Results tagged ‘ Jason Hammel ’
Baseball defines itself by its unscripted single plays and moments that can easily decide victory or defeat. Where the crack of the bat meeting the ball can electrify a crowd, a defensive play that illustrates brilliance can boost your confidence for success, or a misplaced pitch left flat and lifeless can become a isolating factor in the contest.
These moments and more showed themselves vividly on Tuesday afternoon as the Tampa Bay Rays opened their 16th Major League baseball campaign against divisional rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays were riding a 2-game home opener winning streak and with a third win in a row could get Rays Manager Joe Maddon back to the .500 mark in his Rays tenure. Instead, the Rays showed us all the ways they have improved over the Winter, but also gave us a quick dose of reality that some things still need some fine tuning to succeed in 2013.
Rays ace David Price took the hill hoping to begin another trek towards a stellar season, but some crafty hitting and patience by the O’s hitters bore into the small holes of opportunity and had Price on the ropes early in this contest. Sure Oriole’s sluggers Adam Jones and Chris Davis had great starts to the 2013 season against Price, but C Matt Wieters seemed to be the biggest nemesis to Price on this day.
Not only did Wieters stake Baltimore to a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning, but his 13-pitch at bat in the top of the 3rd inning that ended up as a walk, which included 8 foul balls did load the bases for a potentially bad situation, but a Davis ground ball to Yunel Escobar began a nifty double play that ended the inning without any further incident. Wieters did have a secondary effect on Price that his long plate appearance did elevate Price’s pitch count and hastened his exit from the game after 6 innings.
Jake McGee then came on in the 7th inning and made a few pitch location mistakes. Jones made the first impression with a 2-RBI to deep left center to give the Orioles the lead again at 4-3. Misfortune again reared her ugly head for McGee in the inning after he intentionally walked Wieters and David blasted a 396-foot 3-run Home Run to right and posted the eventual runs needed to secure the O’s first win of the new season. McGee just never seemed comfortable out on the mound yesterday and might have thrown 18 strikes in his 25 pitch outing, but the Baltimore hitters made his exit swift after 2/3rds of an inning.
Mistakes happen in ballgames, that is par for the course. A pitch that stays flat or doesn’t break away from the plate is destined to be put into play and bad things can become the immediate result. Both Price and McGee had moments of flatness in this game and it cost both of them dearly with McGee getting the loss plus posting up a ballooned 67.50 early ERA. Both pitchers will find their grooves and make amends this season, but their small mistakes on this day definitely played into the Rays breaking their home opener streaks and taking Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s career home opening day mark to 3-5.
But there were also some moments in this contest that made you not only feel good inside, but built upon the confidence that a few pieces that falters at times in 2012 have been fixed and made great starts to building confidence on the field and in the stands. All around the field yesterday there were defensive plays and great moves on the base paths that showed this team again has that attitude that no game is decided until the 27th out. That kind of mentality will pay huge dividends down the road and even in this initial loss, we saw more than a few reasons to think our defensive debacle in 2012 has been rectified.
Evan Longoria definitely showed he is psyched for 2013 with 2-straight impressive defensive plays in the top of the 5th inning with the second play coming with a throw on his backside at third against the speedster Jones with his throw bouncing across the turf until James Loney secured it to end the inning. Sam Fuld who replaced Matt Joyce in left also made his presence known as well as Ryan Roberts who replaced Ben Zobrist at 2B when Zorilla went to RF and SS Yunel Escobar showed brilliance on the pivot providing a crucial 6-3 double play in the top of the 3rd to stop the O’s scoring chances.
From the Rays first hit of the season, a solo Home Run by Zobrist to RF, to Desmond Jennings RBI double in the 6th inning then scoring on a Sac Fly by Zorilla. Jennings again provided some needed magic beating out an infield single to the shortstop, then stealing his first base of the season in the bottom of the 7th inning putting him in great scoring position to secure the Rays 4th run of the game on a ground ball to 2B by Fuld in the bottom of the 8th inning. These plays show great glimmers of hope the Rays offensive woes from 2012 might have also vanished over the Winter as the Rays employed both long and short ball concepts during this first contest.
All in all it might have been a mixed bag of results for the Rays, but the team showed the type of hustle and strive for victory you need when in the course of a season a single win or loss could decide not only your fate. I know that might seem a bit fatal thinking a single loss can be so detrimental to a team, but in this high contested AL East, especially against a division rival who wants to improve on their 90+ win totals from 2012, a single loss can put you behind the 8-ball early on in the season.
Tuesday the Rays might have come out on the losing end of it all, but there were multiple bright spots to show this team’s improvement and 161 more chances to grab back this loss and get on with the grand scheme of things this season…which is securing another ticket to play deep into October.
Do not forget, this season is the 5th anniversary of the “Miracle of Baseball”, and that 2008 Rays campaign also started off with a opening day home loss to these same Orioles ( 9-6). And we all know how that season ended up…….Coincidence, I think not.
As we get down into the final frames of the American League All-Star Game Final Vote, I want to thrust in my 2 cents worth for a guy who I think has paid his dues, and should get a chance to throw the rock in Kansas City next week. Sure I might a bit of bias since he did adorn the Rays colors for a spell in his career, but Jason Aaron (not for Hank) Hammel who stands 6 foot 6 inches definitely has had a season that set himself apart.
Sure a lot of the American League East fans kind of lost touch with “Hambone” after his trade on the last day of competing against fellow tall dude Jeff Niemann (6’8”) for the lone spot still unoccupied in the Rays rotation. Hammel traded the Rays sunburst for the purple and black of the Rockies, going where some pitchers’ ERA go to die. But Hammel, who was out of minor league options at the time and had a total of 28 MLB games in his cap buckled down and turned his pre-trade ERA of 5.90 during his Rays tenure to a more respectable 4.57 ERA in 350+ innings including an advancement of 7.5 wins above replacement in 2009-2012, more than any starter on the Rays or rockies not named (Ubaldo) Jimenez.
In the seasons since Hammel left the sunshine of Tampa Bay, he has started 78 contests, posted 25 victories and seen 332 hitters return to the dugout via the K. But it wasn’t until Hammel got himself a bit of a homecoming via a trade to Baltimore this season that he has again shown up on the AL east radar as a prominent hurler for the Orioles. So far in 2012, Hammel boasts a 8-4 record for the O’s along with 16 game started, a complete game, a shutout and 97 strikeouts even before the All-Star break. His 8 victories is top on the Baltimore staff at the writing of this blog, and his 3.43 ERA leads the O’s staff.
Maybe a bit of insight into Hammel might persuade you to cast a vote for “Hambone”.
*** Hammel has always been a firm supporter/active member of “Strikeouts For the Troops”, a charity stared by Giants P Barry Zito that donated money to troops overseas with each and every “K” posted during a start. (Got to love a guy who punches out hitters at the plate, and troops get the goods)
*** Hammel a self-proclaimed artists actually has some of his artwork on himself in the form of a baseball with flames coming off of it with a field in the background. Hammel has also been the artists on several of his former teammates and friend’s ink inspired artwork. (No word on if any of Josh Hamilton’s tats have Hammel markings)
*** During his Freshman and Sophomore years at Treasure Coast (Oregon) Community College, Hammel donned the team mascot, the Chukar Bird during the school basketball seasons. (No wonder he liked Raymond so much. I would run seeing a 6 foot 6 inch Chukar Bird coming towards me)
*** During his “Rays days”. Hammel, a closet budding Rockstar was beginning lessons on the acoustic guitar. Too bad he got traded, Evan Longoria could use a good guitarist on his Rays clubhouse band. ( No confirmation on if he was Rockies or O’s Clubhouse Rock Band eligible).
***Hammel is an avid golfer, and was the reigning champion from the Rays 2008 Spring Golf Tourney and never got to adequately defend his title in 2009. (I him hit it off the tee in the Rays 2009 Tourney, the ball screamed all the way down the fairway..saw .I swear.)
*** After baseball, Hammel hopes to again hit the books and get a degree in Graphic Design. He currently has an Associates Degree. (Good for him!)
Seriously, I got to know Hammel pretty well during his “Rays days”, and this is the kind of guy who not only deserves this shot, but has the moxey and confidence to bring his game to the next level with this kind of National exposure. To me, that is what the All-Star game is all about, the uncovering of new talent to a nationwide audience who can also begin to watch as a player grows and becomes a solid MLB fixture.
