Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We Are Moving

Dear Readers, Colleagues and Friends

We are happy to announce that Outs Per Swing is now exclusive to the Most Valuable Network. Effective immediately Outs Per Swing will replace Rays Anatomy as your home for Rays news on MVN. We're excited about the move, as we feel MVN is a great, young, network on the rise. We'll have more pictures, more videos and more interviews at our new home. Don't think we're selling out, as we're not being paid, so we hope everyone that is a reader of this blog will follow us over and continue reading daily. Tommy and myself would like to thank all of you readers who helped us grow so much in the 2 months we've been around, we appreciate it. So come on over and visit the new site, we'll be waiting.



Jules Winnfield/Erik Hahmann

Sunday, April 13, 2008

B.J.'s Blast lifts Rays; Niemann Debuts

I think B.J. Upton reads our site because he took our advice and started hitting long bombs. I also think B.J. was tired of being called out by umps on bad calls. Upton was called out trying to advance to second on a ball that got away from O's back up catcher Guillermo Quiroz. However, later in the 5th inning with two on and two out Upton lifted a blast into left field giving the Rays a 6-0 lead. That was more than the Rays would need after a very impressive debut by "The Big Ugly" Jeff Niemann. It wasn't pretty as Niemann escaped a few jams, but he got the job done. The Rays evened their record at 6-6 with a 6-2 victory and claimed their first series win of the season.

On the Mound:

Niemann made his long awaited debut for the Rays. The 2004 First Round Pick lived up to the hype going six strong innings. Niemann escaped a bases loaded jam in the first without surrendering a run. In all, a Nick Markakis solo home run in the 6th was the only negative mark on Niemann's line which read 6 IP, 6 H, 1BB, 5 K's. J.P. Howell had a rough outing, giving up two hits and a walk before getting the hook recording 0 outs. Dan Wheeler came in with the bases loaded and no out and got Melvin Mora to pop up in a tough AB. He walked Nick Markakis to score a run, but got the next batter, Kevin Millar, out without giving up another run. Trever Miller came in and struck out Aubrey Huff on three pitches to end the threat. Miller is really doing a good job as the lefty specialist. So far this season he has held lefties to a .222 BAA and has 0.00 ERA against them. However, when the batter is on the other side of the box he has a .455 BAA and a 7.71 ERA, thats why he's a LOOGY. Al Reyes and Troy Percival pitched a perfect 8th and 9th respectively to close out the victory.

At the Plate:

If you erase the 5th inning, the Orioles threw a no hitter. Good thing for the Rays the 5th inning counts. The Rays scored six runs on six hits and chased O's starter Brian Burres, who was throwing a no hitter coming into the frame. The Phenomenal Evan Longoria lead off with a walk followed by singles by Justin Ruggiano and Mike Difelice. After a Bartlett pop out, Aki Iwamura drove in the games first run with a single. Carl Crawford then drove in two with a single. B.J. Upton provided the big blast after that, making it 6-0. The Rays were quiet after that, but the damage was done. None of the Rays hitters had multi-hit games, but Evan Longoria did reach base twice going 1-3 with a walk and run scored.

Tommy's Take: If some one would've told me that after 12 games the Rays would be .500 and Evan Longoria would be playing 3B, while Jeff Niemann was in the rotation, I would've jumped at that. Well that is the reality and even though the Rays have nine players, including 4 starters, on the DL they are still playing pretty good ball. I'd like to see more consistency, but the season is still young. Evan Longoria looks ready for the show, getting timely hits and showing major league patience at the plate. In fact, Longoria has more walks(2) in 6 ABs then Delmon Young has in 42. It was great to see B.J. finally break out and get a home run on the board. I must admit I was getting jealous watching Justin hitting home runs at will in the desert. For those keeping track, BJ needs 29 home runs and 27 more steals to hit 30/30. Hat Tip to Jeff Niemann on a great debut, once Kazmir and Garza get back the Rays will have one of the best rotations in the American League.

Erik's Take: It's been great watching all of the Rays young players succeed to begin the season. Hammel and Jackson have pitched well, Longoria looks to be for real, and Niemann looked great yesterday. If they can all keep playing well I believe the Rays should actually climb over .500. You hear about how big Niemann is, but seeing him on the mound...wow that kid is huge. It was also great seeing Crawford drive in two runs to hopefully snap him out of his early season funk. This is the most exciting team we'ev ever had here, and I hope the crowd keeps coming out to support them.

Wheeler Blows It In 9th; Longoria Debuts

It was his first base runner of the season, but it was a costly one. He had been perfect through 5 1/3 innings this season but Ramon Hernandez took Dan Wheeler's 2-0 pitch deep to left in the top of the 9th inning to give Baltimore a 3-2 lead and the eventual victory. Wheeler acknowledged his mistake saying that Trevor Miller, who had retired the first two batters of the inning, did his job "and I didn't." It was a pretty packed house for Tropicana Field standards(Over 19k), mostly because it was the weekend but also because of Evan Longoria's debut. The rookie third basemen held his own, and we'll have pictures and video of his at bats later today.

On The Mound: Jason Hammel pitched very well in his second start of the season. After giving up a run apiece in the first and second innings Hammel threw up zeros in the rest of his career high 7IP. Hammel also struck out six. J.P Howell came into the game and pitched a perfect 8th with two strike outs. Trevor Miller entered in the 9th and quickly retired the two lefties he faced. The usually reliable Dan Wheeler was called on to get the last out, but after running the count to 2-0 he left a pitch right over the plate and Hernandez crushed it. It was disappointing, but the way he's been pitching I think that's one of the few times this season that we'll see that.

At The Plate: It was a quiet day at the plate for the Rays with only BJ Upton getting more than one hit. However the two biggest hits of the night were made by Carlos "I can hit game tying homers at will" Pena and Evan Longoria. In his first big league game Longoria came through with a key RBI in the 7th inning to cut the lead to one. Overall he was 1-3 with that RBI and a BB, he also reached on an error and showed smooth defensive skills. Carlos Pena came up in the 8th inning and battled with Jamie Walker, who he had hit a game tying 3-run homer off of the previous night. Pena emerged victorious again as he sent one into the right field stands to even the game at 2-2.

As mentioned earlier B.J. Upton had a multi hit game , but again was the center of a controversial call. B.J. has had a bad week with umpires. On opening day he was called out at third when he was safe on a game changing play. Then after Carlos Pena tied the game last night B.J laid down a beautiful bunt single. B.J was then caught stealing on a pickoff move by Chad Bradford that was really a balk. Rays announcer and former Major League pitcher, Joe Magrane, was very vocal in the booth about the balk and Manager Joe Maddon agreed after the game that it was a balk. I think B.J. should just forget about bunts and start hitting home runs like his brother Justin, who already has five.

Erik's Take: For the third straight game the pitching was impressive. Hammel had a great outing, and Howell and Miller were perfect. The only blip was Wheeler, but he'll be fine. It was great being in the stands for Longoria's first game. The rookie got a standing ovation during his first at bat, which I hope will be the first of many. He didn't look nervous at the plate and looked very good in the field, making several nice plays with the glove. I took video of his second, third and fourth at bats, I couldn't get video of the first.

Tommy's Take: Evan wasn't almighty, but even God took a day off. Longoria still reached base three times and had a big hit in a clutch situation. He's defense was impressive and he didn't look nervous at all. Carlos Pena is never nervous if you couldn't already tell. Los tied up the game for the second straight night on a monster home run. This guy is truly amazing to watch and with six home runs in 11 games, it looks like the extension Friedman signed him to is an absolute steal. That was the best game I've seen from Jason Hammel. I'm cautiously excited by the two games we've seen from Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel this week. If those two have turned it around that just adds more depth to the organizations pitching. Dan Wheeler's one pitch screwed up another comeback, but he's still of our top two relievers.

One thing I've noticed with the Rays is their slow starts to the game. As a team they are hitting .236/.317/.390 in innings 1-6, but heat up once the 7th inning rolls around where are much better .281/.360/.446. Even the pitching staff is better having a 4.36 ERA and 1.39 WHIP 1-6, but dips down to a 3.30ERA and 0.90 WHIP over the final three frames. I don't know if they need to set the alarms earlier or drink some more coffee, but it's something to keep an eye on.

