Results tagged ‘ Rich Herrera ’
If you have been watching Tampa Bay Rays baseball for any length of time, you will know that we have always had one big hole in our roster, and we have tried valiantly to find the right pieces to fit that puzzle. But it is not like we have not seen some success in the closer role, but the majority of the time we have been sunk by lofty or inadequate expectations of players either too young and inexperienced, or guys on their way out the door. We have had successful closers in our young history,like Roberto Hernandez, Danys Baez and Lance Carter. It is considered the hardest situational pitching position in baseball to master and keep under control. You either have the muscle and mind to handle the stress and pressures, or you fold quickly when pitching flaws come to the surface.
So with the announcement today that the Rays and Troy Percival are going to take a “vacation” from each other for awhile, you could hear the air sigh inside Tropicana Field. For the mighty Percy has finally struck out in his chances with the Rays. I mean I was not totally on board with the ex-Angels connection signing in the first place, but I was willing to give the guy a chance based on his past accolades, and what he could bring to this team in the way of leadership and teaching to the up and coming ballplayers. But, you have to admit that he has been here on borrowed time for some time, and if not for the genuine respect both Rays Manager Joe Maddon had for him, and Percival’s “never say die” attitude, it did make for a volatile and some time effective relationship while it lasted.
Troy Percival has been a giant in the closer’s role for so long in the MLB, that maybe a bit of it moved past him and he did not adapt. But you have to give the guy some credit for the past. He is eighth in All-Times saves with 358. That is only 9 away from the next guy, Jeff Reardon. He was the fourth highest closer actively throwing in the MLB, but I truly think his days are over. Even though he was 6 for 6 in save this season for the Rays, a few past decisions are going to haunt him for a long time. He has shown signs of being a great closer still, like before his May 13th appearance, he had not allowed a run in 10 straight appearances dating back to April 17th.
In 2008-2009, the Rays were 40-1 when he entered the game for a save opportunity ( He was 34-38 in those save opportunities). Percy has held opposing batters to a .188 batting average against him, which is the lowest average of any MLB pitcher with over 400 appearances. Oh, and before he started to show a slow decline in 2008, he had 28 saves for the Rays, his highest total since he left the Angels in 2004. But his decline started to take place before he got here, but the Rays also saw him take to the DL three times in 2008 and miss a total of 42 games. But you have to admire his the fight within him before you can condemn him here. He was truly one of the most fiery guys to ever grace our roster. But that also might have led to his disfavor with fans. But in the end the mighty Percy struck out.
You might ask how he struck out with the fans and maybe even his own team. I know of a few guys in the Bullpen who used to cringe when he warmed up, but kept up the team unity face for morale. Rich Herrera, who does post game and pre game for the Rays Radio Network once said, ” You can’t applaud the guy one day, then boo him the next day. Either you like what he is doing, or you don’t . Take a side.” Okay Rich, I will here. I think that he struck out with the fans based on three incidents, but there were more that could have merited the same outlook.
First off, his injury near the end of 2008 was for back stiffness and a possible knee injury. That being said, he was a ghost around the clubhouse at the time the team needed him most. I know it might be personally painful for you to sit there on a bench and watch the game like a fan instead of play, but to show support for your team mates at that playoff juncture of the year was a huge flaw in his character to me. Jonny Gomes and Chad Orvella were not on the team’s rosters for the playoffs, but they were there for them with emotional and vocal signals that “they had the team’s back”. Percy was not on the bench, and not even in the clubhouse for the first game of the 2008 World Series. To me, that was STRIKE ONE.
A couple of weeks ago there was an incident in a Sunday afternoon game where Evan Longoria went for a ball in the third base stands in section 121. This section pokes out a bit beyond the Visitor’s Dugout and always sees it fair share of foul balls and hard hit smashes during games. The ball is hit high into the air and the ball is heading for that section of the stadium, we all know that the fan did not see or hear Longoria coming until the last moment, or he might have given way for the fleet footed third baseman. Instead he misplays the ball and both he and Longoria miss the ball. Longo throws some choice words for the guy and also so steely glances the rest of the game.
Well, Percy comes in for the save in that contest and immediately after the third out begin to throw a few comments of his own towards the guy. This was about 15 minutes after the incident, but Percy was jawing the wagging a finger towards the guy. The language was not acceptable for a “Family Day” at the ballpark first off, but the badgering of the fan was not only insulting, but should have warranted a suspension or a public apology from Percival to the guy. It was another out-of-control moment probably brought on by emotion, but to me, It was purely STRIKE TWO.
Then we have a nice tight game going on in May in Oriole Park in Camden Yards against the Baltimore Orioles on May 13th. Percival came in with the score in favor of the Rays 8-2 and proceeded to do something I found so insulting to the baseball gods I wanted to just jack him up and beat him down for it in a blog, but felt it was better to leave him alone at the time. He was going to bite the hand that fed him soon enough in the contest. In 1/3rd of an inning, Percival had given up 4-runs on 4-hits, including two home run pitches that looked more like some one throwing Batting Practice. The first thought in my mind was that he wanted to get the score close so it was going to be a save opportunity for him. Giving another team an opportunity to come back for your own personal gain is against the grain of the unwritten rules Percy. The score was 8-6 when in the bottom of that ninth inning Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out to chat with Percy.
We all know that Maddon had already made his decision to take Percy out, maybe for disrespecting the game, but more for his awful pitching performance. This was the last game of the most recent road trip, and the Rays wanted this game badly. But what we ended up with was Percy behaving badly. He began to vocally challenge and argue with the skipper to the point you could see spittle trailing from his mouth. He fought long and hard to stay in the game, but some of the words lipped from his mouth were not entirely in the rules of respect for your Manager. I admire the fire and spunk, but I also detest the disrespect and his blatant disregard for the team Manager. For me, this was STRIKE THREE.
So when the Rays came home, I was clam and cool in the stands, but I did not address Troy anymore as he walked past me to the bathrooms and Bullpen lounge area. I would not even look at the man. I was pissed and I did not want to see an ounce of this guy on the mound for the team again unless he showed a bit more respect for his longest supporters, Joe Maddon. He did enter the game on May 15th in the 7th inning, one of his earliest appearances of his Rays career. As he slunk off the Bullpen Mound and the stadium Jumbotron announced his music I turned my back to the field. That was my show of not honoring the fact this guy was still out there on the mound. I was firmly going to show my distaste for his treatment of this team, and his Manager.