Sure Yu Davish might have a leg-up with all the hype surrounding his signing and exposure early on this season, but Hammel is the real deal, and Hambone is just the kind of pitcher this game needs to spice up the melting pot. So you know where my votes are going…….Hambone as many times as MLB will allow me.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
possibility that until Aybar takes his first swings in the batting cages, that
both could possibly be penciled into the Rays roster.
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
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
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
Last Sunday was the final Tampa Bay Rays game of the 2009 season. It is funny, but for some reason this years just seemed to fly by, and was over way to soon for some of us sitting in the stands. Not sure why it felt that way unless the extra time last season marching onto the World Series just made 2008 seem almost three months longer. But unfortunately, we are at that time where bags are packed and boxes are sent to other locations so members of the team can get some needed R&R before starting it all over again in 2010.
And because of that extra time playing the game they love, some of the Rays had an abbreviated off season in 2009 because of other activities, such as participation in the World Baseball Classic, or several Rays players went to Winter Ball in 2008 and had only about 3 1/2 months to themselves and to individually train before they had to reporting to Port Charlotte, Florida for their first Spring Training away from St. Petersburg.
So on that last day of the season, I decided to ask a few of the Rays if they had any special plans or goals for this off season. And I have to admit, that one of the “vacation” suggestions makes me hunger to maybe hide somewhere in their luggage, just pop a few air holes in the bag for me please! But there also seemed to be another angle coming up in a lot of their conversations. The talk of just total rest and relaxation without the stress or pressure of the white round ball.
It seemed that so many of them just wanted to just “chill and relax” after the rush and the extent of the 2008 playoff season. And still others have a few life changing moments coming fast on the horizon and needed to make some last minute adjustments before getting on with their lives. Then there was a small group who might be facing that decision about their careers, and if they still want to don a uniform in 2010 for any team.
A total of three members of the Rays Bullpen will be getting married this off season, two players and Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen catcher who will finally marry his sweetheart of five years in November 2009. It is funny, it is just like yesterday that I met Cursi and his bride-to-be, who used to work for the Rays and is now working in partnership with Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wife, Jaye in a concierge service for people on the go, like the Rays players and their families.
I pulled it out of Cursi that they are going to have their romantic and exotic honeymoon on St Lucie’s Island at the all inclusive Sandals resort, and both should come back with a beautiful Fall tan. But then we also have a former members of the Rays Bullpen crew going down the aisle soon in ex-Ray Jason Hammel, who will be getting married this off season in St. Petersburg, Florida in the striking Renaissance Vinoy resort right on the waters of Tampa Bay.
Rays reliever Grant Balfour will be the first to be strolling down the aisle this off season, and the Aussie is not planning any additional triathlete competitions this off season, but is just going to enjoy the time off this year. Rays closer Du Jour J P Howell will also be closing the deal with his bride-to-be also this Fall, and then plans to just be “The Dude” until it is time again to report to Spring Training camp. Congratulations to both guys and their brides, and I wish all of you all the luck in the world and a total boat of happiness as you begin your lives together.
Neither of them would tell me where they plan to honeymoon, but that is okay, because one veteran member of the Rays Bullpen might have them beat totally just on the romance factor anyways. Rays reliever Dan Wheeler and his wife will be taking a beautiful European adventure to Italy, with stops in Rome, Florence and Venice on the agenda. Hopefully while he is on his Italian adventure, Wheeler might see the lone Rays cap that Rays Manager Joe Maddon saw in 2008 in an Italian train station.
I have to say, this might be the one I want to see pictures of when he gets home (I wish!). Just the idea of getting out of the country like Cursi and Wheeler sounds like the perfect way to get some isolation and some peace to again get ready for another 6 months plus grind in 2010. And that is one of the great advantages of having a job that is not 9-5, for 12 months out of the year. Plans can be made, and special events planned without a hitch. Wish some days we could all live like that.
But several members of the Rays roster will not have that luxury of world travel and no commitments. Some of the Rays are committed to going to play Winter ball in exotic locales. This additional work should show the Rays brass that they are vital pieces needed by the team, and also get some great prep and conditioning work before they report to Spring Training in February. Justin Ruggiano, who was at Durham Bulls for all of the 2009 season will be heading to Venezuela, while Shawn Riggans will be heading to Puerto Rico for Winter ball.
Also scheduled to go to Winter ball, but he doesn’t know his location yet is outfielder Fernando Perez, who was out most of the season with a bum wrist. This actually might be a great thing for Perez to not only get some work in at the plate, but to get some flexibility in his wrist so he is not a question mark in the Spring. This upcoming season might be his time to shine, or he might find himself somewhere else soon manning the outfield for another team. There might be others from the Rays roster also going to Winter ball, but that list has not be released to the public yet.
But then there are guys like reliever Randy Choate who participated in Winter ball last season and will just wants to sit back and relax this season. Jeff Bennett, who came to the Rays late in the season, is planning to remain in the Tampa Bay area for a while this off season to work on his conditioning before going back to Tennessee and working out and gaining more strength and endurance after his injury in 2009 while he was with the Atlanta Braves..
While Bennett might be sweating and working out, two members of the Rays might be hanging up their cleats for good this off season. Veteran Russ Springer has been playing baseball for a long time, and made his Major League debut back in 1992. Springer has been considering retiring this off season to spend more time with his family and to pursue some of his other interests in life.
Springer is also looking forward with more time playing and enjoying his young son, who has autism and just be there to spend quality time with him. But you can bet that there will be more than one opportunity for him to put his coondog in the truck and maybe meet up with fellow Rays teammate Chad Bradford and go duck or deer hunting this off season. Both men value their country roots, and they both developed a great kinship this season around outdoor sports.
You could see that this bond should hold firm as both men live in the off season back in the Alabama-Louisiana area. But Bradford, who is also considering retiring to spend more time with his newborn, and the rest of his family, might have a Hollywood role in his future. And his addition to the silver screen might be delayed right now due to some script re-writes, but because of his time with the Oakland Athletic earlier in his career, the role would be a new adventure for Bradford.
There were rumors earlier in 2008 that when the movie “Moneyball” finally goes into full scale production, Bradford might be able to play himself in the movie. At that time it was not known if he would have the time during the season for such an adventure. It would be a great opportunity for Bradford, who reminds me of actor John Ashton, who played Sergeant Taggert in the “Beverly Hills Cop” trio to get some quality time on the silver screen.
But Bullpen guys like Brain Shouse and Lance Cormier are just going to take it day-by-day and just enjoy the time to relax, spend time with family and to heal up before reporting again in February. But there is one member of the Rays family group who might be going a hundred miles-an-hour during this off-season. Todd Kalas, who does the Rays television broadcast in various positions, will be working hard this off season involving himself with University of South Florida basketball and helping to host some of the Tampa Bay Lightning pre and post game shows.
Also heavy on Kalas agenda will be working with FSN Florida to do the Sunbelt Conference “Games of the Week” during the football and basketball seasons. So as you can see, there will be plenty of great stories and awesome pictures to be passed around when the Rays report after the second Saturday in February 2010.
But this year there will be no precursors of World Baseball Classic or even the usual smatterings of International games for players to have to report early this season to their teams. It might be one of the first years in the last several seasons that everyone on the Rays roster will come into the season with a vigor and vitality to again make some noise in the American League East. And maybe this off season is the time for the team to regroup and intensify their energies to again challenge for the top spot in the American League.
And a few of you asked what I might be doing this off-season at the last game. Well, hopefully I will be going out to Seattle, Washington and completing the inside of my old retirement abode out on Whitbney Island near the city of Coupville that I originally started work on in 2007. Then after it is completed, let my cousins live in it until I am ready to “Go West old man” maybe in about 5 seasons.
So hopefully you also have something exciting planned this off-season. Maybe a snow skiing trip, a quest to go back to school, or maybe even a jaunt down into the Carribean to watch baseball this Winter. Whatever it is, stay safe and remember, if you have a great adventure, this is the place to tell all of us about it……….I know I would love to read about it!