In other news Scott Kazmir will pitch a simulated game Tuesday. Matt Garza is feeling good after playing catch and continue with his rehab. JK Ryu had a short stay with the Rays this time. Ryu was optioned back to AAA Durham in order to make room for Jeff Niemann, who makes his major league debut this afternoon.

Again, We will have pics and videos of Longoria's first game later.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Carlos Comes Through, E-Day Is Upon Us.

The Rays won 10-5 last night on the strength of Carlos Pena's bat. The first basemen is showing that last season was no fluke, hitting two home runs and gaining 6 RBI. The latter of the shots was the most important, coming in the 7th inning to tie the game. Jason Bartlett made a costly error in the first, throwing wide of Pena on a play that would have ended the inning. Instead the Orioles had two men on for the red hot Luke Scott who hit a double to center, scoring both. As Tommy noted before, tonight will be Evan Longoria's first game and we're hoping Maddon plays him. I'm going to be at the game hoping to get some pictures of the young star for everyone. Also as previously noted I met David Price last night. I was walking to my booth at the Ale House on 9th street in St. Pete when I look over to the right at the bar and see D-Price sitting there eating dinner alone. I was pretty sure it was him, but his Columbus Catfish hat gave it away. I walked up to him and said I was a big fan and asked him how his elbow was. He said it was good and that he was going to start throwing bullpen next week. If there is a nicer more polite player out there I haven't met him. Glad he's with the Rays.

At The Plate: This game was the Carlos Pena show. He followed up a two run homer in the second inning with a game tying three run jack in the 7th. Pena was even got the easiest RBI in baseball when he was walked with the bases loaded in the 8th. BJ Upton had a nice night going 3-5 with a double and two RBI. Eric Hinske doubled in a run and was knocked in on a single by Shawn Riggans.

Not to be forgotten was Carl Crawford's 1000th career hit. Carl became the eighth player since 1900 to record 1000 hits and 250 steals before his 27th birthday. He also joins ARod, Jeter, Beltre, Pudge, Junior Griffey, Pujols, Andruw Jones and Vlad Guerrero as the only active players to have 1000 hits at age 26 or younger. Pretty nice company.

On The Mound: Shields pitched well, going 6 innings and giving up five runs, but only two earned. He struck out four and only walked one, which seems to fit with his 4:1 K/BB ratio from last season. Sadly he couldn't leave the game with the lead. The bullpen pitched three innings of one hit baseball, with Al Reyes gaining the victory after being tasered twice a mere 16 hours prior. Percival worked the 9th in a non-save situation.

Erik's Take: I never felt the Rays were out of it, even when they were down three runs in the 7th. They had been hitting Guthrie pretty well through six innings, getting eight hits. They continued hitting the ball well, crushing the O's pen after Guthrie was pulled. Besides the one error that Bartlett made I'd say the team played a pretty well rounded game. I'm still not breathing easy when the bullpen is called and the Rays have a lead, but a few more nights like this and I'll be able to sleep better at night. Of course the Rays wouldn't have had a lead if Pena hadn't tied it up in the 7th. He was the hero tonight, and I don't think that's the last time I'll be writing that this year.

Tommy's Take: Never doubt the genius that is Joe Maddon. Before the game Joe worked with two players; Nathan Haynes who had three hits and Carlos Pena. Maddon said they notice a small mechanical flaw in Pena's swing and they corrected it before the game. He joked with the Radio broadcasters that Pena would hit two two-run home runs, but would settle for one. Well Maddon's prediction came through and more. As long as Carlos Pena comes up with the lead in reach other teams better be sweating. Carlos Pena is off to a better start than last year and now has five home runs in only 10 games. Congrats to CC for becoming the first Mr. 1,000 in Rays history. The Longoria Era begins tonight and lets hope this is the beginning of a 15 year all star career. How fitting was it that AL Reyes got the win in a game where a guy named "Mora" got the final out?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Niemann gets the call, Longoria too

UPDATE: The Heater is reporting that Evan Longoiria will in fact get the call up and could be in the line up tomorrow:

"I'm headed that way,'' Longoria said late Friday before boarding a flight to Tampa. "I'm very excited, obviously. I hope I'm in there tomorrow."

It is also being reported on The Heater that the 13 days Longoria spent in the minors is one more day than baseball rules deem necessary to delay Free Agency. I'm checking to see if that is accurate.

Well the worst kept secret of the week in Tampa Bay is now official. Jeff Niemann will be called up sometime before Sunday's game and take Matt Garza's spot in the rotation. Niemann, the Rays first round pick in 2004, will be making his major league debut. The 6'9 righty almost made the team out of Spring Training, but the final spot went to Jason Hammel. Niemann will have a few weeks to prove he should stick in the bigs before the Rays have to clear a rotation spot for Scott Kazmir and then another for Matt Garza in about four weeks, hopefully.

The bigger news, however, is Rays top prospect Evan Longoria may be joining Niemann on that flight from Durham to Tampa. Rays current starting 3B Willy Aybar re-aggravated a hamstring injury on Wednesday night. Aybar was bothered by the hammy in spring, but was healthy enough to make the club. He was playing well before hurting it again trying to score from second Wednesday. Aybar was held out of last night's game as well as tonight's game. The Rays are awaiting MRI results before deciding what to do with Aybar. If Aybar does go on the DL the Rays have two options, Joel Guzman and the other Evan Longoria. The Rays may have already made up their mind. From TBO.com:
Evan Longoria’s major-league debut may only be a day or two away. The Rays’ prized prospect was not in Durham’s lineup for the Bulls’ home opener tonight and Durham’s radio broadcast reported he is on his way to the majors.

Guzman is starting at 3B in Longoria's absence and if he was the choice it would be the other way around. The Rays have said all along they wouldn't call Longoria up until they felt he was ready to stay for good, and we hope he's ready. We'll have more as it become available on this.

In some other news Al Reyes apologized for the taser incident. Reyes had the standard apology saying he was sorry to his teammates, the organization and the fans.

Scott Kazmir threw successful batting practice session. Two interesting notes about the session besides Kazmir: Dioner Navarro caught the session and Rocco Baldelli was the first batter. Kazmir will probably pitch in an extended Spring Training game early next week.

In some exclusive news, our own Erik Hahmann/Jules Winnfield talked to David Price who said he was feeling good and may throw a bullpen session next week.

Does B.J. Upton have 30/30 Vision?

What is the sound you're hearing coming from the Tampa Bay clubhouse? It's a Buzz, but not the vibrating sound of a bee, no, this is a different buzz. From TheFreeDictionary.com

Buzz 5. Slang a. Excited interest or attention:

That is the sort of Buzz I'm talking about and it really sounds louder the closer you get to B.J. Upton. Upton, the quiet storm of the Rays, has been drawing all sorts of praise and "buzz" this off season, but barely has said a word himself. Upton is only entering his second full season, but the "buzz" is of possible 30/30 and 40/40 seasons in his future. I am a believer in the buzz around B.J. Upton.

B.J. Upton started as the future of the Rays middle infield and we quickly found out that defensively that was not going to happen. After sitting in Durham for two seasons and switching positions, Upton finally got his everyday shot last year. He started the season as the Rays second basemen, but after Rocco Baldelli went down, possibly for good, BJ packed his bags and glove(s) for a final time and moved to CF permanently, where finally a star was born. In 2007 Upton hit .300/.386/.508 with 24 home runs, 82 RBI and 22 steals. Hardball Times also said B.J. Upton had the best arm of any Major League CF.

While many other young players like Nick Markakis, Prince Fielder and Cole Hamels complained about not receiving lucrative extensions this offseason, Upton accepted the Rays salary and did so without complaining. In fact, Upton posted a higher Avg, OBP, SLG, OPS, Steals, EqA, VORP than Alex Rios who received a 7 year nearly $70 Million Dollar extension from the Jays.

Upton became the first 20/20 player in Rays history and almost became the first 30/30 hitter. In fact I checked on Baseball-Reference.com and adjusted Upton's 2007 to be per 162 games or 650 PA's. Based on their projection in 162 games, Upton would've hit 30 home runs and stole 27 bases, narrowly missing out on a 30/30 season. R.J. Anderson of Beyond the Boxscore also crunched the numbers for me and had the same results.