Percival did not have the opportunity in these next two night to get either the win or the save as Dan Wheeler and Joe Nelson took the mounds in the ninth inning for the Rays. That Sunday, Percival did hit the mound in the ninth and got two strikeouts en route to his sixth save of the year ( At the time, that placed him 9th in the AL in saves). The performance was one of his best in the season, but I again stood towards the back wall as he entered the ballgame. Then the last straw might have been during a save opportunity that almost got away, but this time Maddon was not going to let the closer take this one away from his young team.
Percival entered the game in the top of the ninth, and while I was looking at the back wall I was admiring the new huge sign by the Florida Sports Network and Sunsports that looked like a game day roster. I had looked back there dozens of times this season and did not really see how great it was before today. Well, Percival lived up to his usual expectations and gave up two quick hits and runs before Maddon made a move to bring in Nelson again for the the game. At that time, the score was tied, and Percival this time did not totally try and even voice any fight or vinegar at Maddon, but strolled off the mound to the dugout.
That was the last time we saw him. Strolling off the mound after giving up two runs to tie a contest the Rays would eventually win. You want to say something poetic here, that will be admired for years as sage advice or even a recollection, but I was glad it was his last outing for the team. I truly do not care if he ever comes back. He has options available to him. He can either rehab as long as the team deems he should and not fight it, or he can walk away from the game for the last time. My feelings are he still has some fire in his beer belly for the game, but it might not fit well here anymore. If he does ever some back into a Rays uniform, he will probably have to take a reduced role with the team. More of a set-up role than a closer.
It is actually kind of odd, but curiously wild that Percival was all rah-rah about Jason Isringhausen signing with the team this spring, and he might be the guy who gets eventually slotted into the closer role. I wish Percy the best as he takes his time and contemplates and make decisions about his future on the mound. Maybe he is again ready for that role of managing like he did in 2007 in the Angels minor league system. Time will tell. But I think the time of the scruffy, pear-shaped closer going to the mound for the Rays is over.
He fought the sands of time as long as he could, but maybe he is finally starting to realize the door is shutting behind him. I have glad for what he has done for this club in the last two seasons, but I will not miss him. And Rays, do not forget to lock the door, or he will find a way back into this clubhouse. But for me personally, he has not only struck a chord in me with his actions, he might have finally struck out with other fans too.
Sorry I have not posted in a few days. There has been a bit of a rodent-related sucide here at my house, and he decided to take our electrical box with him. I am not one to ever try and figure out the suicidal or normal tendencies of the squirrel family, but this guy had a death wish and took about 5 breakers with him. The result was a $ 2,000 bill for the repair of the rodent-related suicide attempt. I never did ask if he fried, or was just tail-less now running amonst the many oka tree surround the house. Be case scenario, he is basking in the tree with a breeze upon his hairy chest snickering about how he got the humans to feel the heat.
It is fun to be pushed back into pre-electricity Florida lifestyle for three days and forget how lovely the hot water heater, air conditioning, and the televised games from Yankee Stadium can be an everyday luxury. I have been told to remember what it was like to go camping as a kid as the electricians were fixing the problem for the last three days. Finally at 3:45 pm I felt the cool breeze come out of the vents and could again vast in the daily writing of my blog, and also take a great shower for 20 minutes.
Bill Kostroun / AP
Wild Night in the Old Bronx
When you first turned on this game last night you might be hearing all the negative how Yankee starter Andy Pettitte owns the third best record against the Rays lifetime with 15 wins, and that he once had a consecutive streak of 12- wins in 17 starts against the old Rays from 9/25/98 to 7/22/2007. And according to Elias Bureau, that is Pettittes longest streak, and it tied the Rays opponents streak he would share with Boston pitcher Tim Wakefield. So it almost was a forecast of doom and gloom even before the first pitch landed in Jose Molina’s glove.
But there is a strange thing about baseball. It never judges what you have done in the past to anything in the future. Just because you were the king one day doesn’t mean you can not play the pauper tonight. And that would be a great way to segway into this game. Before the first pitch of the game, the Rays hit a iffy .230 against Pettitte in their first meeting of the year in Tropicana Field. And that contest ended up becoming a 4-3 Yankees win and got them the series. But a lot has happened to both team since that day, and tonight would be a fair evaluation of the direction of both teams right now.
The Rays took an early lead off of Pettitte when Jason Bartlett lead-off with a solo shot to right-center field to start the contest. That might have been a great indication of the type of night that Pettitte was about to experience off the Rays. In the game, the Rays hit a combined .333 against Pettitte and hit 4 home runs off him in the game. The only previous home run this year was hit by Carlos Pena in the Rays 4-3 loss to the Yankees at Tropicana Field in April. But in this contest, the game would go back and forth until finally the Rays would take advantage of a guy they usually have a bad game against in the ninth inning.
The game went back and forth in classic fashion until the Rays took the final stand in the top of the ninth inning and chased Mariano Rivera from the contest. Coming into tonight’s game, Revira is 51 of 52 lifetime in save opportunities against the Rays, including a 20-for-20 mark at the original Yankee Stadium. He had converted his last 18 saves against them since his last blown save on 8/16/2005 at Tropicana Field. In that contest, Eduardo Perez hit the only home run given up by Rivera in 82.1 innings pitched against the Rays.
So how big was the ninth inning to the Rays? It made them post their biggest surge against the future Hall-of-Famer by stroking back-to-back homers against the closer. Carl Crawford even took a 9-pitch selection before finally hitting his next offering to rightfield. Evan Longoria then took his fifth pitch and deposited in in the left field stands for the final run of the ballgame.
Longo Love the Long Ball
I was chatting with a few Rays fans during the last game of the home stand about if we had seen the best of Longoria yet this year. It seems like the guy is sometimes just putting on a hitting clinic during games. Even if he is hitting too many double plays balls for my taste (7 this season), he is hitting with a style and grace that is way beyond his young age. I mean he is hitting like a 5-to7 year player picking up the adjustments of the pitcher and drilling them for hits. His current pace has him leading the American League in doubles ( 14), RBI ( 38) and Slugging Percentage ( .754).
But what is especially amazing is his .358 batting average after a short mini slump to end April. He is currently on a 11-game hitting streak into tonight’s Boston game. Carlos Pena has the Rays highest streak last year with 12-games. Longoria is hitting .382 during the streak with RBIs in 9 of the 11 games. He also has 20 RBI in the last 9 games. He is currently only one of five players since 1954 to have 38+ RBI in the first 30 games ( he missed two game dues to a family emergency in April). With numbers like this, it might be a good indicator that he might be in the top tier when the All-Star balloting position are announced for third base.