I have to admit, that I have been a bad, bad baseball fan the last couple of days. I have only seen a few innings of a few post season games and have not been as intensely into the playoffs the way I have been in the past. Some might consider since my team was eliminated early from any contention that I have lost the zeal to watch baseball, but that is not the issue. So what if the Tampa Bay Rays will not be making beautiful memories for my lifetime in 2009, I will survive.
And it is not matter that my second favorite team (Seattle) also did not make any head ways into the 2009 playoff picture after the Rays canceled their own ticket with a rough start in September. So with neither of my top two in the post season, it is time to adapt temporary arrangements to throw my support towards another team on their ride through the 2009 post season.
With that in mind, I might not make any new friends with my announcement that the teams, one in each league that I plan to follow in the 2009 playoffs, will consist of teams that are situated in the American League East. And the fact I am about to shun the Red Sox and Yankees is not due to any internal forces or even extreme pain against either of these teams that our season quickly dissolved in September. The Rays lost the chance to cash in their ticket to the postseason with their respective series against these two teams. the better teams won in 2009.
So I am going to have to develop a new set of criteria to decide who will get my cheers and jeers in 2009. Maybe I will use a formulated plan of attack based on offense, defense and pitching statistics. Or I could go the way of visiting a Psychic and see what team she sees in the aura around me, or what the Tarot cards have in store for any of the teams in the playoffs. Or maybe I can just go the simple route and decide the team by looking at the post season rosters and deciding it all based on the ex-Rays currently on their rosters.
And for some reason, I like the way that last suggestion looks on the computer, it just seems to jump out off the page and tells me to “pick me! pick me”. So I think that will be my measure of calculating and deciding the one AL and NL teams I will root for in this post season carnival. And as I take this road, there are two clear choices that I will lean towards and follow until the last out of their last game in this playoff season.
But my decision on the team I am going to follow in 2009 will be based on a few criteria that most people might not have considered before now. Way back in 1991, when the team was first awarded to the Denver area, I did not want to follow anyone else but the black and purple of the Rockies. But there was a solid reason behind this selection that still to this day makes me not want to root or even hope for any prosperity for the Florida (Miami) Marlins. And it was a simple case of money over community want that sealed the deal for my fish vendetta.
You see, the Tampa Bay community was in a fight with local cities Orlando and Miami for a chance to be the first expansion team in the state and might of had a better chance at securing that first Florida team if not for the deep, deep pockets of former Blockbuster Entertainment head honcho Wayne Huizenga. So my instant alliance went to the team that would play almost one mile above sea level and far from the sandy beaches of Tampa Bay.
But there is a secondary reason why this team is being considered as my “team ” for the 2009 playoffs. Since the Rockies sacked their old manager, they have played more inspired ball and have come a long way both in their record and in their team concept. For that reason, they give me a slight feel of the atmosphere and the thrill that I felt with the rays in 2008. But more of the reasoning might have come via ESPN’s talking heads. You see, when the Rays were making their run last season, the announcers kept reminding people they were that season’s ‘Rockies”.
As much as that was funny at the time, now I hope the Rays can be next season’s “Rockies” for the second time in a row and follow the same path (minus the manager firing) and get back on the playoff train in 2010. So I will be following the Phillies and Rockies series with extra motivation. But the fact that the Rockies have been there before, and have gotten as far as the Rays did in 2008 boast a weird similarity that entices my support. The Rockies fought back the doom and gloom disillusion of so many around the league this season to secure a playoff berth and then go on and challenge to overtake the mighty Dodgers in the last series of the season shows the heart of a champion again.
It brings up a lot of the same emotion I felt in 2008, and so this is the team I have decided to follow in this season’s playoffs. Granted, they have been labeled a long shot, but I remember so many who said that the Rays would not go far either in 2008. And the added bonus that former Rays Jason Hammel is on the post season roster gives me more of a reason to want to see “Hambone” take the mound and throws laser beams. And Hammel will get a chance to leave his impression on the NLDS when he gets the start Friday night because of the unexpected injury to Jorge De La Rosa late in the season.
So that is it, that is my team for the playoffs. No wishy washy wavering between teams, this is my solid choice and one that I will live by even if they do not get out of the first round of the playoffs. I am not a bandwagon fan. If I make you a pick of mine, I stick by you even in defeat. but that is not the case in so many sports fans in this country. So no matter what happens from today on, the Rockies will have my attention, and my support to try and again get back to the World Series this season. And it would again be a great surprise, or even a great honor in 2010 to have the Rays be considered “this seasons Rockies”…..again.
Elaine Thompson / AP
Sometimes I truly think that the Rays Front Office loves to use subliminal and subversive messages to gather information on the public perception of an event or something that makes them go…..hmmmmmmm? But I have to admit, this one move, this 180 degree change of heart that shows something towards Rays Pitching coach Jim Hickey keeps him here for another Rays season. And for the life of me, I do not see a solid reason while he is still employed by the Rays. And you know the local kool-ade drinking media will not voice their dismay over this action………..nope, they will remain wihin the party lines.
But I do not have Press Credentials, or even an inside information mole to give me things like them. I get my information from watching 80 games a year at the Trop., and every game that MLB.com shows on the air. What could be their logical reasoning to let go of Hitting Coach, Steve Henderson today who’s Rays hitters only set new Team Records in homers, runs scored, RBI and stolen bases this season, but keep a Pitching Coach who’s starters and Bullpen relievers took a definite two steps backwards in 2009. I mean Hickey does have some Houston roots, so he might understand this next scenario without him having to have flash cards or pictures.
What has seemed to happen this season to the Rays pitching staff is akin to a guy doing the Texas two-step in a deep foxhole. You can go forward, you can go back, but only two step no matter what. And that is what his Rays staff has done most of the season. they have made slight improvements and altered their course in games, but the end result is always the same……..sometimes the “pitch to contact” system delivers up a long ball instead of a ground out or a double play ball for the defense.
And if that system doesn’t work do you blame Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, or Rays Manager Joe Maddon? In reality you can put the check mark next to both names, because Friedman keeps Hickey and Maddon keeps believing in him. But in my mind, the only culprit here is the mechanic who tunes the system and makes it run smooth, clean and with a minimum of problems. And this season, Hickey looked more like an apprentice than a master craftsman.
Sure he got dealt a bad deal two years in a row when Troy Percival took his glove and went home to rehab, but at no time in the season did the team try and promote from within or try and isolate anyone to take over that role for the season. Other teams call on the veterans, or even a hot shot prospect with a cannon on his arm. At one point, the Rays signed Jorge Julio to a minor league contract maybe hoping he still has some gasoline in his tank. But the team instead adapted a much discussed and faulty plan of using pitching match-ups as a basis for the later innings.
This works well when you base your Spring Training team on to this formula, and not adopt it in the middle of trying to stop a losing month, or keep a string of wins alive. The match-up system has to be nurtured and fcoused on totally, not just based on situational 8th, or 9th innings hitters. And with this team bascially only having three reliever that can be trusted with hitters from both sides of the plate, it makes your options a bit tighter in the games.
And who has to be the craftsman behind all of this, well the Pitching Coach. Sure Maddon and Hickey can go over situational devices and plan accordingly, but life doesn’t always go by the book, and Hickey doesn’t always give the same sage advice as Maddon. I actually can not see the correlation between these two at times. Maddon is the always thinking, mind turning a million miles a minute, and Hickey is just, well Hickey. I know Maddon does scribble a few hints and stats on his personal score sheet to check on later in the games, but I really do not see the collective brain trust in Hickey by his side.
Sure Hickey does the Rays pitchers Side Sessions and the Bullpen Session with his pitching staff, but I sometimes see more vocal words coming out of Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi’s mouth than Hickeys in relation to the pitches. I might not see the video work he does with “Chico” Fernandez to get these guys ready for a ballgame, and I do not know his personal preparation routine for game days. But what I do see is a guy who sometimes goes by the book more than his instinct and wisdom. The black statistics on that white printer paper might have a few highlighted marks on it, but i do not see him as a strategist in the least…………sorry.
So if a guys starters leave and do better in other locales, can you give credit to a guy that used to be their Pitching Coach, or do you question why they prospered away from the “pitch-to-contact” scheme of Hickey’s gameplan. How can Jason Hammel go from a hot and controled environment like the Trop and have a lower ERA in of all places, Coors Field in 2009. Edwin Jackson was a stud in the making as a pitcher even before he went to Detroit in a trade. I mean the Rays considered him for the closer role before, and with the recent plight of Percival, why did they not consult E J and see if he would take on the task?