However, there are plenty of things that could factor into that. B.J. missed over a month with a strained quadricep, which probably slowed down or limited his aggressiveness on the base paths. This year Upton is hitting in a much better lineup and should be on base more. The Rays have also promised to be more aggressive this season and could increase Upton's stolen base attempts. If he stays healthy 30/30 is not only do-able, it's likely. Upton may even flirt with a more exclusive club, 30/50, which has only been done by Eric Davis and Barry Bonds.

When I think of B.J. Upton the one comparison that jumps out at me is Alfonso Soriano. They are both sort of tall, skinny players(Soriano 6-1 180, Upton 6-3 185), both started their careers at SS, moved to 2B and for defensive purposed shifted to the outfield as their permanent homes. In Soriano's first full season with the Yankees he hit .268/.304/.432 with 18 home runs and 73 RBI. His .736 OPS was almost .260 points lower than Upton's. In Soriano's second season he made a quantum leap to .300/.332/.547 with 39 home runs and 102 RBI. That season he also became a member of the 30/30 club and narrowly missed the 40/40 club(39 home runs, 41 steals). While I don't expect Upton to increase his home run total by 21, I do think B.J. can see an increase of maybe 8-10 homers and at least 10 steals.

Using the Wikipedia 30/30 Club article, I decided to see if Upton did go all 30/30 on us where that would place him in baseball history. The first 30/30 season was in 1922 by the St. Louis Browns Ken Williams. There was a long time between the first and the second occurrence of 30/30. The next player to accomplish the feat was Willie Mays in 1956. Including Mays, there have been 50 seasons 30/30s by 30 players since 1956. There are only four players in the 40/40 club.

Alex Rodriguez was the youngest member of the 30/30 club. Rodriguez was 22 years, 3 days old when he accomplished it in 1998. The second youngest member was not Barry, but Bobby Bonds who joined the club in 1969 at the age of 23 years, 182 days. Currently the third youngest member is Jose Canseco who was 24 years, 35 days in 1988. For those keeping score at home BJ Upton is currently 23 years old and will turn 24 on 8/21/08. In order for Upton to become the third youngest member he would have to reach the 30/30 plateau on or before 9/24/08. He would also be only the 10th Member of the Club to do so in the American League.

Getting a little deeper into the list, the record for most 30/30 seasons is currently shared by the Father-Son combo of Bobby and Barry Bonds who have five 30/30 seasons a piece. Next on the list is Alfonso Soriano(4) who will be the king of 30/30 pretty soon. Some of the other players who have gone 30/30 more than once are; Howard Johnson (3), Ron Gant, Jeff Bagwell, Raul Mondesi, Bobby Abreu, Willie Mays, Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero have all had two 30/30 seasons. Should Upton reach the milestone this early in his career he is a serious candidate for multiple 30/30 seasons and I’ve even heard faint whispers of 40/40 down the road.

If Upton becomes a member of the club it doesn't mean he is guaranteed to be a great player. Jose Cruz Jr., Preston Wilson, Ellis Burks are all members of the 30/30 club and were good players, but none of them great. Cruz Jr. never stole more that 15 bases in any other season. After Burks' 30/30 season he only stole 40 bases combined over the final eight seasons of his career. Preston Wilson played only three more full seasons in the Majors after joining the club at age 25. Since then he has bounced around four organizations and is currently looking for work.

Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times did a piece on what some others thought about B.J.’s 30/30 potential. Here are some of the quotes:

"Hell yes," leftfielder Carl Crawford said.

"There's no doubt," Maddon said, "and I don't think I'm putting any undue pressure on him because I believe he believes that."

"Easy," said Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer, a childhood friend. "He's got unbelievable talent."

Also in the piece B.J Upton said his goals for this season were to do better than last year and also "Maybe that 30-30 thing you're talking about."

I recently talked to Jim Callis, Executive Editor of Baseball America, about B.J. Upton's chances for 30/30 and the comparison to Alfonso Soriano I mentioned earlier. "I think B.J. almost certainly will go 30-30 at some point in his career. If I have to put a number on his chance for this year, I'd say 30 percent" Callis said. On the comparision to Soriano, Jim said "Not a bad comparison, I think B.J. is significantly better OF, though."

I also talked to a writer from Baseball Prospectus about the same topics. He said the Soriano comparison was fair, but wasn't so optimistic about the 30/30 chances. The writer gave Upton a 10 percent chance and mentioned that his PECOTA mean has him at 30 steals, but 18 homers. Even his 90% is a bit shy of the mark. He also mentioned that the percent could possibly be higher, because Upton is probably bigger than his listed weight of 185 lbs and thinks Justin Upton has a better chance at 30/30 anyway.

Eric Seidman who writes for Statistically Speaking and is currently writing the book Bridging the Statistical Gap, told me "I feel that there is a very high chance Upton will get to 30/30 and I would even go so far as to say upwards of 70%. Now of course this is given that a few factors play out the correct way, including his ability to maintain a high BABIP and stay on the field. I do not think steals will be his problem but rather the HR. I say 70%, but I am fully acknowledging that it is more likely that the 70% refers to him being extremely close, like with 27 HR and 35 SB or something along those lines as opposed to say 38 HR and 46 SB. He's got a very good chance, but it will not surprise me at all if he ends up with a 28-28 or something just missing it."

Upton has had his ups and downs in this career. There was a DUI charge in Durham, the USA Today piece where he, Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes, were all labeled as spoiled, ungrateful brats, and then there were the defensive struggles as shortstop and taking years to find a permanent place on the diamond. All of these could have derailed a young player and possible ended a career before it got off the ground. Upton, however, through hard work and perseverance had arrived. Upton is quiet by nature, but his play is loud and people are taking notice. Bossman Jr. and his brother, DiamondBacks OF Justin, graced the cover of ESPN recently and Upton already is a star in the world of fantasy baseball.

It’s just a matter of time before the whole baseball world is really talking about Upton. But what's behind the man that we don’t know? Take a look at this excerpt from a Baseball Prospectus interview with B.J. Upton in 2004:

Baseball Prospectus: What's something you'd like the fans, and people in general, to know and understand about you when they get a chance to read this interview?

Upton: I chill.

He Chills, B.J. Upton, The Cool…

Happy Birthday Al Reyes/Don't Tase Me Bro

The St. Petersburg Times is reporting that Rays relief pitcher Al Reyes was arrested in Tampa early this morning for being "drunk and disruptive after falling down, picking a fight and spitting blood at the patrons of a popular Hyde Park night spot." It was his 38th birthday.

Apparently Al was in Hyde Park Cafe when he fell against a ceramic pot. Thinking someone randomly pushed him, Al started "exchanging" words with a gentlemen. We don't know what was said, but the guy ended up punching Al in the face. Police say Al "began to spit blood on the people in the area and began to swing his arms about." The bar's bouncers were trying to control Reyes, but Al wasn't having any of it as he continued to spit blood and swing his arms around.

After not being able to calm him down Police tased him, knocking him to the floor, but that didn't stop Reyes. He refused Police commands to stay down, got up, and was tased a second time. Reyes was eventually calmed down and treated for a cut on his nose. Al was charged with affray; Mora was charged with battery. Both were released on their own recognizance.

We're glad Al's ok and nothing more serious occured, but this isn't exactly the kind of veteran leadership we were hoping for from Al.

Apparently, the Rays practice fighting in the bullpen...we kid

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Action Jackson Comes To Rescue With 8 Shutout Innings.

Well that was just what the doctor ordered. Edwin Jackson was masterful today against the Mariners. The 6-3 Righty from Germany showed the flashes of brilliance we've all heard and talked about, but have rarely seen. Willy Aybar was held out of today's game to rest a sore hamstring and Mike DiFelice made his second start of the season behind the plate. Some good news injury wise, Scott Kazmir will pitch another batting practice on Friday and Matt Garza will start his rehab by playing catch on Saturday. On to the Recap:

On the Mound:

Edwin Jackson was the story on the mound, going eight shutout innings allowing only two hits in a dominating effort. Jackson struck out six, but did walk four which was the only negative on the afternoon. As a Rays fan you have to be excited about the performance so far from Jackson this year. 14 Innings, seven hits, and only one earned run. Trever Miller pitched a scoreless 9th to preserve the shutout.