Niemann is Becoming an Enigma
This is the game you wanted the right-hander to come out and just be explosive on the mound for the Rays. To show that he is ready for all challenges and can be the man if needed for the team. But sometimes you just look at the guy and you see just a tall giraffe of a pitcher who is tossing the ball into a spot instead of trusting his tuff and launching into the catcher’s mitt. He did hold his own deep into the bottom of the fourth inning before getting into trouble with the Yankee hitters. But I do have a question on why he was taken out with the only trouble-some situation of the night for him?
Seriously here, did anyone else question the reasoning to take the big guy out after two Yankee base runners. I mean Melky Cabrera did walk on five pitches, and Ramiro Pena did hit a nice single after battling back from an 0-2 count against Niemann. But up to that point, he had only given up 3 hits all night long to go with a hit batsman and a wild pitch. I do not think he would have done any worse that Rays Reliever Lance Cormier, who let Jose Molina double on the second pitch and then after striking out Derek Jeter, give up another RBI-double to Johnny Damon to plate the first two Yankee runs.
But I do think the big guy could and should have been given the opportunity to get out of the inning on his own since he was only at 78 pitches at that moment. To pull him this early with the threat of a scoring chance can be damaging to Niemann. I know he is viewed more as a rental player right now by some on the Rays, but you do not ruin a kid’s confidence like that. If you let him face those three batters and the same thing happens to him, then it is a building opportunity for him. He was going to get hit with those two runs anyways, you might as let him earn them instead of sit on the bench and watch them score from the dugout.
But that is where maybe myself and the Rays pitching conglomerate differ at times. I remember past years and game where they have let the guy take a few licks and then get him out of there before he destroys himself. But this year they seem to be babying the big guy a bit too much. I know he can handle it, he is by and far the becoming a better pitcher each ti
me out this year, and he had adjusted pretty well considering he is thrown into the mix. I mean coming into this game, he has won his last two road starts, which is a big thing for a Rays pitcher. Plus he his 16 strikeouts coming into this game are tied for fourth among rookies.
The guy has been tasked with manning the fifth spot in this rotation, but it seems at times that the Rays have put more emphasis in their controlling of his progress than in letting him take the highs and lows of being a major league pitcher. The guy got lite up in his first start and rebounded to retire the next 15 out of sixteen in that Orioles contest. Niemann actually threw a no-no for the first four innings against the Seattle Mariners on the road for his first win of the season.. His ERA has come down from a lofty 10.13 ERA to a more respectable 5.65 ERA after tonight game.
The guy is showing massive improvement and a few steps back every outing, but the Rays seem to be more concerned with their own endeavors than in Niemann’s right now. By not letting this guy grow on the mound, they are going to need him in a game and he will not be in tune with the music the Rays want to hear. He already has people calling for him to be replaced along with Andy Sonnanstine, and the Rays have not come out hard in his defense. I think that is a crime. As long as he is in a Rays uniform, the Rays coaching staff should be defending this guy to the hill and back. But instead we get mumble jumble about looking tired or showing anxiety. Give me a break, every batter would make me a bit anxious on the mound. To be Niemann is standing tall among the rubble at times.
*** Do not forget that the Rays Radio network will be holding a Rays Watch party at the Hooter’s Restaurant on West Hillsborough Avenue tomorrow starting at 3 pm. The afternoon contest will be featured on Fox Television, but the Rays will have Rich Herrera out there for the pre game and post game show and they will feature drink and food specials during the game.
*** During last night’s game, Carl Crawford’s consecutive stolen base streak ended at 9 games. But do not fret, since 1954, he is one of four players to accomplish that feat. With his major league leading 20 steals, CC also is in royal company as he is tied with Neon Deion Sanders for the most stolen bases after 29 games since Sanders did it in 1997 with the Cincinnati Reds.
*** The Rays also currently have the major league lead in steals with 45, that is the most since the Florida Marlins started off with 48 steals in the 2003. It is also the most by an AL team since the Yankees stole 46 bases in 29 games to begin the 1998 season.
*** The Rays are currently in a stretch where they will play 9 games against the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in 11 days. They are 5-1 so far in that endeavor. By the end of the weekend, they would have played them both 15 times so far this season ( out of 34 games) The Rays are 8-4 so far this season against the pair.
*** Pena and Longoria are the first teammates to reach 30 RBI in 30 games since Alex Rodriguez (31) and Edgar Martinez (30) with Seattle in 2000. They are also the fifth set of teammmate to hit that feat since 1954. They are also the first set of team mate to have 10+ home runs since Eric Chavez and Nick Swisher for the Oakland A’s in 2006.
I have to admit that I am not of Latin heritage, or even have any substance of Hispanic bloodline within my body that I know of right now. But the Cinco De Mayo celebration has always had a special meaning to me. It is not because my second favorite beer seems to be Corona, but because of the nature of the celebration being so close to my birthday. I use it as a substitute to have a reason to go out and have a wild day/night because of the 9 day grace period in my mind to celebrate my birthday.
And combine that with the fact that my ex-employer seemed to be more tolerant of me celebrating on that day, then on my birthday, it makes a perfect reason to have a few Dos Equixs and a smattering of Patron shots. But this season the celebration also took part during the Rays home stand and featured an afternoon contest against the Baltimore Orioles. So I got there as usual and proceeded up to the Power Alley Deck to begin my birthday/Cinco celebration. The Rays had just concluded their Batting Practice and were jogging off the field as I came out of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in centerfield at Tropicana field and descended into the Power Decks party atmosphere.
The only problem at that moment is that I was the first thirsty soul to glide out onto the deck and was the guy who got to tap the Dos Equix keg that day. I am not usually a huge drinker during the game, I have been of the mind to do my partying after the game at other locations and not let drinking interfere with my baseball. But today I made an exception to the rule and bought my first 20 ounce beer for a mild 3 dollars. Considering that the stadium beers were going for about 9 dollars a pop, the elixir was golden down my throat today. Here I could have three beers for that same price, and also have a trio of strumming singers surrounding me in Cinco excellence.
So I went down to the lower level of the Deck and yelled out to a friend, Danys Baez who played for the Orioles. Here I was about 200 feet above the playing surface and we chatted a bit about his family and how he was doing. You know, the usual bar/ballpark banter. About that time the second patron of the day came down with a frothy beverage and we had the makings of a great party. I only stayed up there until after the Orioles B P because I wanted to take in the game in my usual seat. I made sure to stop by the Tortilla Junction concession stand and get a massive plate load of nachos that was a good 2 feet above the plate with Guacamole, Sour Cream and a huge avalanche of cheese, both in cold and hot form.