And you know I am going to bring up Scott Kazmir and his seeking advice outside the organization from the man who was his first Pitching Coach in New York, Rick Peterson. Oh how that must have burned deep inside Hickey that he was not visually equiped to notice a small step adjustment for maximum velocity. I bet if they let him, he would have drove Kazmir to the airport that next morning and kicked him out of the rental car haflway there………..(just kidding, maybe).
So if the Rays Bullpen gets rebuilt in Hickey’s mold with the financial restrictions in mind, it might only be a tweaking of the current system. Even if Chad Bradford and Percivals money comes off the books, there might still not be enough to achieve a maximum upgrade, but it can be done. But is Hickey the guy you want to entrust with that job, or is there someone within the Rays system like Xavier Hernandez, who has been fine-tuning the Rays Triple-A guys for several years.
I actually have more faith in Hernandez than I do Hickey based on what Hernandez did as the Rays snatched starters from the Bulls throughout the year and he still had the arms to take the Triple-A Championship. Gone by that time was David Price, and Hernandez manipulated the system when injuries to Mitch Talbot and other hit the Bulls staff. But still Hickey will be manning the pitching charts and books for the Rays in 2010. But how long will his luck go before he finally runs out of gas or chances with the Rays?
You know they took a big PR gamble a few years ago after the Rays last game of the season when he hit a Rays batboys truck at an intersection, and drove around the car and proceeded home. He was stopped by the St. Petersburg Police Department several miles dow
n the Interstate and did not act in all in the manners of the “Rays Way”.
But Hickey showed remorse to the Rays Front Office and recieved a year contratc to show he was to change his ways. And considering at that same time the Rays were going through a slew of “problem chld” situations with Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes, they could have just sent him on his merry way and not looked back. I hope that the Rays made thew right decision and that Hickey does make me regret this posting, but I do not think that is going to happen.
Maddon will not be able to sheild him again if the Rays starters or even the Bullpen falls on hard times. He will be directly in the crosshairs, and I think he knows it now. During the last home stand there was a guy in Section 136 that had a sign that read” All I want for Christmas is a Pitching Coach”. Well, the Rays decided to retain their present Pitching guru, and the hot seat begins right now. Hickey needs to not only get this team to totally believe in his system now, but also the fans so he doesn’t hear the chants and the catcalls before the next All-Star break.
Maddon can not protect him now. I remember seeing a comment that he called Hickey “one of the best pitching coaches” Maddon has has in his career. Hickey is a bit younger than most of the sage PC in the league, but if his ‘pitch-to-contact” system doesn’t gel right in Tampa Bay in 2010, the contact he will feel is the swift kick in the behind as he leaves the clubhouse door.
Jim Presching / AP
The deeper this Tampa Bay Rays season goes,the more the “Tall Texan” seems to grow on you. When you see how easy it is to call out Rays starter Jeff Niemann and he causally just comes over and chats with you while he continues signing a multitude of autographs for what seems like forever, and he still has that smile on his face the entire time. And you see a small level of discomfort and bummed out look when he has to turn and head into the clubhouse with people still calling his name.
He is one of those reason the Rays are within striking range of the New York Yankees right now to again try and regain their spot at the top of the American League East division. And here is a guy who at the very end of Spring Training had to fight tooth and nail for a final spot on the roster that in prior years he might have had by mid-March. But since the 2008 success, a lot has changed in Rays-ville, and the “gentle Giant” is one of the great stories of this season.
I mean he truly did not know until almost the last possible day that he would regain the fifth rotation spot until his competition got traded away to the Colorado Rockies. But all during that time there was chatter and rumors that he too was under the trading microscope maybe heading to San Diego, Colorado, or maybe Pittsburgh. The competition for that final spot was so intense this season that even a guy who might have made the rotation on 20 other teams might of had to find alternative solutions to stay in the major leagues.
And how great do you feel right now if you are in the triad of Rays Manager Joe Maddon, Pitching Coach Jim Hickey and Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman right now that you kept the Tall Texan. Sure you might have labored over the decision and might even have second guessed yourself after the first start or two, but quickly you also saw a small glimmer of hope and beauty in the way Neimann was taking the ball every fifth day and making magic happen on the mound.
I mean take the fact he had a 2-1 record with a 6.32 ERA in Spring Training this season and it might look like a feasible reason to consider him for the last spot in the rotation. But if you really look close at his statistics, he was in a five-way tie on the team in wins, his 6.32 ERA in the spring was better than the Rays Opening Day starter, Jame Shields who had a 8.16 ERA. Unlike Jason Hammel, Neimann did not start a single game this Spring, but did get into 6 contests and still made enough impression to get two wins. But his 15.2 innings of work was the fifth best on the team, and his 17 total his given up this spring were better than Matt Garza (26), Shields (19), Scott Kazmir (22) and Hammel (25).
From the edge of Spring Training, he knew he had everything to prove, plus everything to lose in the coming months for the Rays. He had to have his stats put next to Hammel and David Price for comparison, and in the end might have gotten the job by proxy to the shagrin of some in the franchise office. But I do not see it that way at all. Neimann had struggled in the past with injuries, and in 2008 he had his best season as a professional because his health did not let him down at all that year. So this season was going to be a test of not only his health, but his pitching ability.
But the best part was this was not his first time up in the major leagues thanks to a short stint after Garza went down right after Opening Day in 2008, Neimann got some needed experience and struggled and also showed some great improvement to stay on the minds of the team the entire year. So it was no surprise that he was one of the possible pitchers brought up by the team after the Durham Bulls were eliminated from the IL Playoff picture in 2008. The man a few people have commented on could be the twin brother of Toys R Us icon Geoffrey (Giraffe) was to get more of a chance to show his stuff in 2009.
And his first start this season at Baltimore showed that he still had a ways to go to be an effective pitcher, or did he just go into the game maybe a little over prepared and actually took himself out of that game by trying to think of adjustments on the fly without a good thought process in his mind. After his first start he had a balloon ERA of 10.13. He had only lasted 5.1 innings and had thrown 94 pitches in that game. The one shining light out of that performance was the he settled down after that disastrous first inning and blanked the Orioles until he left the ballgame.
But from that start he gained a lot of experience, and gained even more of an insight of what it was going to take to be a great pitcher in this league. So at the end of the month of April he had gone 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA. He had rebounded from a two-some of tough games against the Orioles and the White Sox to put together two great wins against the Twins and Mariners. In both wins in April he threw 3-hitters, and also saw his command starting to come together. So with a even keel from April, it was imperative that he have a good month in May so solidify the Rays decision on him.
In May, he went a combined 2-2 again in six starts and showed improvement by starting to see his walks-to strikeouts ratio get more into control. He had a few blips of problems during a May 2nd contest against the Boston Red Sox at home, where he lasted only 3 innings and surrendered 6 runs on 7 hits. He only lasted 76 pitches into that contest, but his pitches for strikes was starting to show a closer trend towards an acceptable level. In that start he threw 46 strikes to his total 76 pitches. Neimann was beginning to understand how to win in the majors.
And during the rest of May, he surrendered less than 2 runs in every game but one. In that contest on May 18th against the Oakland A’s, Neimann did give up 4 runs in the contest, but he also got some great offensive support from the Rays and posted his 4th victory of the season. He threw 110 pitches in that game, the most of the season for him. But the end of the month was not kind to him as he was limited to 3 innings in a rain delayed game in Cleveland that he had thrown 3 innings and had only given up a single run before the tarps hit the field. He had only thrown 53 pitches in that game, but 34 had gone for strikes. He was beginning to show his improvement every time out from that point on in 2009.
June also seemed to start great for him as he made 5 starts in the month and posted three
victories. His 3.10 ERA for the month was the best he had posted as a professional, and he also had thrown 29 total innings in the month, the most since he had come up with the Rays. On June 3rd, Niemann tossed his first complete game shutout of his career during a home contest against the Kansas City Royals. In that game he also seemed to have great command as he struck out 9 batters and only surrenders a solo walk in the game. But in the next contest against the Los Angeles Angels he did have a bit of a setback only lasting 3.2 innings while giving up 5 runs on 7 hits that night.