At the Plate:

We'll we said the top of the order needed to come alive and they did. Aki Iwamura reached base in four of his five at bats and Carl Crawford pitched in with two hits. Mike DiFelice got the start and provided the Rays with two hits and three RBI. Jonny Gomes also has a two hit day hitting Aybar's spot in the order with Eric Hinske, who hit a solo home run in the 4th inning, playing 3B. It looks like the offense finally woke up, but the Rays still had 21 LOB.

Tommy's Take: Boy Erik were you wrong. Just give Edwin Jackson away for nothing? Preposterous! Just kidding. I'm sure we've all felt that way towards Jackson. Personally, I can't think of a player who I've had a more Love/Hate feeling towards. Jackson can simply be excellent at times, much like today and that evening in Texas last year. Then he can go out and walk seven and give up eight runs in three innings the next time. I'd have to say I'm extremely impressed and excited about the way he has started the season. Yes he has six walks in two games, but as long as he keeps getting these type of results I don't care. What about Mike DiFelice today? Mike D showed that he can still swing the bat, and if this keeps up the Rays may actually be able to trade DiFelice for something once Dioner Navarro is healthy.

Erik's Take: Jackson is making me look like a fool. He pitched amazingly well today, and I hope he can keep it up all season, but I'm not going to back off my previous statements that I don't think he's going to live up to all of his promise. ESPN's Keith Law backs up my thoughts in his chat today:

Jim (Lincoln, Nebraska): Edwin Jackson is dominating as we speak.. Is he finally going to break out this year?

Keith Law: I've given up on Jackson. I don't think he'll ever have sufficient command of his stuff to be a good big-league starter. He has the arm, but he's made no progress as a pitcher in four years.

Again, I hope I'm wrong, I really do, I just want to see more than two starts before I start to believe. I was happy to see the team start to hit, and hit with men on base. My main man Justin Ruggiano is so intimidating at the plate that he drew a bases loaded walk for the easiest RBI in the game. Hopefully the Rays can build off of this impressive game and sweep the first place Orioles(That was as weird to type as it is to read).

Rays lose 4th Straight, but nobody else got hurt

Shaky starting pitching, lack of hitting and getting on-base, questionable calls by the umpires, lather...rinse...repeat. That's basically what has happened in the first two nights of the Rays homestand. Andy Sonnanstine wasn't awful, but he wasn't particularly effective either. The Rays did have eight hits, but no big hits with runners on. Brian Knight was last night's Hunter Wendelstedt, making more than one questionable call at first base.

On the Mound:

Sonnanstine went six innings giving up four runs on seven hits and two walks. He did strike out three. The start was similar to the one he had last Friday in New York when he also went six giving up four runs. The biggest difference on this night was the offense scored one run, not the 13 they put up on Friday. Sonnanstine threw 22 pitches through the first two innings, but threw 71 over his final four frames. The problem isn't control with Sonnanstine, it's hard hits. The Mariners, like the Yankees, were spraying hits into gaps and the wheels fell off from there. J.P. Howell pitched 1.2 innings and was touched for three runs, two earned, on a home run by Jamie Burke. JK Ryu made his 2008 debut throwing a scoreless, but mostly unimpressive 1.1 innings. Ryu threw 26 pitches half of those were out of the strike zone.

At the Plate:

This pretty much sums it up...The Mariners had one more hit than the Rays, but scored six more runs. Willy Aybar was the star at the plate and in the field. Aybar went 3-4 with two doubles and made numerous web gem type plays in the field. All three Aybar hits came as a right-handed batter. Justin Ruggiano make a splash in his first AB, lacing a double and earning free checkers for section 115 WOO! He misplayed a ball in RF, but after watching Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes in RF nobody seemed to notice. Jason Bartlett is the only other Ray to register a multi-hit game going 2-2 with a sac bunt. Aki Iwamura had the lone RBI on a Sac Fly. The Rays had 11 LOB as a team.

Tommy's Take: The offense the past four games(all losses) has been awful. The Rays have scored seven runs during the losing streak and can't seem to get anything going. On the season The Rays are last in the American league in hitting with a .229AVG and tied for last in OBP at .301. They are 10th in team BA/RISP with .246. The top of the order is especially struggling. Aki Iwamura is has an OBP of under .250 and Carl Crawford's is even worse at .189. The cleanup hitters can't clean up if there is nothing on the table. I know Maddon likes to have Aki,CC,Pena at the top, but maybe a little shakeup for a game or two might breathe some life into the order. Maybe have Bartlett bat 2nd and move CC down a little in the order.

Erik's Take: It was a frustrating game all around. The only bright spot was Aybar, who seemed to respond well to the "We Want Evan" chant. He was a vacuum at the hot corner and looked great at the plate. Justin Ruggiano looked great as well in his first action of the season. He had a double and would have had a single if Willy Aybar didn't get called out at home on a close play in the 7th. Can someone explain to me why Maddon feels the need to play the lefty/righty matchup at EVERY opportunity? In the 9th inning the Mariner's brought in a left handed pitcher and Maddon pinch hits Eric Hinske for Shawn Riggans, and I'm ok with that. But after Hinske walked Maddon pinch hit Nathan Haynes for Ruggiano, the only Ray besides Aybar who had shown anything at the plate all game. Ruggiano has some power, Haynes has none. I know Ruggiano doesn't hit lefties well, but Haynes doesn't hit well in general. Why not let Ruggiano hit and put Haynes in to pinch run for Hinske? I might be wrong, but I see that as the better move.

Some News and Notes: We've heard Garza's time table is anywhere from 2-6 weeks, and Floyd's injury is now 4-6 weeks instead of the 6-8 weeks that was reported yesterday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Will Ruggiano Get A Chance?

With Floyd on the DL and Ruggiano finally getting called up, how much playing time will he receive? I’d like them to play Ruggiano full time in RF with a Gomes/Hinske platoon at DH with Gomes hitting vs lefties and Hinske vs right handers. That leaves Elliot Johnson to fill in at the infield positions and Nathan Haynes as the defensive replacement in RF and pinch runner.

That’s what would happen in my ideal world. Knowing Joe Maddon, however, Elliot Johnson will continue to start and right and Ruggiano will get little to no playing time.

So welcome back Justin, let’s hope you get more than the 14 at bats you got last season.

Cliff Floyd on the DL; Justin Ruggiano Called up

I kid you not...another Rays player has been placed on the DL. This time it's slugger Cliff Floyd. It was expected Floyd would hit the DL at some point this season, but we aren't even 10 games in yet. The Heater is reporting Floyd will have surgery on Friday to repair a Torn Meniscus in his right knee. Floyd is expected to miss 6-8 Weeks with the Injury.

The silver lining in this is Justin Ruggiano was called up to replace him and we are big Ruggiano supporters. We are just baffled at the number of injuries to the Rays this young season.

Niemann gets the call?

I've learned early on never trust MLB.com for certain things, but under the probable starters for this Sundays Orioles vs. Rays games they have the pitching matchup as B. Burres (1-0, 1.29), J. Niemann (0-0, -.--). The general consensus is Niemann will get the call, but I didn't expect to see that when I was looking ahead.

Here is the link

B is for BOOOOOOO! Rays drop home opener; third straight overall.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and at one point the Boos were the loudest I've ever heard in a stadium. The Rays lost their third straight game last night, lowering their record to 3-4. The worst news wasn't the loss on the field, but the loss of Matt Garza who was lifted in the third inning after 70 pitches. Garza was placed on the 15 day disabled list with radial nerve irritation, something he says he's been battling since last season, but Joe Maddon said he had no previous knowledge of the injury. Garza said the pain in his arm started to cause his hand to go numb at some points of the night and made it hard to grip the ball. From TBO.com

“I’ve usually been able to get through it, just kind of pitch through it and wear the pain and get it right after the game and get my work in,” said Garza. “This time it was just real bad – I knew something was up.”

“I’ve never missed a start in my life,” he said. “I’ve always been able to game up and go at it, no matter how tired I was or how bad I felt.”

I did some research on radial nerve injuries in pitchers and Jeff D'Amico, John Patterson and Shawn Hill have had surgery to "decompress" their radial nerves. Scott Williamson has a radial nerve impingement back in 2004. I don't know how close or un close those injuries are to Garza, but If I find out I will give an update.