I was in heaven as I started down the aisle to my seat. But wouldn’t you know it, some fool banged into my arm and I almost lost the plate. But I popped it into a seat back to keep 95 percent of the food of the gods on the plate. Unfortunately the Jalapenos and a top level of cheese were dropped to the floor in a salute to my amigos. But hey, that happens in a ballpark. Oh, I forgot to tell you, I also brought with me a cup of that ambrosia of beer to help bring an authentic flavor to the nacho meal.
So there I was eating my nachos and preparing myself for the game when Scott Cursi, the Rays Bullpen Catcher came over and was laughing at the extreme nacho invasion on my plate. He remarked “It must be good to know people in the food courts.” I have to agree with him. I am not saying they do it, but I have seen a bit of different food portions towards my selections in recent years, but I just tacked that up to me being here every night and they just needed to fatten me up a bit.
So as the game went on, and the nachos and beer seem to glide into oblivion, I was amazed at the level of celebration being shown in the stands. We had all cultures taking to the Mexican celebration today, and even had a blue-haired participant in the daily events. But it was not until after the game that the party really seemed to jump into hyper space. you see I rambled on over to the Budweiser Brewhouse in Centerfield Street and was getting ready to listen to Rich Herrera do his post-game show when a beautiful blond in a slinky outfit gave me another fine Dos Equix product for my palate.
Now I am far from the type of guy to ever refuse beer or even food from a cute woman, so I thanked her and began to listen to Rich do his post game show. As I stood there I again had a feisty Asian woman thrust another cool beverage my way, and being the celebration kind of guy I am, I took to full revel mode. As I was standing there Rich also called for “Beers for all my friends” and another round somehow found itself into my mitts.
Now I am not a huge drinker at all anymore. I was in my college Fraternity Days (Theta Chi), but now I am one of those pedestrian beer-drinkers who stop at two or three and head home before the end of the night, or show. But today I stayed to the last moment and got rewarded with gifts ( bottle openers, t-shirts and a serving tray) by the Beer vendor. I also got to cheer Happy Birthday to one of the Rays 10+ year employees on his birthday. Mike Yodis was in the house, and I can tell you he was certainly celebrating with the rest of us.
It was a great day at the ballpark. We had another Rays win in the bag, plus I had multiple beverages handed to me by beautiful woman who were not behind a huge mahogany bar (plus they were free). I have to make a mention that I was eating all during this time, and that I was not driving to the ballpark today. I enlisted a friend to be the Designated Driver and kept him full of soda and munchies the entire day. I will be his Designated Driver at another time. I felt compelled to mention this so it doesn’t seem like I want to take an irresponsible stand with the celebrations.
It was an awesome afternoon at the ballpark, and coupled with the meets and greets of some old friend I have not seen in a while, and the new friends that day, it was a rousing success for Cinco De Mayo for me. the picture might not be the best in the world, but it is visual celebration and the festive aura of the event that appeals to me. Oh, and Rich Herrera mentioned that Sean, the Intern never gets any press or will featured in a newspaper article for fixing the speakers so the crowd could enjoy Rich’s post game show. Well, Rich, I am more than willing to give the ex-Gator student a plug, and if you ever need to give him some more attention, feel free to let me know!
C C Express Still Rolling On
One of the handful of Rays players who have shown up recently with their offense is Carl Crawford. He has not dominated the base paths so far in 2009, but that just might be a matter of time before he gets that part of his game also revving up at top speed. What has been impressive is the fact he got into am early funk, and has been the only player to show signs of remotely trying to regain his form so far for the Rays. In the last 4 games Crawford has gone 8 for 16 to raise his average from .244 to .295 in that short span. He got 4 hits in on Wed in Seattle, which marks the 18th time in his career he has had 4 hits in a contest.
He also currently leads the major leagues with 8 infield hits, and also leads the Rays with 56 stolen bases. His increase in infield hits is based on the fact that Rays Manager Joe Maddon wants to see Crawford put the ball on the ground more in 2009. This is in part to his tremendous speed and acceleration out of the left-side of the batters box. So far in 2009, that has seemed to be key for his offensive explosion. Also on the horizon for Crawford is the Rays franchise RBI record, which is currently 449 RBIs. He is only 4 RBI’s short of Aubrey Huff’s record. Crawford already hold the Rays all time marks in hits, stolen bases, triples, at bats, games played and runs scored in his career.
Since playing in only 108 games in 2008, he is the only Rays to play every game so far in 2009. In Sundays finale in Oakland, Crawford again got two hits during the Rays 7-1 loss. Crawford’s first hit of the day was a beautiful over Jason Giambi head at first base for the Rays third hit of the day off A’s starter Dana Eveland. Crawford also got the last hit of the day off Eveland to lead-off the sixth inning when he hit a single to center field. Crawford has been one of the guys on this Rays squad that have tried to make a difference this season. It is that veteran presence and also his work ethic that makes him a team stand-out this year. Crawford is also one of the Rays leader in hitting with men in scoring position, going 7 for 19 this year for a .364 average. For the roadtrip, Crawford is currently 8 for 30 with 2 stolen bases and 2 RBIs.
Sonny is Looking Kind of Cloudy
Now the first thing people are going to read into that title is the fact I think that something is going on criminally wrong with Sonnanstine right now. I am not trying to drum up thoughts of wrong doing, or hidden motives here, but his stuff is letting him down right now. Our usual “Volvo” of pitching is showing some of the rust in his armor, and that is not good for him. It is criminal that he is not getting that great breaking ball to do what he wants right now. When that pitch is on, it is one of the best on the team. But for some reason it has been absent in several of his starts this year.
And even worse, he has now lost his last 5 starts since September 5, 2008 in Toronto. But in his most recent start in Seattle earlier in this roadtrip, he worked 7 innings and got 7 strikeouts against the Mariners, but also gave up 6-hits and 4-runs to take the loss against Seattle. But it is not for lack of effort that he has either loss those contests or even been given a no-decision in them. Take a recent 2009 start against the New York Yankees at home in which he was opposite lefite Andy Pettitte. He only worked a total of 5 innings, but left with a 4-3 lead and a possible win. But the Rays Bullpen had a bit of a meltdown and they eventually lost that game .
His first start in 2009 was in Baltimore on April 10th during the Rays first road trip of the season. He lost a 5-4 decision in that contest after going 4.2 innings ans surrendering 8-hits and 5-runs in the game. In that game, it was the first time in his major league career he had walked more than three batters in a game. This is not the first time he has taken the mound opposite Dana Eveland. they were both on the mound during the May 1, 2008 game in Oakland that the A’s defeated the Rays 9-1. But Sonnanstine did not start this game with any indication of problems. He pitched a perfect first inning, even getting Orlando Cabrerra, who was batting .400 against Sonnanstine to strikeout.