June seemed more like a roller coaster ride for Niemann as he went to highs and lows before finally equaling out during a June 29th contest against the Toronto Blue Rays in Rogers Centre. In that game he went 7.1 innings and threw 100 pitches while giving up a solo run on 4 hits. This was also the only time besides the first game against the Orioles that he had issued more walks than strikeouts. But it did not matter in the end as he took his seventh win of the season from this game. So at this point he was 7-4 and people were beginning to talk about the young Texan.
If June seemed like his month to shine, oh were people going to enjoy his July. So far this month he has only made three starts, but he has posted two wins in those starts to have the most wins so far as a Rays starter in 2009. July got started off a bit rough when he only lasted 3 innings in a game out in Arlington, Texas against the Texas Rangers. It should have been a bit of a homecoming for him, but the Rangers roughed him up early and he only lasted 47 pitches and gave up three runs in the game. It was not a pure disaster, but it did show him some room for improvement, and to get more first pitch strikes on the batters.
But after that contest, in his last start before the All Star Break, Neimann threw one of the best games of his career to that point against the Oakland A’s at home on July 10th. This was the second start of the season for him against the A’s, and in his last start he lasted 8 innings and gave up four runs to the A’s hitters. But tonight he went 9 innings to post his second complete game shutout of the season. He threw a season high 118 pitches and got a standing ovation from the crowd as he went to the mound in the top of the ninth inning. After that contest, while being interviewed on FSN/Florida, Niemann got the traditional shaving cream pie from Rays catcher Dioner Navarro.
But that was not the cream on top of the pie yet for Neimann in July. After not starting since that July 10th game until last night, he was on 10 days rest when he took the mound in Chicago last night for his first start of the season against the White Sox. Neimann had saved his best for last ( so far) this season. Last night against the White Sox he posted 7 strikeouts and issued zero walks. This was the third time this season he had not issued a walk in a game, and the second time in the last three starts. He was beginning to exert control on his game on the mound, and he lasted 8 innings last night before he was finally pulled before coming out in the top of the ninth after throwing exactly 100 pitches. The Tall Texan made his presence known, and for the month has a 2-0 record with a 2.25 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 3 starts.
So this brings about some scuttlebutt and chatter now that David Price might not be the guy to watch for the Rookie of the Year award right now with the Rays. That Neimann might have stolen a bit of the preseason thunder directed at Price. And what is wrong with that? How many other teams outside of Toronto have had two rookies basically come forward and contribute so much for their teams. Neimann is currently holding a 3.44 ERA, which is pretty amazing considering after the first start it was a bulging 10.13 ERA. And a pleasant surprise for the Rays is the fact he is now 6-2 away from Tropicana Field with a 3.84 ERA.
In the month of June and July he is 5-0 after posting a 4-4 record in the first two months of the season. He has started 17 games for the Rays this season and has seen victories in 9 of those starts. For a rookie, that is impressive to me. Going into last night game he was tied with Detroit Tiger starter Rick Porcello for the most wins by a rookie pitcher this season in the AL. And not lost is the fact that his next victory will tie Rolando Arrojo for the Rays rookie mark for wins with 10. And is it an odd connection that the night before they honor the 1998 team with their technicolor jerseys on “Throwback Night”, Neimann threw his complete game shutout.
I actually find that pleasantly exciting. The kid has been mired in doubt and intrigue the last few season as to his durability to play at this level, and this season he might eclipse the rookie record for victories in a season, and move it well beyond the present 10 win mark. He has now won 5 straight decisions and has lost only one decision since the first week of May (@ Cleveland/ May 28th). And even if he not on the mound to get a decision for the wins, the Rays have won 11 out of last 12 of his starts, and are 13-4 in all his starts this season. And to put an exclamation point on his season since May 13th, he has a 6-1 record with a 2.51 ERA and has not allowed a home run since May 23rd when he gave one up to Dan Uggla in Landshark Stadium.
The above statistics can only help to establish Neimann right now as the team’s candidate for the Rookie of the Year award. Some might still feel it is Price’s award to lose, but Neimann right now is putting up all the right numbers to be within eyesight of the award. But considering he is only the 7th Rays pitcher ever to throw at least two complete game shutouts. Arrojo threw two in his rookie season in 1998. No other pitcher in Rays history has thrown three complete game shutouts in his career. But that record, like Arrojo’s rookie win mark might be tested this season by Neimann.
And considering the impressive crowd he is now being mentioned with as the only holders of complete game shutouts this season, it reads like a “Who’s Who” in the MLB. The Royals Zack Greinke, San Francisco’s Tim Lincecum, Cardinal Joel Pinero and Red Sox Josh Beckett are the only other guys to throw 2 so far in 2009. You want some more impressive stats?
Hmmmm, he is also the fourth rookie this decade to throw two complete game shutouts joining Dontrelle Willis (2003), Jeremy Sowers (2006) and Hiroki Kuroda ( 2008). And he is only the second rookie to throw both of his before the All Star break, the other was former Rays Arrojo in 1998.
But then again, the Tall Texan has also been the recipient of some of the best run support in the major leagues by his teammates. The Rays are scoring 7.71 runs per 9 innings for Neimann. That works out to only the second highest percentage among ML qualifiers, and first in the AL. And to say he has been matched up against only fifth starters this season is a crock. He beat Roy Halladay in Toronto on June 29th, when he went 7.1 innings. Sometimes being the fifth starter on the team can get you unique experiences for growth and excelling in your performance. I think it is more of Neimann finally feeling he belongs up here
and feeling more at ease on the mound.
The winner in all of this are the Rays and the fans. In a spot in the rotation that people fretted and wondered about from the first game, Neimann had shown he is a solid member of the Rays rotation, and could be for a long time. Some people point to 2008, when Edwin Jackson also was the fifth starter and posted 14 wins in the season. So far Neimann is ahead of Jackson’s 2008 pace, and could be the new Rays total victories in a season leader by October. But the season still has over 60 games to play, and anything can happen from now on.
But one thing is for sure, the Rays are a better team with Neimann on it. Where early in the season people spoke aloud of the outlandish decision to keep him, now those same people are clapping and praising him for his wins and performance. Hey, the guy might just be the Rays second Rookie of the Year winner, and keep the tradition alive for one more season in Tampa Bay. But I am going on record as saying when they ask me to put my stamp on any rookie who I think deserves the award, the first statistics I will look at in comparison is to Neimann’s numbers. And so far, no one is holding a candle to the Tall Texan.
Same Score, Different Result.
It was as Yogi Berra used to say, “Deja Vu all over again ” last night in the Metrodome. It had been a little over 24 hours since the Rays last saw a 7-1 score posted on a scoreboard, and this time they had the lead. Funny how 24 hours can also signal a change in a team in almost every facet of the game. In last night’s win over the Minnesota Twins, the Rays did situational hitting, aggressive baserunning, and waited on their perfect pitch at the plate to overtake the Twins 7-1 in the first game of their last series ever at the Metrodome.The Rays used their past winning combination of great hitting and aggressive base running to earn their 8th win of the season.
But they did get some help from the shoddy catching performance of Twins catcher Jose Morales, who had to chase numerous balls around the huge backstop in the Metrodome last night. Both of his passed balls played a key role in getting Rays runners into scoring position. In the win, the Rays posted only their 17th win in 29 tries against the Twins at their domed home. But since September 6, 2006, the Rays are now 10-6 against the Twins, and are looking for two more wins in this series to win only their second series of the year before returning home for 6 games. The Rays scattered only 9 hits around the Metrodome,but several extra base hits did the most damage tonight against the Twins.
Jim Mone / AP
J. B. Stands for “Just Bashing”I have to say I am liking this trade between the Minnesota Twins and the Rays more and more since the 2007 off season. In that trade, it seemed like Jason Bartlett might have been a last minute throw-in, or maybe even a secondary character in that trade, but since the beginning of 2008, he has been the heart and soul of the Rays middle infield. The guy is playing above his pojections in every sense of the word. He was said to have only adequate defensive skills, but he has paced this Rays defense into one of the American Leagues best defensive units since that trade. He was aaid to have no speed and a limited bat according to scouting reports. Little did they know of his potential growing after his arrival in St. Petersburg, Florida.