Jae Kuk Ryu was recalled to help out in the bullpen after it was stretched pretty thin last night, having to pick up final 6.1 innings of work. The Rays are expected to call up a starter from AAA Durham before this Sunday's game. Jeff Niemann is the leading candidate after almost making the team out of Spring Training. His next scheduled start in on Sunday anyway. On to the game recap...

On the Mound:

Garza was all over the place before leaving with the injury. I don't know how much to equate to ineffectiveness or injury. Garza gave up three earned runs on six hits and three walks. He obviously wasn't sharp and if a pitcher's hand is numb that might do the trick. Scott Dohmann and Gary Glover did their best but it wasn't enough, giving up a combined three runs in three innings as Glover took the loss. Al Reyes gave up two hits, but no runs in his inning and Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival continued to be perfect on the season. Wheeler has not given up a hit or walked a batter in 5.1 innings so far this season.

At the Plate:

The Rays offense came alive after being frozen in the 40 degree weather in New York. After getting seven hits and one run over the final two games of the Yankees series, the Rays scored five runs on six hits last night. The two big blows came on solo home runs by Shawn Riggans and Carlos Pena. The Rays had plenty of chances, leaving 14 men on base. The Rays had a potential rally in the seventh, but a questionable call on a potential B.J. Upton triple changed the game.

Much thanks to Eric Seidman of Red Lasso with this clip of B.J. Upton being called out.

Also here is a still shot from the video. You can clearly see Upton get's in before Beltre even attemps a tag

Tommy's Take: B.J. Upton was safe. The throw came in high and B.J. slid under the tag. B.J. busted out of the box so fast he lost a shoe. Joe Maddon also believed B.J. was safe and he was so upset he got ejected. For the normally mild mannered Maddon, he really had to believe Upton was safe to get tossed. From that call until the end of the game BOO's reigned down from the stands of the Trop on almost every pitch. It was a pretty cool to see the passion in the crowd. Carl Crawford is just hacking at the plate and he really needs to stop it. Carl is averaging 3.06 pitches per plate appearance. That strategy may work for some players, but it's not working for CC. In 33 PA Crawford has seen 101 pitches. Compare that with Edwin Encarnacion who has seen 156 pitches in the same amount of PAs. Crawford is now in a 2-23 slump and it seems to be affecting the rest of the lineup.

Erik's Take: Great Crowd, Great atmosphere, Bad result. The Matt Garza injury is a huge blow to an already injury riddled team. Garza joins Scott Kazmir, Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Rocco Baldelli, Chad Orvella and Kurt Birkins on the DL. The call on BJ Upton's near triple was atrocious. As Tommy said, the throw was high and even from the second deck we could tell he was safe. BJ is normally pretty even keeled, so he must have been really convinced he was safe if he was jawing at the umpire. Walking back toward the dugout Upton grabbed his shoe out of the bat boy's hand with such anger that I thought the kid was going to unload in his pants. Crawford does need to be more selective, but he's never been a first half player. His AVG/OBP/SLG are all higher in the second half of the season for his carrer.

It wasn't all bad news yesterday, as Scott Kazmir threw 42 picthes during a simulated game and Maddon said he looked good.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Matt Garza Injured; Placed on 15 day DL

Coming to you live from the parking lot of the trop(I'm in more places than Todd Kalas lately) I've received several emails and it's now being reported on several media outlets that Rays starter Matt Garza suffered an injury tonight involving his radial nerve. If it doesn't sound good that's because it isn't. Garza was just placed on the 15 day DL and Jae Kuk Ryu was recalled from Durham. Garza will probably be re-evaluated tomorrow.

Garza was all over the place tonight in the strike zone and on the radar gun. He was lifted in the middle of the third inning after throwing balls on 9 of 12 pitches. We will get more in depth in our recap tomorrow morning.

Rays(3-3) fall flat against Yankees; Home Opener Tonight

As my favorite announcer John Mayer would say...And that happened. That phrase pretty much sumed up the night for the Rays. Bobby Abreu came up in the first... and that happened. Eric Hinske jumps for the ball... and that happened. Hideki Matsui came up in the 6th... and that happened. Jason Hammel pitched well, but again that happened.

Hideki Matsui feasted on Rays pitching this series, going 7-15 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI,helping the Yankees earn a four game split after dropping the first two games to the Rays. Not all was good news for the Yankees as Derek Jeter left the game with a strained left quad.

On a night where Hammel had good command on his breaking ball, which is a must for him, little else went right. Shaky defense from Hinske in RF and the cold weather continuing to freeze the Rays offense wasted a pretty good performance from Hammel, who ended the night with a line of 6IP, 8H, 4ER, 2K, 1BB. Scott Dohmann was touched for two runs in his inning of work. Gary Glover was perfect in his innning.

On the offensive side the Rays went hacking against Mike Mussina and it worked against them big time. Mussina featured his knuckle curve almost exclusively at times, striking out Willy Aybar on five straight curves in one AB. Jonny "Play me everyday and I'll hit 30 home runs" Gomes provided the Rays with a solo home run, but the rest of the line up produced little. Mike Difelice was the only other Rays hitter to register a hit against Moose, with a double. At least Evan Longoria broke his O-fer streak to start the season at AAA Durham. Longoria had a break out game going 3-4 with an RBI and a BB.

After averaging 7.75 runs the first four games the Rays have just one run on seven hits in the last two. Hopefully the bats will heat up with the weather now that they are back at the Trop. We will be at the opener tonight as Matt Garza goes for win #1 as a member of the Rays against Erik Bedard and the Mariners, who were just swept by the Orioles in a four game set.

Credit to Eric Seidman and Red Lasso for the Video Highlights

Monday, April 7, 2008

Back from the Bronx Zoo

Not too much happening since we got back last night. Shields was out matched by Wang. One mistake and there went the potential sweep of the Yankees. Jason "The Hammer" Hammel takes the mound tonight against Mike Mussina. Several Rays do well against the Moose, including Carl Crawford and BJ Upton. However, Carlos Pena and Eric Hinske have struggled in their careers. Both are expected to start the game regardless.

Josh Paul, who was thought of as an option to replace Mike DiFelice at AAA Durham for a few weeks, opted to sign with the Houston Astros and will report to AAA Round Rock. That move makes sense for Paul since the Rays gig is a temporary one.

Tomorrow is the Rays home opener as the Good guys will take on the Seattle Mariners. In a good pitching match up, it looks like Matt Garza will face Erik Bedard, if Bedard is healthy enough. The game is sold out for the third straight season. From Raysbaseball.com Rays Owner Stu Sternberg:

"You know, it's funny -- the first year, right until the end, we were hoping we'd sell it out," Sternberg said. "It's an interesting progression. Last year, I think it was by 3 or 4 o'clock [in the afternoon on the day of the game], we were able to announce a sellout. And this year, to be able to announce it a day or two in advance -- that's great progress."

The Heater is reporting that a few obstructed view, scattered singles and handicap accessible seating are available, however this is the earliest a game has sold out since the inaugural opener back in 1998.

We will be attending this game as well as Wednesday's so pictures should be a plenty around here. He are some shots I snapped with my camera phone in the Bronx. We'll have more later or tomorrow of Rays players.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

OPS Live from the ESPNZONE in Times Square

I've always wanted to report live from Times Square so here it is. Lots of pictures and stories to report, but'll that will come tomorrow or Monday. There have been some big things going on in the bay area while we've been gone, so lets recap:

Dioner Navarro was placed on the 15 day DL with a nasty cut on his right hand. Mike Difelice was called up and Juan"not in the US" Salas was placed on the restricted list to clear the 40 man spot. The injury forced Navi to receive 12 stiches. Navi cut his hand on netting in the dugout.

I find it coincidental that Navarro received the cut right before he was due to come up with the bases loaded. As I suggested on Thursday, he should almost always be PH with the bases loaded and guess what IT WORKED. Riggans came through with a bases clearing double. Although we hate to see Navi hurt and hope for a speedy recovery we hope Maddon remembers the result of the pinch-hit.

Scott Kazmir had another good bullpen session and we would guess the Rays are pleased with his progress.

Im gonna go back to the game now cause Trever Miller is about to blow it big time.

OPS Live from the ESPNZ

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Outs Per Swing On The Road

We are making the trek up to the Bronx Zoo tonight for this weekend's series against the Yankees. We'll be there to support Elliot Johnson incase there are any brawls on the field. We will have limited access, but will continue to update as often as possible. If you're going to the game we'll be the guys with the authentic Elliot Johnson jerseys.

