A tough loss spoiled what was great Opening Day atmosphere at a sold-out Tropicana Field Tuesday afternoon.
Cy Young award winner David Price took the mound against former Ray Jason Hammel. It wasn’t one of Price’s better starts, as he struggled with command throughout the game.
Matt Wieters—who was one of three Orioles hitters to have big games offensively—started the scoring with a two-run homer in the first inning.
Although those were the only two runs Price would allow, he didn’t exactly settle in after the first. He managed to get through only six innings (100 pitches), and finished the day with 7 hits, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts. Great defense behind him, most notably from Evan Longoria who made three outstanding plays at third, helped out Price a lot in this ballgame.
Overall, it was a pretty solid start from Price, who kept his team in the game throughout. The three issues he had were with efficiency, some mislocation—which led to a handful of hard-hit balls—and velocity. It shouldn’t be a concern, though, as it was his first start of the season.
Offensively, the Tampa’s bats were worryingly quiet in the first three innings. They put together only one single, which was the only runner to reach until the fourth.
Ben Zobrist, who had that only hit, opened up the scoring for the Rays with a solo dinger to right, making it a one-run ballgame. All the way up until the sixth, Hammel was still flying through frames, on pace for a complete game in terms of pitch count.
The Rays were able to get to Hammel in the sixth. Kelly Johnson started off the rally with a leadoff walk, and then Desmond Jennings—who looked great all day at the plate—followed with an game-tying double down the third base line. After a Sam Fuld bunt, the Rays took the lead with a sac fly off the bat of Zobrist.
Jake McGee entered the game in relief of Price in seventh, looking to keep it a 3-2 game in Tampa’s favor. Unfortunately, it was the turning point in this game as things would unfold for McGee and the Rays.
McGee found himself in a jam: Two runners on with two outs and Adam Jones up to bat. Two high-velocity fastballs got him ahead in the count 0-2, leaving Jones—who hadn’t had success at all in the past against McGee—in a bad position. But McGee, who was struggling with command from the beginning of his outing, missed location very badly, giving Jones a fastball right down the middle:
He took advantage, and raked the pitch into the left-center field gap for a two-run double, giving Baltimore a 4-3 lead.
After intentionally walking Matt Wieters, the lefty swinging Chris Davis was next to face McGee. With two men on, Davis crushed the first pitch he saw for a three-run blast, blowing the Orioles’ lead open to 7-3. He was served with a slow 91 MPH pitch in a terrible location:
It was a day to forget for McGee, who is one of baseball’s best up-and-coming relievers, but simply didn’t have it Tuesday. He gave up five earned runs on four hits while recording just two outs in what was the worst performance of his big-league career. He allowed just 12 runs in the entire 2012 season (55.1 IP).
There wasn’t much action in this game after the seventh. Jamey Wright, who relieved McGee, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth without any damage. Cesar Ramos had a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The Rays tacked on one more run via a Sam Fuld RBI groundout in the eighth, but weren’t able to get any kind of rally going against Baltimore’s strong bullpen.
Here’s some notable stat lines from Tuesday’s game:
- D. Jennings: 2-4, 2 R, RBI, SB
- B. Zobrist: 2-3, R, 2 RBI, HR
- E. Longoria: 1-4
- A. Jones: 3-5, 2 R, 2 RBI
- M. Wieters: 2-3, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB
- Here’s a full boxscore
The Rays return to action tonight against the Orioles for Game 2 of this three-game series. Jeremy Hellickson will start against right-hander Wei-Yin Chen.
The Rays fell to the Minnesota Twins 6-4 Saturday afternoon, marking their fourth straight Grapefruit League loss.
David Price was on the mound for Tampa Bay, and had rather shaky outing. He escaped multiple jams, ending the day with 2 earned runs allowed on 9 hits, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts over 5 innings (89 pitches). Price spoke about his start after the game, frustrated with his efficiency.