But in the second inning, the A’s got to him early as Matt Holliday lead-off the inning with a walk. Jack Cust then hit a single to right field just over the head of Ben Zobrist, who was in the shift for the Rays. Nomar Garciaparra then hit a ball over Jason Bartlett’s outstretched arms for a RBI single. Kurt Suzuki then came up and delivered the body blow to Sonnanstine on a breaking ball left up in the strikezone for a one-hooper to the left-center field wall. The A’s scored twice on the play. Sonnanstine then got Travis Buck to hit a ball to Zobrist for the first out of the inning. Mark Ellis then hit a RBI single to left field past Bartlett to stake the A’s to a 4-1 lead.
Coming into today’s game ,Suzuki was hitting . 625 lifetime against Sonnastine. The from that moment on until the sixth inning, Sonnanstine seemed to find his groove and again got help by the Rays defense to keep the A’s in check. But in the fifth inning, he gave up a lead-off double off the scoreboard in right field to Ryan Sweeney. Cabrerra then followed that with an RBI-double to the right-center field gap. Then for the second time today, an A’s batter h
it through the Rays shift as Giambi stroked a ball to right field just out of the reach of the Rays defenders. Holliday then hit a bloop single to center field just in front of a charging B J Upton.
After that play, Rays Manager Joe Maddon came out and got Sonnanstine and his day was over. For the contest, he ended up going 4 innings and givcing up 10-hits and all seven runs. The outing boosted his ERA to 7.78 for the year as he only survived 79 pitches today. I am not sure what is going wrong with Sonnanstine. It might just be a small mechanical adjustment, or maybe he is not getting the bite on his breaking pitches in 2009 that he had in 2008. But what is known so far in 2009 is the fact that the team’s most reliable guy on the mound is having a few issues right now. Hopefully by the time we get home to Tropicana Field, Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey can find a solution to Sonnanstine’s recent problems.
Over the 12 losses this year for the Rays, they have scored a total of 24 runs. that is an anemic 2 runs a contest. Considering that most of the teams in the American League are scoring at least 3-4 runs a game, the Rays are sitting in the bottom their looking up right now in the American League East. But it is not for lack of effort. The team is getting their hits, but they are not coming with extended at bats or even extended rallies that could produce more runs.
Consider Sundays game as a great example. In the game the Rays got multiple base runners only twice in the game. In the second inning, Pat Burrell, who has been a walking machine in recent games got on base with a lead-off walk. Then Willy Aybar, who has seen minimal at bats this year so far got a single to left field to put two men on base with no outs. Ben Zobrist then moved Burrell to third, but Aybar was out on a force out and second base. That put men on the corners with one out. Dioner Navarro then put down a great bunt
to score Burrell down the first baseline. Navarro put the ball in front of Jason Giambi, who had to come in and take the ball, and finally threw to Mark Ellis covering first for the out.
That produced the Rays only run of the game. But that was not for lack of effort that the Rays did not plate another un. In the third inning, Jason Bartlett battled with Eveland for nine pitches before finally singling to center field. He then moved to third on Carl Crawford’s single, but was stranded there after Evan Longoria hit into a double play to end the inning. Then in the sixth inning, Carl Crawford singled to center to give the Rays their third man on base to lead-off an inning in the contest.
Longoria then walked to put two men on base, but a double play by Burrell left only Crawford an third base with two outs. Aybar the hit a foul ball out to third baseman Nomar Garciaparra to end the inning. From that point on, the A’s relievers shut down the Rays. The A’s Bullpen retired the next 9 men in a row to send the Rays to their 11th loss.
Trade Winds Resort Rays Watch Parties for 2009
The Trade Winds Island Grand, the Offical Beach Reosrt of the Tampa Bay Rays are inviting all baseball fans out for a fun-filled, family-friendly event to watch our Rays while basking in the glow of the bautiful Florida sunshine. I went out for yesterday’s event, but I did not take my camera because it was the first time I had been to the reposrt in 10 years and did not know if the hotel had accomodations to secure it while I was frolicking on the beach. I did however get my traditional first sunburn of the season, but it is not a birght red lobster color, but a mild case of me forgetting to use sunscreen on my legs and stomach again.
Speaking of stomach, the Resort did a first class job of having snacks and ample food selections for the hungry Rays fans. There was a wide array of food options from burgers and grilled chicken, to wings and bratwurst with hot sauerkraut for purchase at the event. As many of the kids went to the three-story inflatable waterslide( me too), the adults took their spots in front of the huge viewing screen to get an early spot for the Rays broadcast.
The game was broadcast right there on the beach so you could enjoy sun, sand and the Rays all in one small area. The Rays Radio Network, including Rich Herrera did the pre game and post game shows live on WDAE 620 during the event. The event also featured giveaways from both the Rays and the resort. One sought after prize was the gift certificate for stays at the Resort in the future. I have to say it was an awesome event, with a great turnout and will not be the last one this year for either the Rays or the Trade Winds. Here is a list of future Rays Watch parties in case you want to place them on your calendar:
Thursday, May 7 – 7:05 p.m. – vs. New York Yankees
Sunday, June 7 – 1:05 p.m. – vs. New York Yankees
Sunday, July 19 – 2:10 p.m. – vs. Kansas City Royals
Sunday, August 30 – 1:05 p.m. – vs. Detroit Tigers
Sunday, September 13 – 1:35 p.m. – vs. Boston Red Sox
These events are open to the public, and the Resort will be giving complimentary parking to Rays fans until the lots are full. I was a blast spending the day at the bach along with fellow Rays fans and employees. Hidden in the crowd were members of the Rays front office and staff enjoying this great weather outside watching their favorite team take on the Oakland A’s. So be sure to mark those calendars to come on out and participate in future Rays Watch parties here at the Trade Winds Resort on St. Petersburg Beach. Only thing better would have been a Rays victory.
Sundays Semiconscious Thoughts
**** To illustrate the importance of Jason Bartlett since the 2008 All-Star break, he is the highest hitting shortstop in the majors since that time hitting for a .340 average. In 2009, Bartlett is currently hitting . 364, which includes his 1 for 3 effort Sunday. Bartlett trailed only Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees in 2008, with a .286 average. On Friday he had his 6th career day of gathering 4 hits when he went 4 for 5 in the Rays win over the A’s. He is also hitting .409 this season against right handers going into Sunday game.
**** After today’s loss, the Rays are now 1-7 against left-handers in 2009.
They have now lost their last five series since taking 2 out of 3 in Boston to begin the season.
The Rays are now 7-12, which equals their start in 2000 and also 2004. From 2006 to 2008, the Rays were 8-11 after 19 games. And are currently one game off of their 2008 pace.