So much for win streaks; Rays drop game late to O's 9-6

Final Score
Orioles 9
Rays 6


Carl Crawford 2-4, 2 runs scored
Cliff Floyd 1-3, BB, 3 RBI(3 run Home run)

Al Reyes 0.2 IP, 3H, 2BB, 4ER (BS)(Loss)
Dioner Navarro 0-4, 5 LOB

Tommy's Take: I checked the Rays promotional calendar and believe it or not last night was not turn back the clock night, but it sure felt like it. The Rays played more like the Devil Rays(Go ahead Matt Silverman sent me a letter please)last night in Baltimore. Leaving RISP stranded with less that two outs: CHECK; Getting burned by Aubrey Huff: CHECK; 8th Inning Meltdown: DOUBLE CHECK.

The Rays had two bases loaded situations last night, one with no out and another with one out. The Rays scored a combined one run in those situations, and you can blame Dioner Navarro for that. The one that hurt was the GIDP with no outs, which I called by the way. Navarro is AWFUL with the bases loaded. With the bases juiced Navarro is hitting .179/.194/.286. I thought this several times last year, but any time the bases are loaded past the 4th inning and Navarro is up the Rays should pinch hit.

The Rays had Eric Hinske, who is a career .321 with the bases loaded, on the bench last night...I'm just saying.The reason Hinske wasn't playing last night was because he has 10K's in 21AB in his career again O's starter Daniel Cabrera, but by the time Navarro came up with the bases loaded Cabrera was out of the game.

It's only one game and the optimism is still here, but our old friend reality stopped by last night and gave us a nice slap in the face.

Erik's Take: New name, new uniforms, new season...Same result. It nearly made me sick to my stomach last night, watching the Rays bring back the Devil. I thought Stu, Matt and Andy did some sort of exorcism on the team, I guess not. They were the Devil Rays last night, and hopefully that's the last we see of that this year.

I'm still impressed by the offense. I love the 1-5 hitters, and if Uncle Cliffy can stay healthy all year I may have a new favorite player. I agree with my colleague's take on Navarro with the bases loaded, he's terrible. Last season whenever Navi was up with a man on we would instantly predict he would ground into a double play, and more often than not he did. I don't believe in pinch hitting for him in that situation, but it's getting to be almost comical.

As for the pitching, Garza looked good sans that one pitch to Huff. I'm still very high on him and expect good things. Speaking of Huff, why is it that he kills the Rays? In 19 games against his old team Huff is throwing up a line of .366/.423/.775 with 8HR, 18RBI and a Bonds-like 1.198OPS. Maybe the O's should hypnotize Huff to think he's always playing against the Rays. The goat of the night was Al Reyes. Since the All Star Break last year Reyes has a 5.86ERA and a 1.30WHIP, as opposed to his pre ASB numbers of 4.09ERA adn 1.03WHIP. Let's hope this doesn't last all season.

Like Tommy, we can let one game go, but for one night the Devil came screaming back.

Quick Hits Around The Bay

From tampabay.com

--Scott Kazmir and David Price both took steps in their rehabs yesterday. Kazmir threw 45 pitches in a bullpen session, while Price threw some tosses from 60ft. Both reported that they felt good after throwing.

--Grant Balfour cleared waivers, not surprisingly. Balfour now has to choose to accept the assignement or become a free agent. With the amount of injuries to start the season I'll be interesting to see if there is interest in Grant on the open market.

--Ben Zobrist's thumb still hasn't healed delaying his return at least another week or two. Until then Elliot Johnson will continue to fill his role

--Carl Crawford had some great comments about staying with the Rays, here are some of them:

"Most definitely, I would like to stay here with the Rays. This is the only organization I know. I don't know nothing different. It would be nice," Crawford said. "I'd hate to leave right when the getting is good. You've been around for all the bad stuff, you want to be around for the good part, too. And it looks like the good part is coming ahead."

"I honestly wasn't really thinking about an extension or nothing like that because in my mind it is so far away," Crawford said. "But I just couldn't imagine seeing myself being anywhere else though."

That my friends, is a thing of beauty

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Times, They Are 'A Changin

Watching Eric Hinske play right field in Monday’s win over Baltimore got me thinking about a few things. First, wow Eric Hinske is the starting right fielder? And secondly, not too long ago didn’t the Rays have an overabundance of young, talented outfielders and no pitching? The answer to both is yes.

The Rays franchise has long had a reputation of having more talented young outfield prospects than they knew what to do with, most notably Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes and Josh Hamilton and even Matt Diaz. While the outfield had many excellent players/prospects, the rotation kept running out players like Tanyon Sturtze, Ryan Rupe, Victor Zambrano, Joe Kennedy, the corpse from Weekend at Bernie’s, Casey Fossum, and…you get the picture. That caused a major problem as the team was at the bottom of most pitching statistics. As time has passed the Rays seemed to address this issue by drafting more quality arms; Andy Sonnanstine, Jeff Neimann, Wade Davis, Jake McGee and David Price to name a few.

While the pitching has grown into a strength, the outfielders have vanished. Josh Hamilton had personal demons he had to deal with off the field and was seemingly on his road back when the Rays lost him in the Rule IV Draft to the Cubs. He’s now starting in the outfield for the Rangers and projected to have a huge year. The Rays flat out released Matt Diaz who had fantastic minor league numbers and is now getting lots of at bats for the Braves. Many thought the Rays should trade some of their excess outfield depth for quality young pitching, but that seemingly never happened until this off-season when Young was shipped out for Matt Garza and Eduardo Morlan and Elijah Dukes was traded, but for not nearly as much. The main reason behind those trades was character issues. I get that, but it left the outfield cupboard a little bare. With Baldelli on the DL again this season the Rays options for right field are a platoon of Hinske and Jonny Gomes it seems. The team has also been mentioned in discussions for Jeremy Reed, Matt Murton and even Barry Lamar Bonds.

The times have changed in St. Petersburg. What used to be a weak point is now the strength of the organization. With Sonnanstine in the rotation and Neimann, Davis, McGee, etc not far behind, the Rays seem set at pitching for the next several years. I’ll always much rather be stocked at pitching than offense, it’s just such reversal of fortune from a couple of years ago that it’s almost comical. I’m not saying the Rays are void of any outfield prospects. I love Desmond Jennings as much as anybody, I think he’ll be a Crawford type player when he arrives, and Fernando Perez is nice, but after those two there’s a gap, one the Rays haven’t had in their history. While I wish Eric Hinske all the luck in the world, think about how an outfield of Crawford, Upton, and Hamilton would look behind this staff?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wheeler Signs 3-yr extension, Crawford's option picked up, Rocco's declined

The Rays have an off day on the field, but have been active today off of it. As expected the Rays declined Rocco Baldelli's $6.25 Million Dollar option and instead will pay the $4 Million buyout. The hope is the Rocco will keep the dream of playing alive and resign with the Rays at a reduced cost.

Carl Crawford's option of $8.25 Million Dollar was picked up in what was a no brain move for the Rays. The surprise of the day was the extension of Dan Wheeler. Wheeler, the son-in-law of Play by Play announcer DeWayne Staats, agreed to a 3yr $10.5 Million Dollar deal. The Heater gives us this breakdown of the deal.

"Wheeler will get $2.8-million this season, $3.2-million in 2009, $3.5-million in 2010 and either a $1-million buyout or a $4-million salary in 2011."

With the fragile arms of Al Reyes and Troy Percival at the back end of the bullpen this year the deal is worth it. Scott Linebrink received a four-year, $19 million contract and is basically the same pitcher. The back end of the deal meaning 2010 and the option on 2011 could be the real bargain. With Reyes on a one year contract and Percival not promised to make it through the 2008 season, let alone 2009, Wheeler could very well be the Rays closer for part or, almost all, of the contract. Given the current closer's market where Francisco Cordero received $12 Million a year for four years and Eric Gagne one year $10 Million, a closer making around $3.5-$4 Million a year is an absolute steal.

Quotes from tampabay.com

“I'm very happy,'' Crawford said. "I would like to thank the Rays organization and Stu Sternberg for believing in me. I'm grateful for the opportunity for this day. I'm looking forward to being here for a long time because I think we're at the start of something great going on here. I want to do well for them and represent the team in a classy manner.”