He has only turned that into one of those pesky guys who you hate to have come play your team with his timely hits and aggressive base manners. He has easily become the best shortstop the Rays have ever had in their franchise history, and that current .371 batting average is not too shabby by any measures of the word. Heck, he is even above his 2008 home run pace by 200 percent after he hit his third homer into the first row of seats in left field in the top of the ninth inning. I am beginning to think he feels great in his Rays skin, and is beginning to assert himself accordingly. His offensive and defensive rise might just get him a few glances come All-Star ballot time, and he totally deserves the shot at the event this year. I know he is my shortstop selection on all 25 of my entries.
Here is a nice kicker to the story on Bartlett and his former team. Since he came over to the Rays,he is hitting .391 against his former team. Last night, Bartlett again posted a 2 for 4 night with 2 runs scored and 2 RBIs. With his average now up to .371, he is tied for 10th in the American League in hitting with team mate Evan Longoria. Both hitters still have a shot at having the best month ever by a Rays player to start the season if they can maintain their averages above .366. In last night game, his RBI single to center field in the fifth inning scored Dioner Navarro, who also singled to lead-off the inning for the Rays.
Bartlett might be hitting number 9 in the Rays lineup, but he is surely an extra lead-off man at the bottom of the order. Where ever the team has seemed to hit him, at the top spot, number 8 or in the 9-hole, he has responded this season with timely hits and being a real pest on the base paths. And here he was not even the spotlight player on his November 28,2007 trade to the Rays. Bartlett has done nothing but shine bright ever since that time, and makes you now think he was the gem the Rays wanted all along.
Jim Mone / AP
Niemann Again Impresses UsI am again wondering why I was drinking the media’s kool ade on Jeff Niemann this year. Maybe it was the past minor league situation where his health and his pitching never seemed to synch correctly for the Rays. Maybe I have lingering night mares of those first five batter in Baltimore, or maybe I have put the 6 foot nine inch guy under the microscope so hard, I can see into his birthmarks. I have to say that I am beginning to think the Rays were totally correct in keeping the giant and letting Jason Hammel find greener pastures in Colorado.
The end result is that Niemann right now is throwing the ball better than most of the Rays staff. His ERA has quickly come down from a lofty 10.13 ERA after that April 11th contest in Baltimore to a more impressive 4.43 ERA after tonight’s win, his second in a row for the Rays. And do not forget, during his last start, Niemann was no-hitting the Mariners through 4 innings, one of his best pitching performances as a professional. Confidence and becoming more secure in his “Rays” skin might be coming for the tall rght-hander. His emergance on the mound will be a great addition to the Rays staff in 2009.
Jim Mone / AP Monday Mumblings and Muses **** Carlos Pena is currently leading the majors in home runs this season with 9. His 2-run shot last night in Minnesota was never in doubt once he took his swing from a lazy knuckleball from Twins reliever R A Dickey. Pena is now only two homers short of Jonny Gomes 2006 record for April for the Rays. And Pena only need one more to tie Jose Canseco’s 10 home run mark set in 1999. This is the thrid time in his career that he has had at least 9 homers in a month as a player. He did it first with 13 homers in September 2007, and then again with 9 in August 2008. **** Former Rays Jason Hammel took the mound for his first start for the Colorado Rockies. He ended up getting rocked early as he only went 3 innings last night and gave up 7-hits and 5-runs in the start. He only survived 78 pitches, but the Rockies did bust through and take a 12-7 win from the San Diego Padres. Hammel left with the score 4-2 in favor of the Padres, but in the bottom of the third and fourth inning, the Rockies plated 4 runs in each frame to secure their second stragith win, and their seventh of the season. **** It is time for the 2009 Rays to begin to start some streaks of their own. Prior to the start of this season, the Rays won their first season opening series for the first time since 2002. From that point they have struggled and never secured another series win. This current streak of not winnig five straight series is their worst stretch since the summer of 2007 when they did not win a series from June 25 to July 15th. In 2008, the Rays never lost more than two consecutive series the entire year.
**** With the Rays beginning the year playing 22 of their first 35 on the road, it is important that the team improves upon their almost .500 mark on the road from 2008. Also weighting heavy on the Rays minds is the fact they are playing 40 of their next 41 games in a row for the first time in franchise history. In 2008, the Rays played only 17 of their first 51 games away from Tropicana Field. So in order for the Rays to again take their place at the top of the American League East, they will have to become extreme road warriors in 2009.
Dr. Devilrays and Mr. RayThe beginning to the 2009 season began another chapter last night as the Tampa Bay Rays evened their road record in 2009 to 5-5 with a wild shootout in O-town. Now in the past, a game like this would not be possible with the dominance the last few years of the Oakland A’s pitching staffs. But this is not the same pitching staff your older brother was salivating over in his Fantasy Draft. It has come on a few seasons of wheeling and dealing as the A’s are going through a self-imposed rebuilding of their staff. But in this game, even the Barry Zito’s or even the Dan Haren’s might have been hard pressed to keep this Rays team under their thumbs.
In their usual Dr. D-Ray and Mr Ray fashion the Rays took control of the game from the onset and did not let up the entire contest. This is the type of game we hoped and prayed for during their 2-5 home stand last week. They did have a few minor base running mishaps, but the overall ability of the offense to take control of a struggling pitcher was a thing to be seen with your eyes. The team did what you are suppose to do when a pitcher is having control and command issues. they sat waiting on their prized pitch and drove it endlessly into the California skies to post their seventh victory of the year.
The fact that Mother Nature was also working in the Rays favor to begin the game was not lost on just the players. Rays Television Commentator Todd Kalas was quick to alert the fans at home to the 31-40 mph winds that were swirling in and around the stadium at game time. This just added to the Rays offense as they went on in the contest. But considering they were facing Oakland rookie Trevor Cahill today, the 21-year old, who was drafted by the A’s in the 2006 Player Draft, got his first look at Tampa Bay in his career. In his fourth start of the year, Cahill might have wished he had missed it after the Rays took an early 1-0 lead after B J Upton scored on a Carl Crawford RBI-double to start the game.
To put the Rays offense emergence into perspective, they put their lead-off man on base in five of the nine innings tonight, and in three of those innings, the lead-off man scored for the Rays. Gabe Gross and Carlos Pena lead-off two of those innings with solo home runs to pace the Rays offense tonight. In all, the Rays hit 4 doubles and 3 homers against the A’s, and only Upton and Pat Burrell did not have hits in the Rays 13-hit explosion. This is the type of Rays confidence that was so familiar with them in 2008. The Rays were hitting the long balls, but also concentrating on extending rallies tonight.
In their first inning, they strung together three straight base runners to put early pressure on Cahill. Then in their 5-run third inning, they got two early base runners before Pena hit a 3-run shot over 388 feet for his first homer of the night. After Burrell hit a fly ball to Mark Ellis for an easy out at second base, they again strung together 5 straight base runners before Crawford hit a sharp fly to Matt holliday in left field for the final out. But by that time they had exposed the young right-hander and paced to a 7-0 lead. In the fifth, the Rays again tired to mount an extended rally, with Akinora Iwamura getting a lead-off single into the gap in right-center field, then Jason Bartlett hitting a ball to Eric Chavez at third base that he beat for an infield single. But Upton hit into a 6-4-3 double play to prematurely take the Rally down.
From that inning on, the Rays only extended one inning to multipule base runners. In the eighth inning, both Burrell and Gabe Gross got walked by A’s reliever Maichael Wuertz, but were stranded on base after a Dioner Navarro fly out to center field ended the inning. At that point it was 8-0, with the Rays in control of the contest. For the night, the Rays got 13 hits, 8 of them off the Oakland starter and also gathered 8 total walks on the night. The Rays did leave 7 runners in scoring position, which is still the Achillie’s heel of this team. If not for the A’s starter getting into early trouble tonight, the Rays only sustained two rallies all night long after Cahill left the game, and both of those were off of reliever Dan Giese, who Oakland got on waivers after the New york Yankees released him.