**** Evan Longoria ( .375 ) and Jason Bartlett ( .365 ) are neck and neck in their pursuit of the best April in Rays history. Longoria currently hold the top spot with former Ray Rocco Baldelli ( .366 ) holding the second spot with his great start in 2003.
The Rays lead the majors in infield hits with 25. Carl Crawford has8 of those hits, and Bartlett has the 7 to be currently first and second in the MLB in that category.
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.
I have been a member of the Rays fan base for a long time. I have seen some of the best and worst moments of April played out before me either in person at games, or on television. We have seen 7-6 records after 13 games in 1999. Then there was the 5-8 record of 2000. But wait, that is the same record as this season. And within that 5-8 record in that year, we went 1-5 during that first home stand. In 2009, we have begun with a 2-5 record at home, which is almost the same as the first home series in 2008, which ended at 3-5 before heading to Minnesota for two games during the week. But why is the radio waves got so much negativity right now when we are par for our normal course? Are we expecting more this year because this is “Championship Week”, and forgetting it takes an entire season to make a championship dream come true.
But why are people already throwing out the doom and gloom card.This is a better team than the 2008 squad, but every other team might have gotten better too in the American League knowing they have to either keep up in their teams skills, or sit on the curb and watch as we roll on by in the standings. Heck, we all know the money moves made in our own division this year to combat the Rays way of playing baseball. The American League might be the player-for-player monster of the league right now. The scales have not turned either way for the Rays right now, this is the “feeling out” month where teams take additional chances and try and format a strategy for the rest of the year.
So why does it surprise people that some teams are finding early success, like the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles and other teams like the Rays are chugging on 7 cylinders right now. I mean why throw doom and gloom out their on the radio waves because we sit in the cellar after only 13 games. There is a huge amount of baseball left to be played just in April, with another long road trip on the book starting on Tuesday night in Seattle. You see some of the faces on the guys as they jog down to the dugout after the games puzzled on what is going on with this team. But it is the fans, and maybe a handful of newbie fans that are throwing players and team decisions under the bus on the post game shows. Players being questioned on ability and heart only 13 games into the year, you have to be kidding me.
Then there is the minority of callers voicing roster moves without thought to the structure of the offense or Bullpen. People are calling for a mass exodus of Triple-A guys to be brought up, with no real constructive reasoning to even throw guys under the bus. I feel real sorry for Rich Herrera, who does the Rays post game on the radio. He has had to defend the team and their tactics almost nightly, even when we have won. I know we have some great baseball minds in the Tampa Bay area, who can see what is going on here and know that this is just a bump in the road. But then we have the other set of experts who just have not given up the Rays negativity train.
They are the one who look at the box score in Friday night’s win and sees that Carl Crawford and Gabe Gross both did not get a hit in that game. But they also miss the awesome appearance by Ben Zobrist where he went 2 for 2 with a Grand Slam and 4 RBI’s, or the Carlos Pena home run that came after a monster foul ball that hit the FSN advertisement scoreboard in the back of Section 134. They want to dwell on the imperfections, not the fact that this team is struggling and still winning some of these games. They have focused on the 5 strikeouts, or the pick-off of Zobrist in the bottom of the eighth inning by Clayton Richard as “keys to the game”. Really?
Come one people. Put you complaining lips down and begin cheering for this team to succeed. Negative thoughts breed negative actions. By the end of Sunday’s contest, you could hear the White Sox fans chanting. That is the first time this year we have not silenced an opponent’s chant in Tropicana Field. For the first time this year, we let the Rays players down by not holding our part of the bargain. We did not cheer and provide cowbell ammunition to combat the White Sox fan’s voices. Come on everyone, this is OUR HOUSE. We fought long and hard in 2008 to make teams respect and fear coming in here. I would hate for all of that positive work to go by the wayside now.
Is there anyone besides Twins hitter Jason Kubel who is as hot as Ben Zobrist right now? The guy is white hot at the plate, and with his 2-run homer to right field in the seventh inning today was the bulk of the Rays offense. I mean we did have a small carload of hit today by other guys, but it was Zobrist that took the shutout away and posted the only two runs by the Rays in that 12-2 loss to end the home stand. Zobrist, who is currently hitting .308 got to play for another red hot hitter in Jason Bartlett today. Zorilla took over the shortstop duties today and I remember one fans remarking that “Bartlett” looked good on a 6-4-3 double play today in the fourth inning. The fan looked totally confused when I told him Zobrist was the shortstop today.
But during this home stand, Zobrist did not start off with the hot hand going 0-7 in three games before this weekend. But during this White Sox series from Friday to Sunday, he has gone 4-6 with 6 RBI’s and has hit two homers including a Grand Slam on Friday night as a pinch-hitter. Life has been more than grand for him this weekend. But the start today before a rough 9 game road trip might have done more good than Rays Manager Joe Maddon could imagine. It puts him in the driver’s seat for consideration for more playing time in the outfield, maybe even starting this Tuesday in Seattle.
Rays starter Matt Garza has matured a lot since last season. He has gotten married and is confident on his abilities this season. He is also one of the Rays big three pitchers’ who has openly been vocal about wanting the ball in key moments. With the Rays offense sputtering along right now, Garza could not do it all himself as the Rays could not hold off the White Sox and split the series. In the game, Garza only went 5.2 innings and gave up 7 runs on 6 hits. But during his 98 pitches today, he did get some defensive help as the Rays got three double-plays today, but it was not enough to stop the bleeding on the base paths.
Garza did take control early in the game, but after a A J Pierzenski 2-run shot gave the White Sox a 2-0 lead, he seemed to run into trouble. In the third inning, two quick singles and an inside breaking ball that clipped Carlos Quentin loaded the bases for a Jim Thome ground out to shortstop. For some reason, the Rays did not try and get the lead runner at the plate, but instead threw to first to get the sure out. Garza then took control of the game until the sixth inning when he gave up a lead-off walk to Thome and he moved to third on Jermaine Dye’s double.
Thome then scored on Paul Konerko’s sacrifice fly to left field that was deep enough that Carl Crawford could not make a play at the plate. He then walked Pierzenski to set up one of the wildest plays of the day. Brian Anderson hit a short bouncer to Garza on the mound, and he turned and fired a 94 mph slider to Carlos Pena at first base. The ball ended up going past Pena and bounced off the first base seating wall and into shallow right field. Garza was given an error on the throw and Dye came in to score on the play to make it 5-0. Most Rays fans know that any time a ball is hit to Garza, it can be an adventure. He is not considered the best fielding Rays pitcher on the staff.