We've worked to try to address our bullpen situation and we feel like Dan will be an important part of our bullpen going forward and getting important outs late in games for us,'' executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "I think he's be the first to say last year was not a typical Dan Wheeler season and all parties agree this year and future years will be much better and he'll be an important part of our bullpen going forward.''

Monday, March 31, 2008

Rays Win Opener 6-2; World Series Tickets Not For Sale Yet

The Rays carried the momentum gained in the spring up to Baltimore today in the 2008 opener. Behind excellent pitching from Co-Ace James Shields and production 1-9 in the lineup, the Rays defeated the Orioles 6-2 and keep the dreams of 162-0 Alive. The best part about it is I only questioned Joe Maddon's in game management once, it's truly a season of change.

On the Mound

James Shields got off to a rocky start, giving up 2 runs in the first, but after that he was typical Shields. He went thought the next 6 innings scoreless and really took the game by the horns. Although he walked three, Shields cruised through seven innings on 87 pitches. He turned the ball over to Shawn Camp and Brian Stokes who blew the lead and the game....wait it's 2008. Shields actually turned the ball over to Trever Miller who came out to start the 8th, the move I questioned since Miller is slated to be our lefty specialist. Maddon had the quick hook on Miller after .1 inning and Al Reyes got a strikeout and batters interference to close the inning. In a non save situation Dan Wheeler pitched a perfect ninth....no wait he dropped a web gem by Pena, but still a scoreless inning.

At the Plate

Who is that man behind the plate for the Rays? I think I just witnessed Ivan Rodriguez reincarnated in Dioner Navarro's body. Navi was 3-4 with a double and RBI. This years reclamation project Eric Hisnke also showed why Andrew Friedman is a genius by hitting a solo home run. All in all each one of the Rays starters reached base giving a great balance to the line up 1-9.

What a great way to start the season, great starting pitching, nice bullpen work and a solid offense. If the Rays play like this every day...OH MY!

Rays Opening Day 2008

2008 Rays Opening Day Lineup

Akinori Iwamura - 2B
Carl Crawford - LF
Carlos Pena - 1B
B.J. Upton - CF
Cliff Floyd - DH
Willy Aybar - 3B
Eric Hinske - RF
Dioner Navarro - C
Jason Bartlett - SS

James Shields - RHP


Baltimore Orioles

Brian Roberts - 2B
Melvin Mora - 3B
Nick Markakis - RF
Kevin Millar - 1B
Aubrey Huff - DH
Ramon Hernandez - C
Luke Scott - LF
Adam Jones - CF
Luis Hernandez - SS

Jeremy Guthrie - P

Opening Day is finally upon us. Good Luck to the guys in Baltimore.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hinske on the trade block already? Dodgers Interested?

The LA Times is reporting this morning that Dodgers GM Ned Colletti has been in contact with several teams about finding a short term, cheap replacement at 3B until Nomar Garciaparra is healthy. The article list Phillies 1B/3B Wes Helms(believable) and the Rays IF/OF Eric Hinske.

General Manager Ned Colletti has been speaking to other clubs about possible trades, targeting players with short and inexpensive contracts for what they expect to be short-term replacement duty. They are believed to be interested in Philadelphia's Wes Helms. Tampa Bay's Eric Hinske is also reportedly on the market.

This is the first time I've heard that Hinske is "on the market." Hinske is a pretty good platoon partner for Gomes and is the only option on the roster to back up Carlos Pena at first. I highly doubt the Rays will trade Hinske. If the Rays were actively shopping Hinske they wouldn't have sent Guzman down a day before doing it. Also Joe Maddon has already gone as far as naming Hinske the starting RF on Opening Day in Baltimore. If the Rays were thinking about trading him I doubt Joe would make such a move.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rays finalize 25 man roster

Eric Hinske is the 25th man on the roster. The Rays optioned Joel Guzman today giving the last spot to Hinske. That answers the last question on the Rays roster which is set. Barring any injury or last minute trade here is your 2008 opening day roster:

IF: Carlos Pena, Aki Iwamura, Jason Bartlett, Willy Aybar, Elliot Johnson

IF/OF Eric Hinske

C: Dioner Navarro, Shawn Riggans

OF: BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, Jonny Gomes, Cliff Floyd, Nathan Haynes

SP: James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel

RP: Troy Percival, Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler, Trever Miller, Gary Glover, Scott Dohmann, JP Howell

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rays Make Eight Cuts

According to The Heater the Rays made eight cuts today. Those who were cut:

INF Chris Richard
RHP Scott Munter
INF Andy Cannizaro
C Mike Difelice
OF John Rodriguez
OF Jon Weber
C Josh Paul
RHP Grant Balfour

No surprises at all. Chad Orvella and Kurt Birkins are likely headed to the DL, and Juan Salas will be sent to the minors when he finally reports.

That leaves the Rays with 26 players, the last spot going to either Joel Guzman or Eric Hinske. All of us here are pulling for Hinske to make it.

Balfour, you're out; Haynes you're in.

Well the pitching staff seems to be set after today’s latest move. The Heater is reporting that Grant Balfour was notified that he will be designated for assignment, which means Scott Dohmann will get the last spot in the bullpen. Balfour hopes to catch on with another team, but didn’t rule out accepting the assignment if that doesn’t happen. Balfour, who pitched better than Dohmann this spring, seems pretty upset about the move.

"I thought I threw the ball pretty good but at the end of the day it makes no difference - I'm out of here,'' Balfour said. "That's the way it goes. ... They made a business decision and that's what they went with. ... They know who they want from the get-go, probably. I don't know what they wanted to do. I could have maybe given up no runs and still not made this team. I don't know. It's disappointing.''

Personally, I like Balfour and have been picking him almost all spring to make the team, but is he serious? Balfour didn’t help himself yesterday by walking four batters in 1.2 innings. Also, coming into the spring Joe Maddon said 2007 numbers would have more value than Spring numbers and it looks like that is the truth. In 22 games with the Rays, Balfour had a 6.14 ERA, 1.91 WHIP compared to Dohmann who posted a 3.31 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 31 games.

There could be some more roster moves in the works, check back later for an update.

Here goes update #1.

The Rays filled their 5th OF spot today claming Nathan Haynes from the Anaheim Angels. We thought the Rays might take a run at Haynes a few weeks ago. We still think Hinske will make the team as the primary backup at 1B/3B and platoon with Gomes in RF. This probably means Guzman going to AAA, yes he still has an option.

2007 for MiLB split for Haynes





From the Heater:

The Rays filled their outfield void by claiming Nathan Haynes off waivers from the Angels. To make room on the 40-man roster, they placed OF Rocco Baldelli on the 60-day disabled list.

Haynes, 28, made his big-league debut for the Angels last season after nearly a decade in the minors. Haynes hits lefthanded, and hit .267 with one RBI in 45 games of reserve duty last season (going 3-for-5 against the Rays). He is a career .281 minor-league hitter, steals a lot more bases (254) than hits home runs (34), and tends to get on-base a lot. Haynes hit .265 in 19 games this spring. He has tremendous speed and can play all three outfield spots.

Joe Kennedy

ESPN.com's Jeff Pearlman wrote a very touching and heartfelt piece on Joe Kennedy, his widow, and how she is dealing with life after his tragic death. Joe wasn't the best pitcher, but he did start some Opening Days for the Rays and he threw one of the best games in Rays history in 2003 with a one hit shutout against Detroit.

From reading the story it seems like Joe was a great teammate as well. So I encourage everyone to read the article and remember Joe, like the article asks.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Evan Longoria starting season in AAA isn't so crazy

It's been almost three full days since E-Day or Monday when the Rays decided to send Evan Longoria to the minors to start the season. Since then Rays fans have spoken out on both sides. Those for and against the move have let their opinions be known, but is it really that big of an issue? Is this move so unprecedented? Not really. I know each player's promotion or lack there of is on a case by case basis, but really Evan's case isn't that far off the norm.

