.

His 6.61 ERA is the highest among major league qualifying starting pitchers this season.  He currently leads the American League in runs allowed with 60 runs, and .307 Opponents Batting Average is second in the AL. But a big plus on his side to maybe stay until at least Monday is the fact he gives Maddon another left-handed bat on the bench for the Inter League series. He has been impressive with his hitting in 2009, and has proven to be a bona fide hitter for the Rays.

But even if the plus and minus side match up, he is also eligible to be sent down to the minors without having to be placed on waivers at all. He still has two minor league options that the Rays can use with him. I am not pre-determining anything here, but that fact along with the red flags on homers and Opponents Batting Average might be a determining factor in the future decision.

       
        Reinhold Matay / AP

3rd Contender……………David Price.

Here is where it gets really interesting. If you send down the Rookie do you send the right message to him that his time is coming and that this is just a postponement of his major league education? As I have stated before, I think he was not ready to come up right after Kazmir went on the disabled list. But he has gotten the same kind of training Kazmir got in 2003 when he went 2-3 and got thrown into the Rays rotation. Maybe this experience taught him something and if he did go back down a fire would be burning in his belly to get back up here as soon as possible.

But the reality is that the guy is here now and he could learn just as well up here as in Durham now. And the added fact of a second leftie in your starting rotation is nothing to sneeze at in the major leagues. But he is also a work in progress up here right now getting hit around at times, but always acting like a rubber band and pulling himself back into shape to adjust and get his game back into order. And that has not gone unnoticed in the stands either. 

Let’s look at his stats before the Tuesdays game to get a better look at what he has done so far in the majors. Before that game he had made a total of 7 career starts for the Rays.  If he had enough innings to qualify, he would be second in ERA and third in Opponents Batting Average for rookies in the AL this season.  He has also allowed two earned runs or less in 4 out of his 5 starts this season. He is the guy with the least amount of innings this season, but might have the biggest up-side to remaining with the team past this weekend.

I am not going to beat around the bush here and throw more stats out about Price.  We all know he has star potential and can be a huge cog in the Rays future. But the biggest thing that needs to be addressed is the simple fact he can also still be sent down without any cause for alarm. I think he is the most unlikely of the three right now to be optioned back to Durham, but this team has surprised me before with logical-illogical thinking.

Summary

Basically it is going to be a huge decision whoever the Rays decide to swap out of the rotation for Kazmir and Bradford’s returns. The most logical and practical options is to send Abreu down first, then make the needed arrangements or even a trade to make the second decision a no-brainer for the team. Niemann looks to be safe for a roster spot right now. That is not to mean he might be popped into the Bullpen like during the 2008 playoffs, but I think that might be a premature thing to do with the tall Texan.

Also I am thinking more and more that Price might have done all he can do down in Durham and learning on the fly up here might be his best option now. But a short turn back in Durham also working more on that change-up and learning a bit more on the constantly moving major league strike zone might also be in order. There is a 50-50 split on if he goes back to the Triple-A Bulls. But in the end, my head tells me he is here for the rest of the year baring injury or a major meltdown.

That leaves us with Sonnanstine. He has posted some of the biggest wins in the last two years for the team, but he has fallen down a notch or two in control and consistency. But as we all know Cleveland’s Cliff Lee is not the most consistent pitcher overall, but has gotten the wins when needed in his career. And Sonnanstine mirrors him in this respect. Sonny knows what needs to be done and will strive to do it at all costs, but is his clock winding down with the Rays.

Of the three pitchers mentioned in this blog, he is the one who might even garner the most attention on the trade front. We all know that the San Diego Padres are anxious to find more starting pitching, but could Sonnanstine be the right fit for that squad. Before the season a few teams were linked to Sonnanstine. Could any of these teams still be interested in the righthander?

The Rays might still keep him for pitching depth and send him to the minors or even put him in the Bullpen. But the stark reality is that he could go down and redefine himself at Durham and come up blazing and ready to reclaim a rotation spot. Nothing make a pitcher hungrier than knowing they can still produce at this level and being optioned down to the minors. But Sonny has done it before. He has gone from an unknown to a 14-game winner last season. I really do not envy those two men in the Ray clubhouse for this series of decisions. But even if they have to play a aggressive rendition of “Rock,Paper. Scissors” this will be done this weekend. Hopefully they can come to a consensus before the Wine Pong game comes out.