Congrats to the skipper Joe Maddon who got his American League Manager of the Year award before the game. We in Rays-land know that he has done more for this team last season than make a few slogans and tell a few quotations to the media. He instilled a confidence and produced a team chemistry that has been missing in this franchise. His use of experienced players like Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske as mentors for some of the younger Rays helped build unity and produced the team’s first winning season en route to their first trip in the playoffs and eventually the 2008 World Series.
Gate 4 Now for Season Ticket Holders
During this recent home stand, the Rays informed us of a new gate for Season ticket holders. In order to improve the stadium’s crowd flow on game days, the Season Ticket holders can now enter via an exclusive entrance at Gate 3. The Gate 3 entrance actually provides better access to the escalator service to the Press box Level and Upper Deck sections of Tropicana Field. This gate will reduce the crowding and the confusion that has plagued the Gate 4 entrance the last several seasons.
From this moment on, Gate 4 will be used exclusively for:
* Individual Suites
* Home Plate Club
* Whitney Bank Club
* Club 105
* Fans with special accessibility needs.
Sun Sports and Comcast Cable company have agreed upon a contract to provide service to their customers in 2009. This service will include the 75 games being shown on the Comcast system in the Tampa Bay area. In further news, Knology and Sun Sports have not reached a similar agreement, and their subscribers will still not be able to view the 75 Rays games yet this season. Both Knology and Sun Sports are currently working on the problem and hope to have it solved soon.
I ma beginning to see it more and more done in other parks, including last Sunday in Baltimore, where they actually threw a Ground Rule Double by Dioner Navarro back onto the field . I have to tell you I hate that tradition with a passion. I believe that it is a once in a lifetime thing for a fan to usually catch a home run ball. And for that reason, he should keep it. But I also know that some fans do fall to the peer pressure during the game and want to be a part of the action and throw it before actually thinking about their actions. I am of the theory that if you do not want the ball, do not throw it back, give it to a kid who will be wide-eyed by your gesture. By throwing a ball back onto the turf, you are causing a disturbance at the game, which can get you kicked out of the stadium, plus you are showing younger fans the wrong message.
I am not a Chicago Cubs fan, and I am not in Wrigley Field, where such behavior is common, if not encouraged. I think as a young franchise in the MLB, we can be better suited in not copying a bad habit by a team that has not won a World Series in 101 years. However, as a tradition, Cubs fans inside and sometimes even outside the park will promptly throw any home run ball hit by an opposing player back onto the field of play, a ritual depicted in the 1977 stage play, Bleacher Bums, and in the 1993 film, Rookie of the Year. I am not sure if either of these two started the actual event, but it seems to me to be a bad example for future Rays fans to conduct it here at Tropicana Field.
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.
I remember a line that Rich Herrera, the Rays Radio pre-game and post-game host used to say about winning. “Your wife looks better, the kids are smarter, and life just feels great.” After watching today’s game I have a few more to add to that list. When you are winning, the cocoa butter smells like ambrosia and the long drive home flies by and you seem to be driving on air. Okay, I might be embellishing it all a bit, but the first win the the spring can make you believe again. It is not like I have been down in the dumps or sitting with the local winos complaining about lack of hitting and spotty pitching. Okay, I have been sitting with the winos, only because they are friends of Rays Manager Joe Maddon from his “Thanks-mas” celebrations.
But the real key to today’s game was the change in traffic priorities that saw almost everyone into the parking lots and at least going towards the gates by the first pitch. The Rays did some fast work to upgrade and facilitate the need for a speedy coming and going to the ballpark. Me, I have not left yet. I am sitting in the shade here at the Charlotte Sports Park trying to decide if I want to eat dinner down here before taking the drive back to reality. Because it is Friday, and nearing beer-thirty, I am hesitant to hit the lonesome highway yet. I might just wait for a few of the Rays players and ask them what is their choice for fine dinning aka bar food with a gorgeous server in the Port Charlotte area. That is right people, I am not in the mood for the dollar value menu today, I want some hot wings and I want them now!
But let’s forget about my stomach and talked a bit about the game today against the Boston Red Sox. It is the first time since Game 7 of the ALCS that these two teams have squared off. Missing were most of the Red Sox starting staff, who were back at their training complex doing workouts and maybe a little shopping. But it was the first time for all of us in the Rays Republic to try and get used to the fact that Rocco Baldelli was wearing the Red jersey today. I guess I will be used to it about the time they also use the green jersey for St. Patrick’s Day. Rocco did come on over and was very cordial to the Rays faithful and chatted with former manager Joe Maddon during Batting Practice today. He looks rested, cheery and ready to rumble this season.
But Bowden did have bad case of the nerves also and Rays lead-off hitter Fernando Perez took his pitch up the middle to also give the Rays a baserunner to lead off the ballgame. Perez then stole second base on Bowden and after an apparent off throw to try and pick Perez off second, he advanced to third base on the bad throw. All this time Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett was standing at the plate, and he eventually hit a nice flutter ball towards Angel Chavez and third who had no play at the plate and threw to first to record the first out of the inning. Evan Longoria got the second out of the inning and D H Pat Burrell came up and hit a sharp grounder towards Chavez that he knocked down, but could not control in time to get Burrell. Willy Aybar the came up and stroked a single to right field to put men on first and second for the Rays. Dioner Navarro then came up and hit a sharp ball to second that was handled and quickly thrown to first to end the inning with the Rays up 1-0.
Niemann came out again for the second inning and got the Red Sox to go down 1-2-3, with two strikeouts in the inning. The Rays quickly got going again as Ben Zobrist lead off the second inning with a walk. He was quickly erased from the basepaths on a 6-4-3 double play ball hit off the bat of Gabe Gross. With two outs in the inning, it looked like Bowden might have survived and would leave the game with a nice line for the day. But Elliott Johnson had other plans as he Hit a double into left field that seemed to confuse Jason Bay. The Red Sox outfielder seemed to have lost the ball in the sun and it one-hopped to the left field wall. Perez then came up and walked to give the Rays two men on base with two outs in the inning. Bartlett again came up and hit another nice looper over Bay’s head to score both Johnson and Perez and put the Rays up 3-0. Boston then made a pitching change and Bowden was done for the day.