Ben Margot/ AP
El Presidente Issues a Statement Carlos Pena has been the vocal leader of this Rays team now for several years. He is one of the first people to speak up for the Players Only meeting the other day in Seattle, that lead to a Rays victory, and tonight he let his lumber do the talking. It is great to see a Raya slugger let his bat do the talking in this contest. But Pena has always been someone who will “walk the walk, and talk the talk.” It is one of the reason the Rays took a chance on him several years ago and signed him to a Minor League contract. He did nothing more than surprise and rise this team by hitting the daylights out of the ball and make his love for this young team know.
The Rays made their committment to him by signing him to a multi-year contract, and since that day, he done more and more to take and portray a leadership role on and off the turf for the Rays. Tonight he took two pitches and made his statement in this game. In the third inning, he took a letter high ball and deposited it deep into center field to send the Rays in front 5-0 at the time. Then in the the sixth inning off Giese, he took a 3-1 pitch and drilled it into the first row into right field, about 333 feet from home to provide the last run of the game for the Rays. His two homers tonight puts him into the American League HR catbird seat with one more than Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox.
His 4 RBI’s tonight also puts him at 21 for the year, which also puts him currently 2 RBI’s ahead of Nick Markakis of the Orioles for the American League lead. Pena went 2 for 5 in the game, and moved his average up to .254 tonight. For the Rays to be successful in 2009, they need their big hitter to remain consistent and producing. In their 1
0 loses this season, Pena is a combined 7 for 36, or a .194 average with 13 strikeouts. He has a total of 21 strikeouts so far in 2009, which is good enough for second in the American League. But the Rays seem to feed off his energy, and his success has been key to the team rebounding and rebuilding their oen confidence this season. El Presidente is a leader, and the young Rays seem to play better and with more consitent nature when their leader is setting the example on the field and at the plate.
Ben Margot / AP Kazmir Adjusts Mid-game for Great Start Rays starter Scott Kazmir did not start the game in great fashion he again seemed to be a bit off the mark, but adjusted correctly and posted one of the most impressive night of the year for him. He did not use his fastball to set-up hitters, but used a greatly improving slider and change-up to keep them guessing at the plate. When the game first started, you would not have thought he was going to go 6 innings and thrown only 96 pitches in the game. But coming into this game, he has always been extremely good against the A’s. He was a combined 6-2 against them with a 2.70 ERa in 11 starts.
During tonight’s first two innings, you did not see the dominating Kazmir stuff, but it was showing itself throughout those innings and gaining momentum. Kazmir did not start out the night in impressive fashion as he walked lead-off man Ryan Sweeney with four pitches. He neded up throwing 22 pitches just in that first inning. In the second inning, he surrendered a quick single to Jack cust to lead-off the inning and then walked Kurt Suzuki before taking control of the inning and sending the next 3 hitters down in order to strand both men on base. In that inning he threw 26 pitches. It looked like another early night for Kazmir.
Then in the third inning he again gave up a lead-off walk to Sweeney, his second of the night. At this point, Kazmir has given the lead-off hitter a chance in all three innings. But then he ended up getting Orlando Caberra to hit into a double play to erase Sweeney after a difficult 10-pitch at bat. At this point it seemed that Kazmir regained his command and ended up striking out Nomar Garciaparra to end the inning after 21 pitches. Up to this point, Kazmir had thrown 72 pitches in the contest and was heading for another early night.
But between the innings he discovered his small mechanical error and then took the mound in the fourth inning and went right after the A’s hitters. He only threw 7 pitches in that inning, getting Matt Holliday, Cust and Suzuki in order for his first 1-2-3 inning. In the fifth inning, he again took control and sent the A’s down 1-2-3 for the second inning, but this time threw only 15 pitches. He was beginnig to take full control of the game. In his last inning, the sixth, he again got the A’s down in order 1-2-3 to put an exclamation point on his night. In that inning, he had retired 11 straight hitters and did his last inning on 6 total pitches. For the night he had given up only two hits, and had held the A’s hitless from the second inning on tonight.
Ben Margot / AP
Gross Doesn’t Waste Opportunity Gabe Gross did not get an opportunity in the last few games to contribute anything to the Rays. He had not been in the field since the Rays 4-2 loss to open the series in Seattle at on Tuesday night. and in that contest, he only came on to pinch-hit for Gabe Kapler in the ninth inning and popped out in that appearance. His .130 average was cause for concern among the Rays faithful. People had been calling for Ben Zobrist to get more time since the left-handed Gross was struggling at the plate. But tonight he got a start against the A’s right-hander and did not waste his chances. He not only made a mark at the plate, but made sure the Rays did not forget what he brings to the table as a defensive expert.
In the bottom of the first inning when Holliday hit a hard ball to right field and Sweeney tagged up at third base to try the arm of Gross, he quickly got his feet set before the ball reached him and threw a missile to Dioner Navarro in front of the plate for an easy tag-out and to end the A’s rally and inning. But he did not let the momentum end there. He then was the lad-off hitter in the top of the second inning and blasted a 0-2 pitch into deep center field for his first home run of the year. Gross rode the energy to again in the third innig when he hit a double to the left-center field wall to start another Rays rally after Pena’s three-run shot.
He ended up crossing the plate in that inning to then put the Rays up 6-0 at the time. He again got on base in the fourth inning on a 5-pitch walk to put two men on base for the Rays. He did not get an opportunity to put anymore runs up for the Rays in that inning, but his offensive struggles seemed to be behind him. After a hard hit ball to center field for an out in the sixth inning, he again got on base in the eighth inning after a 5-pitch walk by A’s reliever Michael Wuertz. That was his last time on base for the game, but his 2-3 performance had made his average take a positive turn to end up at .192 for the night.
Some people have commented it seems like I do not like Gross. It is not that at all here. It is the fact I know the team is struggling right now, and when you are in a hole, you go with your best horses. At that time Zobrist was the hot bat, and also deserves some playing time considering his early season successes at the plate and in the field. Both guys have a single outfield assist this year, but Gabe Kapler is leading the Rays with two so far in 2009. I like the way Gross played in 2008. Maybe I got spoiled by his banner year and he is showing his more stable hitting average. No matter what, I think the Rays should ride the hot bats this year in right field. If that means Zobrist and Gross get the bulk of the turns, then so be it.
The first will be held on Sunday, April 26th at the Tradewinds Resort on beautiful St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. The resort is a key spot on the Gulf of Mexico and fans are invited to come out early and enjoy the beach and the resort before the Rays afternoon contest against the Oakland A’s. Your usual Rays host,Rich Herrera will be broadcasting the pre- and post game shows live and on location starting at 3:30 p.m., with the first pitch at 4:05 p.m.
Before and during the game, be sure to stop by and register for your chance to win an autographed baseball, tickets to a future Rays game, TradeWinds merchandise, and much more! The Rays energetic Street Team will also be in attendance, passing out prizes and giveaways. So come on by the TradeWinds Island Resorts, soak up the sun, enjoy the beach, and watch your Rays on Sunday, April 26! The resort is located at: 5600 Gulf Boulevard, and you can get more directions on their website www.tradewindsresort.com.
The second Rays Watch Party will be held in a location that Upper Pinellas County fans know well for their outstanding food and open dining areas. The Rays will again be holding another event at the Clearwater location of Smokey Bones located at 2693 Gulf-toBay Blvd in Clearwater, located in the north section of the Clearwater Mall complex. So if you are a extreme Rays fan like the “Maddon’s Maniacs”, or just a casual Rays fan who loves great BBQ ribs, we invite you to come watch the Rays play the Twins in Minnesota on Monday, April 27, from 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill in Clearwater!
Come out and watch the game with fellow Rays fans and enjoy great drink specials. Rays Radio pre game and post game guru Rich Herrera will again be live as the Rays play in the Metrodome. We hope to see you there, and GO RAYS!Saturday Scattered Thoughts **** Former Rays reliever Jason Hammel, who was traded just prior to the beginning of the 2009 season has been moved into the Colorado Rockies rotation. So far in 2009, Hammel has appeared in 3 games for a total of 6.2 innings with an 2.70 ERA and 5 strikeouts on the season.
The Rockies obtained Hammel thinking he could be effective as a starter or a reliever. Starts haven’t been available, so he’s made three relief appearances. All Colorado knows is that if he pitches the way he has in his last two outings, there is a place for him — possibly a prominent one.