   

Team Unity goes Western

 


RRCollections
(Sorry my camera is having major focus issues right now)

The Tampa Bay Rays have been described as a huge brotherhood for their closeness and their ability to stand up for each other in the bad times. I went to a Rays speaking engagement earlier this year where Rick Vaughn,the Rays PR guru told the group about a story following the conclusion of the World Series Game 5 plane trip back to the Tampa Bay area. Vaughn and his wife were seated in the same aisle as Rays reliever J P Howell and his girlfriend and Vaughn  was awestruck by the fact that everyone on the plane made sure to come by and comfort Howell about taking the loss for that final game in 2008.  

And the mood on that late night plane ride was sad and muted, but it also had the unique feeling that everyone was also upset that they would not be hanging out with each other  every day after that loss. That is the  wild and special bond and closeness of this ball club that other teams would envy. If you ever really watch them during Batting Practice and even before a game, you see the connection factor that this team has with everyone on the roster. So it is only fitting that they would also plan events and road trips with themes and costumes or wardrobes to fit the occasion.

And that also has a great effect on this club. For to come out for a farewell to family and friends before a road trip dressed to the theme of the trip shows a great bond of unity and togetherness on this team. The team has conducted their own version of “American Idol” during Spring Training inviting anyone within the Rays organization to step up to the mic and sing. They have held BBQ’s and impromptu events throughout the year that is attended by almost everyone on the roster.

And the team also showed up in force for Carlos Pena’s 30th birthday celebration out on Madeira Beach earlier this season. But that is the magical bond that this team forged in 2008 and is still growing more and more this year. Rays Manager  Joe Maddon has even instilled a theme to every road trip this year, with the last one to start off in South Florida to have an all-white theme. The players all showed up in their best dressed whites, which included some very stylish head gear by Gabe Kapler, Carlos Pena and Joe Nelson.


RRCollections


So it is only fitting that during their road trip starting today to the Western town of Denver Colorado they promote a “Western” look. I am not privy to the fact if anyone is going to dress up like a gunslinger, but hopefully if the do, airport security will also have a bit of a sense of humor when they go through the security check near the plane on the tarmac of St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport.  I can only imagine what some of these guys are going to pull out for such an event. With a few true Texans on the team like Jeff Neimann (Houston), Carl Crawford (Houston) and Randy Choate (San Antonio).

With a majority of this team actually coming out of the western state of California, it might be a wild sight of all these guys decked out in their country western best  for the trip to Denver. Now I have done a blog recently where I mentioned that Rays reliever Joe Nelson is going to do a personal rendition of the Yul Brenner character from “The Magnificent Seven” with a complete head-to-toe black on black ensemble.

I really wish I could be there to even get a glimpse even without a camera of this outlandish event. But hopefully some one within the Rays organization (Skip Milos) will be on hand to record the event for prosperity. I did however get a few other members of the Rays to tell me how they were going to promote the event. Both are members of the Rays Bullpen and have been great enough to furnish me with their renditions of their scheduled outfits for the flight.

Scott Cursi (Bullpen Catcher) is a very businessman like guy. He is very upfront and doesn’t partake in the designer label game that some of the fashion plates on the Rays team might use for this trip. He is going to wear a black shirt with jeans and a pair of black Ostrich boots he picked up on a past road trip. He is also going to go with a mesh straw-like cowboy hat because of the heat in the Denver area. Very practical, realistic, totally Scott Cursi is going as the every day man.

Bobby Ramos is one of the best people you could ever meet and chat with about anything, even baseball. He is also one of the teams hidden fashion plates evidenced by his outfit he gave me for the trip out to Colorado. Most people might know about Ramos love for Salsa dancing and music, but the guy is also a man who enjoys the finer things in clothes. From head-to-toe Ramos might just be the best dressed Rays Coach on this plane trip. He is going to top his head with a Jack Daniels black cowboy hat.