RJ Anderson of DRaysbay wrote an article yesterday about Jeff Niemann's minor league innings pitched compared to that of some current Rays, most namely James Shields and Andy Sonnanstine. Reading that made me think of how Evan Longoria's minor league time compares with other players. I looked at the crop of talented young 3B in the majors or about to be in the majors, a few established MLB stars who came up as 3B, and how the Rays have handled promotion of their own home grown talent. Here is the list:

I didn't do this to show a correlation between MiLB time and MLB success because as you can see Albert Pujols didn't need no stinkin AAA time. In fact, those three AAA games were the only MiLB games Pujols played over the A+ ball level, that's how good he is. I just wanted to see what other teams did with their stud 3B prospects and it seems that the Rays are pretty justified in sending Longoria down for a little more seasoning. Only Pujols, Gordon and Zimmerman shot to the MLB in less games and less AB's. While Longoria has more AAA time than Miguel Cabrera and Kevin Kouzmanoff and will pass Ryan Braun and David Wright, they still had more total games and AB's in the minors/college than Longoria.

I also wanted to track some of the Rays prized position player prospects rise through the minors. From the list only Rocco Baldelli had a quick stint in AAA with 23 games. Crawford, Delmon Young, Upton and Aubrey Huff all played at least 85 games in AAA. BJ played two + full seasons at AAA, but obviously for defensive reasons. Also every other Rays player on the list besides Baldelli had at least 200 ABs more than Longoria. Even if Longoria gets 100 more ABs he still will have the second fastest rise through the Rays system behind Rocco. So to say the Rays are being cheap and are holding Longoria down isn't really justified by this list. This doesn't mean that the Longoria move wasn't money motivated, but shows the Rays have a history of getting their players more time at the MiLB level before promoting them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rays continue to roll through spring; Beat Jays 10-0. Plus Possible trade candidates...again

For the second straight day the Rays routed their way to a victory. Today the star was the Blue Jays defensive who had five errors in one inning. The fifth inning couldnt have gone worse for the Jays. The Rays scored 10 Runs and that was more than enough. Jonny Gomes is heating up again, going 3-4 with home run, tying him with Carlos Pena for the team lead(4). BJ Upton(2-4) and Carlos Pena(2RBI) continue to have quietly impressive springs. Eric Hinske started at 3B and Elliot Johnson at SS to show some defensive flexibility that will help them make the club.

It was all good news on the mound. Jason Hammel pitched only four innings by design to allow relievers to get more work in. Hammel was impressive, giving up only three hits and no walks. Trever Miller, Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler, Gary Glover and Troy Percival, the five keys to the Rays pen, pitched a combined five scoreless innings only giving up two hits and striking out six. The best sign was from Percival, who struck out two in his scoreless frame, after a disasterous outing on Sunday.

In other news:

Brian Anderson's career as a Rays isn't quite over yet. While his playing days are now done, the Rays were impressed by Anderson and named him assistant to Pitching Coach Jim Hickey. Anderson will assist in scouting and monitoring the staff. Quote from The Heater:

"It's not something I ever dreamed of," Anderson said. "I was honored."

Also we have some encouraging news on Scott Kazmir. Kazmir, who hasn't thrown of a mound in over a week, will begin tossing from 90-120 feet in the next few days and could see some time on a mound next week.

Reports are coming out of Seattle that the Rays maybe interested in OF Jeremy Reed.

"A veteran American League scout said Monday that Tampa Bay also is interested in Reed as a left-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Jonny Gomes. The Rays might be willing to trade some young pitching to land someone who might get 350 or more at-bats this season."

Reed is left handed, can play CF and has two more years of team control. He played a career high 141 games in 2005, but only hit .254/.322/.352. Reed can hit righties ok, but can't touch a lefty(.271/.329/.396 compared to .165/.245/.226) for his career. We all know the only thing Gomes mashes better than lefties is blondes, so a platoon with Reed looks pretty good on paper. Plus by all accounts Reed is a very good defender.

The Mariners did have interest in Edwin Jackson and J.P. Howell last season.

Another option that may be available is Matt Murton of the Cubs. The Cubs just picked up former Jays OF Reed Johnson and have been trying to move Murton. The problem with Murton is he is suited for the corner OF and not much else. He is, however, a pretty good offensive player with a career line of .296/.365/.455, but like Gomes is much better against lefties.

Rob Neyer's Top 50 Players For Next Five Years

ESPN's Rob Neyer unveiled his list of the top 50 players for the next five years today. As you could guess there are some Rays players on the list. I'm not going to go over all 50 players, but here are the Rays and where they rank. Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know.

15. BJ Upton:

"Will Upton cut down on his strikeouts? Will he become an adequate (or better) defensive center fielder? We don't know, but we do know that every team would love to have him."

20. Evan Longoria:

"This might be too high, as Longoria hasn't played a single inning in the majors. It might be too low, as any objective method will choose Longoria as the American League's No. 1 or 2 third baseman over the next five years."

36. Carl Crawford:

"We're still waiting for his first big year, but it's just a matter of time as Crawford improves a little bit every year. One of these years, maturity plus health will equal MVP candidate."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Longoria sent to Minors; Price out 6 weeks

We finally have the answer to the biggest question of spring training. Where will Evan Longoria start the season? The answer as many expected, is with the Durham Bulls. The Heater is reporting Longoria was reassigned to minor league camp after today's 13-4 victory over the Pirates. Longoria won't be going alone however, his best friend and future Rays stud, Reid Brignac, was also reassigned to minor league camp.

Longoria Quote:

"It's a tough thing to swallow; just go back down and keep doing what I'm doing," he said. "They didn't give me any timetable; it's really up to me."

Longoria answered a lot of questions with his play on the field this spring hitting .262 with 3HR, 10 RBI,10 BB and flashing the leather in the field, but it wasn't enough to convince the Rays to put him on the opening day roster. This move also will put a delay on any "service clock" and will aide in keeping Longoria in a Rays uniform longer. While most Rays fans will see this move and scream "CHEAP!", baseball is a business and Sternberg and Co. have been playing the game smart. With a rotation featuring Jason Hammel and Edwin Jackson, the Rays are not contending for a playoff spot this season. There is no reason to trade a quarter of a season in 2008 for a full season in 2014. Some will bring up the argument that if the Brewers had Ryan Braun for a full season they might have made the playoffs. That argument isn't valid here. The Brewers had much more talent in their rotation and Scott Kazmir is more likely to keep the Rays out of contention than Longoria at this point.

It's almost a given that Longoria will be with the team by Memorial Day and until then we get to see Willy Aybar and Joel Guzman at the hot corner.

UPDATE: In other news 1st overall pick David Price will miss at least 6 weeks with a left elbow strain, according to sptimes.com. Price missed some time early this spring with arm stiffness and took himself out of a minor league game on Thursday after some discomfort.

"The good news is that obviously it's nothing significant,'' executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "We had that sense pretty soon after it happened but it's always good to get confirmation. Hearing the report the biggest delay is just going to be in terms of building him back up not necessarily getting him healthy.''

Price is expected to hang around St. Petersburg and participate in extended ST before reporting to Vero Beach some time after Mid May.

Jackson Needs To Go

I can’t take it anymore. Edwin Jackson needs to go. He’s teased us for long enough. If this team is going to go anywhere, or even win 75-80 games this season, they need to get rid of Jackson. The team won’t admit it, but the only reason he’s still in the majors is because he’s out of options. By designating him for assignment the Rays would have 10 days to trade, release or put him on waivers. He would have to clear waivers before taking the assignment, but I doubt that happens as a team with thin pitching like the Marlins or Nationals would surely grab him. But you know what? I don’t care at this point.

Jackson has shown flashes of brilliance during his short career, but he hasn’t demonstrated that he can have sustained success in the Major Leagues. Last year he posted a 5.76ERA with a 1.76WHIP and .299BAA. His VORP for 2007 was -8.4, and his ERA+ was 78, which was actually one of the best of his career. This spring he’s throwing up a beautiful 5.40ERA with 7BBs in 16 innings. Why not try out Jeff Neimann in that 4th or 5th starter role? Neimann posted a 1.50 spring ERA and has nothing to prove atDurham. I know you can’t rely solely on spring stats, but can’t do any worse than Jackson has.

I know the Rays don’t want to cut Jackson loose and see him have success some place else, how good would Josh Hamilton look in Right Field right now, but for a franchise as pitching rich as the Rays it’s worth the risk. If Andy & Co. are truly trying to put the best team they can on the field, they need to wave goodbye to Jackson.