Enrique Gonzalez came on for the Red Sox and still needed only one out to get out of the inning. He did not fair any better than Bowden as he left up a breaking ball and Longoria smacked the ball into the boardwalk area above left field for a 5-0 Rays lead. Gonzalez finally got Burrell to fly out to Ellsbury to end the inning. The Rays sent Brian Shouse out to face Boston in the top of the third inning. In the inning, Shouse gave up only one hit, to former Rays player Nick Green before settling down and getting out of the inning with no other problems. Quickly Navarro and Zobrist got on base for the Rays Gross then hit a single to center field to load the bases for the team. Johnson then came up and hit a hard grounder to center that scored both Navarro and Zobrist. Johnson ended up on second base advancing on the throw home and was in scoring position for Perez. He then hit a nice ball to the left field wall and tried to advance for a triple, but Bay got the ball into Green who gunned him down at third for the first out of the inning. Bartlett then came up and hit a single to left, but was stranded on base after Longoria and Burrell got quick outs.
At that point, the Rays were up 10-0 on the Red Sox. Jason Childers came on in relief for the Rays and got Youkilis to strikeout before giving up a towering foul ball down the right field line to Baldelli. He ended up walking Rocco and gave Boston a baserunner. But Bay hit a ball to Bartlett, who scooped it over to Johnson to start a 6-4-3 double play and get out of the inning. The Red Sox brought on Devern Hansack to face the Rays and the team went down 1-2-3 for the first time today. Hansack got two strikeouts in the inning.
The top of the fifth inning saw Rays 2008 Rule-5 draft pick Derek Rodriguez come on to pitch. Rodriguez did not have a lot of major league experience, and it showed as the Boston hitters took advantage of him quickly. Non-roster invitees Brad Wilkerson and Dusty Brown got on base quickly, with Brown putting ball over right fielder Gross’s head. Then Green came up and hit a soft fly ball to center field that Perez could not get to before it fell to the grass . That scored Wilkerson and put the Red Sox finally on the board in the game. Chavez then got on base and Ellsbury hit a ball to rookie Tim Beckham at short that he could not handle to start a double play.
Beckham was given his first error as a Rays even before he took his first at bat for the team. Jed Lowrie then hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Brown and tacked another run on the board for the Red Sox. Youkilis then came up and hit a hard fly ball to center, but the runners did not advance on the play. Baldelli then came up and stroked a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Lars Anderson. Baldelli ended up scoring Green on the play and picked up his first RBI as a Red Sox. Bay then came out and got a quick out for the Red Sox before James Houser came on to pitch for the Rays. Houser got Wilkerson to commit on a bad pitch and the inning ended with the score Rays 10-4. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Red Sox got the Rays to go down 1-2-3 for the second consecutive inning.
The sixth inning saw Mark Wagner get on base with a lead-off walk, but the Red Sox did not take advantage of the situation as Houser closed down the team on three straight batters. Boston sent non-roster invitee Charlie Zink to the mound for the bottom of the sixth inning. Zink, a knuckleballer had the Rays guessing and quickly outs from Justin Ruggiano, Reid Brignac and Morgan Ensberg to again post a 1-2-3 inning against the Rays. The Rays sent Lance Cormier to the hill in the seventh inning and he got a quick strikeout from Zack Daeges. Then he got Chris Carter to hit a pop up to Ray Olmedo at third base. Anderson then came up and quickly was deposed of to end the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rays took advantage of Zink to get a walk by Rays catcher John Jaso. Then Chris Richards came up and hit a towering homer out to right field that struck the murals on the side of the Rays offices for a two-run home run. Tim Beckham then came up and got an infield single in his first at bat as a Ray. Jon Weber then struck out, and Ray Sadler got the honor of getting plucked by Zink with a pitch. If you are ever going to be hit by a pitch, being hit by a knuckleballer might be the best gig in baseball. But the Rays could not capitalize with two men on base as Olmedo and Ruggiano both flied out to center to end the inning.
Jason Comier then came on to face Boston in the eighth inning and Got Daeges to strikeout before also getting Chris Ambres to commit to an out. With two outs in the inning, Wagner hit a nice ball into the center field gap over Ruggiano’s head for a double. But he ended up stranded on second after a strikeout by Ivan Ochoa ended the inning. Boston sent a reliever named Green to the mound to start the bottom of the eight. You can tell this is Spring Training when a player is not even listed on the traveling roster and he gets to pitch in a game. Green got the Rays out quickly in the inning to again post a 1-2-3 inning for Boston pitching. With Neal Frontz now on the mound for the Rays, he got Ochoa, Gil Velazquez and minor league player Johnathan Van Every to go down to end the game for the Red Sox.
All in all it was a great day for baseball in Florida as the sun was extremely hot, around 79 degrees at first pitch, and a breeze did not hit the stadium until the fourth inning. It would have been a great day to come out to the ballpark and sit in the grass berm and suntan, or just relax ans watch some baseball. In the game, the Rays aw that Niemann is not going to make their decision easy as to what to do with the tall former pitcher from Rice University. Niemann was not perfect, but he did bounce back and showed some great off-speed pitches today to get some critical strikes on batters.
Johnson and Perez got long looks by the Rays coaching staff today. Both players also made their decisions a bit more difficult by going an identical 2-3, with 2 runs and 2 RBI for the Rays. The only difference in their box scores is a walk in the second inning by Perez. Johnson is hitting a robust .429 in the first three games of spring and might be making a name for himself this time around for a roster spot. The Rays also had another pair who went 2-3 on the Day. Willy Aybar and Jason Bartlett also were busy on the basepaths today, with Bartlett also getting 3 early RBI’s in the game.
The only real disappointment for the Rays might be in the performance of Derek Rodriguez. But considering that this was his first real exposure to major league hitting, his one innings might not be as bad as the line score shows for him today. He did give up 3 hits and 4 runs, to post a 13.50 ERA this spring, but he got great experience today by facing a great hitting team that will help him in his pitching development. During the day, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman spoke about Rodriguez and basically said that he cost the team only $50,000, and to get a look at a guy for six weeks and maybe hold onto him all year, that is a small price to pay.
Tomorrow’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks field in Clearwater, Florida will be shown on MLB.TV. If you have purchased the MLB.TV package, come on over and see one of the best looking ballparks in the minor leagues. I love the way this ballpark is set up, and I always have a great time when I come out here for a game.
I will be in left field at the game tomorrow, and hope I can make some type of catch in the game. But you can never expect things in baseball so here are the tentative pitching match ups for both teams: Starting for the Phillies tomorrow will be Kyle Kendricks ( RH ), who will be followed by Drew Taylor ( RH ), Clay Condrey ( RH ), Scott Eyre ( LH ) and then Brad Lidge ( RH ). The Rays will counter with Mitch Talbot ( RH ), J P Howell ( LH ), Dewon Day ( RH ), Jason Hammel ( RH ), Randy Choate ( LH ).
Photo credits for today’s blog go to: www.stpetersburgtimes.com, RRCollections.