He plans on showing off his Ely white shirt with the black piping. He is planning on wearing black Levis jeans to celebrate the western look, and will be wearing a cowboy “bling bling” buckle around his midsection. He did not tell me if it was one of those bronco-busting Texas sized buckles, but you can only imagine. He will put his feet in a fine set of black Justin boots with silver toe caps for that special “Uptown Cowboy” look.


polishedtwo@Flickr.com

Doing things like this themed road trip traveling party can help bring together everyone on the team. Players like Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler did not get to mesh with these guys in 2008, but they have also come together with the Rays players to form a close knit bond on this team. The one guy who might feel a bit left out on this trip might be Winston Abreu, who comes from the island of the Dominican Republic and might not have gotten a heads up on the festivities today for the plane (Hopefully they will drink Coors Light).

But you can bet maybe Willy Aybar or Carlos Pena will get the recent addition to the Rays roster ready and in style by the time they head to the Trop tonight.  Team bonding is a special time for these guys, and events like this can show outwardly their own commitments to the “Rays Way.”

Izzy goes on DL after arm/elbow Injury

 

       
        Brian Blanco / AP

It was the top of the ninth inning when Jason Isringhausen took the mound in a game where he was going to get some extra work and did not figure to get a save or even a hold in the short appearance. It might have been one of those moments where a pitcher knows he just needs to do some fine tuning and use the appearance to his advantage.

But when Isringhausen let go of that pitch even from my rightfield seats you could see his elbow go towards the visitors’ dugout, which it is not suppose to do, you knew something bad had happen to the Rays reliever. As the ball sail wide right of the pinch hitter Corey Patterson, most of the crowd were stunned that the ball went that far beyond and to the right of the glove of Rays catcher Michel Hernandez and the plate and did not notice the quickness that Isringhausen moved off the mound and motioned for the Rays medical staff to get there as soon as possible. But if you watched the video of him throwing, right after his right arm gets near the front of his body he seems to winch a bit in pain and then let the arm dangle next to his side while the Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the medical staff came out to the mound.


 

                                      Isringhausen Injury Video
 
 
Rays medical trainer Paul Harker was out there first and  did a primary  examination of Isringhausen on the mound  before quickly taking him out of the game for further examination. You can see in the video that his right elbow area was already getting reddened and looks to be puffing up a bit. Within seconds he knew he was hurt and called for immediate attention. I give the veteran credit here. Some pitcher might have tried to work out the kink and think it was not as serious as it lead on to be at the moment, but Isringhausen showed no hesitation to move off the pitching mound and get quick relief. A stunned Tropicana Field crowd stood on their feet and gasped as Isringhausen left the mound.

This is the same arm region that Isringhausen has his surgery on just months before and might have either re-injured that elbow, or he might have caused an additional new tear in the elbow region to further put his  great comeback with the Rays to a  sudden close. If the injury is anything like the one he suffered with the St. Louis Cardinals last season it might be the end of his tenure right now with the Rays. As a precaution, the Rays put Isringhausen immediately on the Disabled List, which is not a good sign of a slight injury or a strain.


RRCollections

With his placement on the DL, the team bought out the contract of Winston Abreu from Triple-A Durham and he might make it to the Trop in time for the 1:38 pm game tomorrow. I have to say I was so interested and enthusiastic about the signing of Izzy this spring as a total “win-win” for the Rays. He was a talented closer who was coming off an injury and could be a great veteran presence on this young Bullpen.

Along with Troy Percival they amassed a huge chunk of saves and could have been a huge force come playoff time. But now with both of them shut down for awhile, the Rays might have to look elsewhere for a definite closing candidate for the next 99 games. But could this now also open an opportunity for the Rays to maybe find a viable reason to take a second look at Pedro Martinez when he throws his second time this week in the Dominican?

You do not want to ever think about someone finding a positive for an injury especially to a veteran like Isringhausen, and bringing up Abreu might be a great opportunity for him to make another impression on the Rays staff. He looked real good this spring when he posted a 4.26 ERA in his 6.1 innings of work. But it was his  5 strikeouts in that short stint in Spring Training that might have left an impression on the Rays.