**** Rays Commentator Brian Anderson has been a trip so far in the broadcast booth for this west coast road trip. Anderson who also doubles as the Rays Assistant Pitching coach has been a breath of fresh air in the booth in relation to the finer pitching aspects of the game. He has shown awesome insight and also techniques that a pitcher might use that have been missing since former Rays commentator Joe Magrane left for the MLB Network in the off season.
Also a great aditon is the use of his own key phrase he like “cookie” to demonstrate a pitch that is just eaten up by the hitter. I was afraid the Rays commentary might be a bit dry and stale for the first season with Kevin Kennedy. But both Kennedy and Anderson have injected a different viewpoint into the every day workings of this team. Kennedy shows a perspective from the catching side of the game, while anderson is focusing on his expertise……..pitching. The Rays hit a blast with the occasional pairing of Anderson with award winning Dwayne Staats in the booth. I can hardly wait for Todd Kalas to get his turn in the booth and see what magic can happen.
**** I can imagine the grumbling and the grunts from the Rays as they entered the Visitor’s Clubhouse yesterday to no food choices in the clubhouse before the game. I could see Rays Clubhouse Manager Chris Westmoreland on the phone scrambling to get something, even a bag of pretzels into the clubhouse at that moment. But even more entertaining in my mind would be the sight of the Rays getting back on the busses and maybe going ala minor league style to a local restaurant and having Westy and maybe Traveling Secretary Jeff Ziegler tossing bags of food up through the windows to the hungry Rays.
Maybe that was the motivation of the team in last night’s contest. They were hungry in more ways than one prior to the game. But you know that they did finally get some neded calories in their stomaches, but that would have been a sight of them trolling into maybe In-and-Out Burger with 35 chicken sandwiches and healthy wrap meals, with a small prize in the sack for their kids. Ahhhhhhhh, that would have made them cherish their old minor league roots.
Now you really want to know why having a guy of this height on your roster is a positive thing, just look at current San Francisco Giant pitcher Randy Johnson. Because of his powerful fastball coming in at a downward angle, bot his power and breaking pitches seem to have a bit moire bite to them at the plate. The intimidation factor is big for a pitcher. And when you are tall and can seem to almost reach out and touch the batter in just your wind-up, it can be a huge mental edge going into a game. I think that Niemann doesn’t have the most powerful stuff on the Rays staff, but he does have the advantage of that downward flow to the plate, which should keep some guys deep in the batters box on him to begin the season.
Now, I addressed a bit of this issue earlier in the blog, but the real guy who is the winner of the Hammel trade is actually reliever Lance Cormier. Just like last season, the last roster spot of the Spring went to a reliever. Last year it was the battle between Grant Balfour and Scott Dohmann, that surprisingly took Balfour to Triple-A to begin the season. But Balfour went down with a chip on his shoulder and actually worked harder than in Spring Training to again get back up to the major league level. This year, Cormier had some fantastic moments on the mound and looked to just be the odd-man out in the Bullpen.
But with Hammel’s trade, it not only opened a long-reliever slot for him, but will give him more time to convince the Rays that he is the man to keep once Jason Isringhausen is ready to make his Rays debut on the roster later in the month. So it will be a short period of time that Cormier will have to convince the Rays to keep him and maybe throw another reliever on the hot seat, or even trade them to keep his arm on the staff. During this spring, Cormier made only 10 appearances for 16.2 innings, but his 1.62 ERA was the highest totals by a Rays reliever this spring. his control was also spot-on all spring, which is evident by his 12 strikeouts and 2 walks. He was the only true reliever to post double digit strikeouts this spring for the Rays. Balfour was just one short with 9 for the Spring.
Rays Watch Parties for Red Sox Series
Fresh off the Internet after midnight tonight I got word from the Rays Fan Experience Coordinator Sean Liston, that the team has finalized plans for watch parties during the Rays Opening series in Boston. These events will also have some samples on hand to check out that will be given out in the home stand starting on April 14th. Among those items on display at the events will be the replica A L Championship ring, the World Series Cowbell, and the mini A L Championship trophy.
But that is not all, on hand before the game will be Mr “Magical Season” himself, Rich Herrera with the Rays pregame and post game shows live at the location. Liston mentions on his email that he want the Maniacs and other Rays fans to shout and cheer so loud the “Rays announcer Rich Herrera can’t hear himself think.” All locations will be in the Tampa and St Petersburg region this series, with additional watch parties to be announced in other areas of Tampa Bay in the future. So be sure to come out and support the Rays, and maybe make some new Rays friends at any of these three locations during the Red Sox versus the Rays series from Fenway Park.
Tuesday, April 7th:
Lee Roy Selmon’s Restaurant, 4301 West Boy Scout Blvd. Tampa Florida ( 813) 871-3287. This location is right across the road from the entrance to the International Mall complex off Sligh Avenue just east of the Tampa International airport. Rich Herrera will begin his Pregame show at 3:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Wednesday, April 8th:
Smokey Bones Restaurant, 8020 Citrus Park Drive, Tampa, Florida ( 813)920-9434. This location is located just west of the Veterans Expressway ( Toll) at the Gunn Highway Exit. Rich Herrera will start the pregame at 6:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Thursday, April 9th:
Hooter’s Restaurant 10400 Roosevelt Blvd, St. Petersburg, Florida ( 727) 568-0685. This restaurant is located off Roosevelt Blvd just east of 9th street North between 4th Street North. It is hidden a bit off the road just to the east of the Walgreens in the shopping plaza. Rich Herrera will begin his pregame show at 6:30 pm LIVE on WDAE 620 AM radio.
Ex-Ray Gomes Does Everything but sells popcorn for Reds
With the final rosters having to be submitted to Major League Baseball by 3 pm on Sunday, one former Rays player did not make his respective teams 25-man rosters for the 2009 season. This one was a complete surprise, because of the comments and posturing of his manager in recent discussions about the player. Jonny Gomes not making the final Reds roster was a bit of a surprise since he seemed to have hit the ball well and was very active in the field during his spring training tryout with the Cincinnati Reds as a non-roster invitee. He started off real strong in the beginning of Spring Training, but did tail off a bit and ended up hitting .244, with a team high 4 homers and 12 RBI’s. Red’s blogs the last few days have voiced their opinions loud and clear as to the demotion and sending of Gomes to the minor leagues. Cincy GM Walt Jocketty told Cincinnati.com that he hopes that Gomes accepts the minor league designation.
But Gomes was trying to do everything in his power to make this squad, even trying to take reps at a position he has not played a lot during his major league career. This spring, Gomes was trying to be the back-up plan that first base for the Reds, but now that he is not on the squad, that duty will fall to current catcher Ramon Hernandez, who has played the position only 7 times during his own MLB career. Gomes was jobless from Dec. 13, when the Tampa Bay Rays, the only organization he had played for, announced they wouldn’t offer him a contract, to Jan. 19, when he signed with the Reds. “I wouldn’t recommend getting non-tendered to any ballplayer,” Gomes said. “But it’s a way to get you ready for spring training. I just came in ready for anything. You never know what you’re going to be asked.”
In Gomes’ case, that has included learning a new position. Gomes has done all the Reds have asked and more. You pretty much completely discount early spring training stats – unless you’re in Gomes’ position. He knew he had to get off to a decent start to remain in the running for the left field/extra outfielder spot. But how did Gomes think he did during this spring to make it a tough decision for the Red not to sue him this year. “Not being on the 40-man, minor-league invite. When it comes down to cut time, you don’t have a good argument when you have 21 at-bats Gomes told me the other night. “I had to come in here ready, physically, mentally, all of the above. I felt I have.”
Gomes’ situation is not completely foreign to him. He spent some time on the fringe of the roster with Tampa Bay. “I know how that feels,” he said. “Coming up through the minor leagues without establishing myself as a big leaguer, I played winter ball a lot. A few seasons, I was into early February playing winter ball still. I always felt that was an advantage for me. This year, not being on a roster, I just felt I couldn’t risk going down there and getting hurt. I had to do my own work in the cage. You do what you’ve got to do.” Well, personally Jonny, I hope they see the errors of their ways and get you back into a Reds uniform soon. You are the type of player every team needs in their dugout, and in their clubhouse. I know I would play you on my squad if I was a manager.