Tony Dejak / AP

So he went down to Triple-A and compiled a 3-0 record with a 1.41 ERA in 23 appearances. He also 49 strikeouts in 32 total innings of work to go along with his 10 saves. He might not get an opportunity to close at this level early, but with his success at Triple-A you know Rays Manager Joe Maddon will seek him out if the match-ups deem it so during his time with the club. He should be on a plane sometime tonight or in the early am, and might be here in time for the 1:38 pm start to the last game of the series against the Washington Nationals.

Hopefully this is not the last time we see Isringhausen on the mound for the Rays. He is currently in the training room at Tropicana Field and will be reevaluated in the morning by the Rays staff and doctors. I has the same body shudder tonight as when I saw former Rays pitcher Tony Saunders break his arm twice on the mound at the Trop. Hopefully that is not the last pitch he will ever throw in professional baseball. Isringhausen has done so much for this game, and hopefully he can go out on his terms and not the terms of an injury.

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 
 
 

Red Sox Dissect Rays Pitching for Win

 
     

 

Okay,
here we are with the second half of the home and home series today in Fort
Myers. The Rays kind of put the Red Sox fans in the back of their seats
yesterday, but today’s contest is a whole different ball game. Not only will the
Red Sox be in their home stadium, but they will have the multitudes of Red Sox
fans who love to cheer on their team. I do have to make a note that yesterday’s
game had a total of 7,148 fans in and around the stadium, which is a new record
for this young stadium location. I do have to say that at some point in the
berms and the outfield it was total standing room
only. 

 

 
I do
have a huge suggestion to the Rays and the Sandcrabs for future games in this
stadium. It seems that we need a secondary speaker system throughout the
outfield section of the stadium. Maybe a series of those upside down speakers
that look like  free standing light poles could be put in areas around the kids
area and near the boardwalk and Tiki Hut. You can hear the game, but you get a
delayed  sight to sound response because of no audio out in that area of the
ball park. I play my game day audio from my laptop to hear it no matter where I
am in the stadium, but some games are not on the radio.  Just a thought. Now
let’s get back to our Sunday recap of the Rays versus the Red Sox
game.

 

 
The Rays
sent Wade Davis, one of their top prospects from Triple-A to the mound today.
Davis has been tweaking a few of his pitches and has had a few outstanding
performances this spring. But he is penciled into be sent to the minor league
camp sometime in the near future to begin his season in Triple-A again for the
Durham Bulls. Davis will make his major league debut sometime in 2009 with the
club, but I do not see him winning the fifth rotation spot this spring. With
that said, another guy who might have pitched his way out of contention for the
fifth spot is Mitch Talbot. But if you really consider the top three pitchers
for the Rays at their Triple-A level in 2009 of David Price, Davis and Talbot.
There are club throughout baseball who would love to have that kind of
consistent staff starters in their
ranks.


                       
 
 
The
game got off to start with the Boston Red Sox sending Justin Masterson to the
mound. The wild thing about Masterson is that he can be in the same boat as Jeff
Niemann and Jason Hammel this year. He can be both a starter or a reliever for
the team and might make some heads turn with a great outing today. With Brad
Penny not throwing yet in Spring Training, he could get a start or two early in
the year, then settle into the Bullpen for 2009.  Fernando Perez lead off for
the Rays today and quickly hit a grounder to Julio Lugo, who was
playing shortstop today for Boston. Adam Kennedy then struck out. Evan Longoria
then hit another grounder to Nick Green  who threw out Longoria to end the
inning 1-2-3 for Boston.

 

 
Wade
Davis came out for the Rays and gave up a sharply hit single down the third base
line that eluded Longoria. Rocco Baldelli then came up and hit a ball to
Longoria that he quickly threw to Kennedy at second base to force out Lugo.
Jason Varitek then came up and struck out.  J D Drew then walked to put me at
first and second base. Lars Anderson then hit a RBI single through the hole at
short into left field and the throw to the plate was cut off and Baldelli scored
to put Boston in front 1-0. Zack Deages then struck out to end the Boston rally
stranding two runners on base.

 

 
Masterson again came out for the top of the second inning and got
Carlos Pena to strike out to lead off the inning. Dioner Navarro then hit a long
fly ball to left field that Zack Daeges caught for the second out. Gabe Gross
then hit a single to right center field for the first Rays hot of the day.Morgan
Ensberg then came up and struck out to end the Rays chances in the
inning.

 

 
Davis
also again took the mound for the Rays  and got Jonathan Van Every to hit a ball
down the first base line and covered first for a flip from Pena for the first
out. Green then took the first pitch from Davis and drilled it past the left
field fence and onto the adjacent field’s dugout for a solo home run. Ivan Ochoa
then put a nice bunt down the third base line to get an infield single. Lugo
then came up and hit a screaming RBI double to left center field to easily score
Ochoa. Baldelli then struck out. Varitek came up and hit a single to left field
that split the outfielders, but Lugo tired to score from second base and was
thrown out at the plate by Ray Sadler in left field to end the inning. Boston
was ahead at that point 3-0 over the
Rays.

 


 
Masterson came out for his third inning and quickly got Sadler to
hit a grounder to Lugo, who got him in time at first base. Elliot Johnson then
hit a  fly ball to Drew in right field for the second out of the inning. Perez
then came up and hit  a ball to the left of Masterson that he quickly picked up
and fired to first barely getting Perez in time. At that point, Masterson had
gone 3 innings and had given up only 1 hit, with 3 strike outs against the
Rays.

 

 
Davis
came to the mound in the top of the third again for the Rays and got Drew to hit
a quick fly ball to Gross in right field for the first out.  Anderson then
walked to give Boston their first runner of the inning. Daeges then hit a
2-run home run to right-center field. Van Every hit a foul pop-out to Longoria
and quickly the Red Sox had two outs in the inning. Green then came up and hit a
double to left field and after that Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to make a
pitching change. The Rays brought in Calvin Medlock, who quickly gave up a RBI
single to Ochoa to right field.  Lugo then came up and hit a double to left
field that scored Ochoa. For the day, Lugo went 3-3 against Rays pitching.
Baldelli then came up and hit a foul pop-up to first base to end the inning with
the Red Sox up 7-0.

 

                  

In the fourth inning, the Red Sox sent closer Jonathan Papelbon to
the mound to face the Rays. He got Kennedy to strike out to lead off the inning.
Longoria then took his first pitch to right-center field for a single. Pena then
struck out to give the Rays one last out in the inning. Navarro hit a single to
left field, but Longoria stopped at second on the play.  Gross then came up and
struck out to end the inning. Even though Papelbon gave up two hits in the
inning, all three outs were
strikeouts.

 

 
Dewon
Day came out for the Rays in the bottom of the fourth inning. He quickly got
Varitek to ground out. He then fooled Drew with a nice breaking ball for a
strikeout.  Anderson then came on and hit a hard smash to Chris Richard, who was
now on first for the Rays. Day was backing up Richards on the play and Richards
tossed the ball to Day, who dropped the ball. Day was given an error on the play.
Daeges struck out to end the Red Sox
Rally.

 

The
heralded prospect Daniel Bard then took the mound for the Red Sox. In a recent
game, Bard had thrown over 100 mph on the stadium’s jugs gun.  He got Ensberg to
strikeout for the first out of the inning. Sadler then followed with a
strikeout. Bard completed the trio as he got Johnson to also strike out to send
the Rays down 1-2-3 in the inning. At that point in the game, the Rays had
struck out swinging in six straight at bats, with only Gross being a called
third strike.

 

Day came
out again for the Rays and walked Van Every to lead off the inning. Green then
hit a fly out to Sadler that he easily caught for the first out. Ochoa was
fooled on a breaking pitch outside for a strikeout. Lugo then walked to give
Boston two men on base in the inning. George Kottaras then pinch hit and was hit
by the pitch to load the bases with two outs. With Varitek at the plate, Day
threw a wild pitch and Van Every tried to score from third base on the play.
Navarro quickly got the ball to Day, who tagged out Van Every before he reached
the plate for the third out of the
inning.

 

                      
 

Japanese
pitcher Junichi Tazawa then came on to pitch for Boston. Tazawa was the young
pitcher that did not go into the Japanese Baseball League before signing with
Boston this off season.  He might not make the 25-man roster of the big club
this year, but this was the first time the Rays would see him pitch outside of
Japan.  Tazawa’s first pitch to Perez was rifled into center field for a lead
off single. Kennedy then hit a double into left center field that scored Perez
from first base.  Longoria then struck out for the first out of the inning.
Richard also struck out, and Varitek threw a strike to third base to nail
Kennedy who was trying to advance on the play for the final out of the
inning.

 

 
Winston
Abreu then took the mound for the Rays. He got Varitek to quickly fly out to
right field for the first out. Josh Reddick, who came in to replace Drew in
right field then hit a fly ball to Johnson at shortstop. Anderson then hit a fly
to Longoria to complete the first 1-2-3 inning for the Rays today.  But Boston
still lead 7-1 in the game.
Tazawa came back out for the eighth inning and quickly got Reid
Brignac, who came in to play shortstop to strike out. He then got Ben Zorbrist,
who came in to play second base to fly out to center field, The Ensberg struck
out to give Boston a 1-2-3 inning against the
Rays.

 
 

 

 

Abreu
again took the mound for Tampa Bay and he went straight to work striking out
Daeges to lead off the inning.  At that point, Abreu had gone 4-up, 4- down for
the Rays Maddon again came out and swapped Abreu for Chad Orvella with one out
in the inning. Orvella, who is fighting for a roster spot after coming back from
a shoulder injury gave up a towering solo shot to right field to the next
batter, Van Every. This is the second homer in two days against the Rays for Van
Every.  Gil Velazquez  then hit ball to Chris Nowak at third base. Nowak got off
a bad throw that seemed to two-hop before Richard dug it out at first for an out.
Ochoa ended the inning by striking
out.

 

 
The Rays
sent Rule-5 player Derek Rodriguez to the mound for the 8th inning.  Rodriguez,
who the Rays picked up off the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox, quickly got
Argenis Diaz to fly out to right to start off the inning.  Kottaras also hit a
long fly ball to right that Justin Ruggiano caught for the second out. Pinch
hitter Carlos Maldonado then hit a slicer to Brignac at shortstop that he
quickly threw to first to get Boston 1-2-3 in the
inning . In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Red Sox sent Michael Bowden to the mound. Rugginao lead off the inning with a single to center field. He then stole second base to put himself in scoring position for the Rays. Johnson then walked. The Rays then attempted a double-steal with Johnson and Ruggiano taking second and third base respectively. John Jaso the  struck out for the first out of the inning. Jon Weber then hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Ruggiano. Weber has no produced 7 RBI’s in the last two games for the Rays. Chris Nowak then hit a pop-out to first base to end the rally for the Rays.

 

 
Hunter
Jones took the mound to try and preserve the Red Sox victory. Jones is a
prospect in the Red Sox system who once broke his arm in three spots and had to
have multiple plates in his arm to heal the bones correctly. He gave up a
lead-off single to Richard to right center field. Brignac then struck out on a
nice called third strike. Zorbrist hit a ball to center that was easily caught
by Van Every. that left the Rays with one out to play with against the Red Sox.
Tim Beckham came up as a pinch hitter and hit a sharp ball to Diaz, but he
quickly threw the ball to end the game for the Rays. the final score was 8-2
Boston. It also marked the first win in three tries against the Rays this
spring.

 

 
For the
Rays, the game seemed to bring out some impatience in the Rays batters. For the
day they struck out 15 times, including 4 times to Tazawa in the game. For the Rays to
be productive against any team, mush less the Red Sox, they must be patient at
the plate. Tomorrow the Rays will again travel to Fort Myers where they will
take on the Minnesota Twins in a 1:05 contest. Leftie Scott Kazmir will be
making his spring debut on the mound for the
Rays.

 
 
Photo credits for today’s blog
go to www.boston.com,
and
www.tbo.com

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 278 other followers