The two biggest offensive performances of the day came from Yunel Escobar (2-3, RBI) and Jose Lobaton (3-3, HR), who continues to be the favorite for the backup catcher job Opening Day
James Loney hit a run-scoring double and Evan Longoria also had a two-bagger. In the field, Longoria committed his first error of the spring, which cost the Rays a run in this ballgame.
Relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Cesar Ramos both made appearances Saturday out of the ‘pen. It wasn’t a good day at all for Farnsworth, who allowed a run in just 1/3 innings and had to be removed from the game after bruising his right middle finger while reaching for a groundball.
Ramos was perfect in his 2/3 inning pitched, striking out one.
Here’s a full boxscore of Saturday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- The Rays reassigned INF Cole Figueroa, INF Leslie Anderson, OF Rich Thompson, RHP Kirby Yates and RHP Dane De La Rosa to minor league camp Saturday in their latest round of cuts.
- The Rays also released Jack Cust, who was signed just a little over a month ago.
- Joe Maddon said he’ll make the fifth starter decision by the middle of next week. Jeff Niemann struggled in his last outing Friday, and his competition Roberto Hernandez was outstanding in his last start. This should be very interesting.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wonders if the Rays could use both Niemann and Hernandez in the rotation.
- Injury update: Sam Fuld (hamstring tightness) will be ready for Opening Day. He’s looked good in recent minor-league spring training action lately, and is returning to Grapefruit League play today.
- Meet the newest member of the Rays TV crew: Kelly Nash.
- Here’s my list of the top 10 Cy Young candidates for 2013.
As the MLB offseason gradually comes to a conclusion and spring training nears, Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays know exactly what their priorities are this spring in order to put the best roster possible on the field for Opening Day.
With a handful of new names on the team this season, Maddon will have his share of tough choices to make when roster cuts and decisions come around in late March.
Here are the five main things that will be on Maddon’s spring training to-do list.
Put the Rotation Together
The Rays are heading into another season with a terrific starting rotation, which is both very deep and talented.
The three frontline starters are clear at the moment: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. After that, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, Chris Archer, and possibly even the newly-acquired Jake Odorizzi and Roberto Hernandez are all options to be the back two starters in the rotation.
Spring training performance is obviously going to play a large factor in deciding which pitchers make the rotation. Still, though, Maddon is going to have some very tough decisions to make before finalizing the roster at the end of March.
Tampa has the keys for another successful bullpen in 2013. GM Andrew Friedman did his job picking up all the essential arms needed, now all Joe Maddon has to do is put the ‘pen together for Opening Day.
Right now the sure locks are Fernando Rodney (who will most likely take over the closer role), Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Kyle Farnsworth. Lefty specialist Cesar Ramos and former starter Roberto Hernandez are other possible candidates, along with recent acquisitions Juan Carlos Oviedo and Jamey Wright.
The Rays are going to have only seven relievers on their Opening Day roster, so one of those eight won’t make the cut.
We can expect to see some great bullpen competition this spring in Port Charlotte, and it should be very interesting to see how the new veteran arms impact the team.
Figuring out the Second Base Situation
One position on the diamond definitely not lacking depth for the Rays this year is second base. Tampa Bay recently signed Kelly Johnson to a one-year deal to be their starting second basemen, but they still have two other second basemen on the depth chart without Ben Zobrist (who will reportedly still play “a lot” of second base).
Ryan Roberts and Sean Rodriguez are still on the roster, and there are a few things that Maddon can do to make this work.
It’s likely that Rodriguez—assuming that he makes the 25-man roster—will play very little second base and be used more as a backup shortstop/pinch runner. Ryan Roberts would backup Johnson at second, but also be used at third and as a pinch hitter.
The Rays seem to be already planning on having Johnson fill in a little in the outfield as well, so Zobrist will probably get his share of playing time at second too.
Deciding What to Do With Wil Myers
Top prospect Wil Myers will be the Rays’ biggest storyline during spring training, and should bring a pretty good amount of attention to Port Charlotte.
As of now, the starting outfield looks like it will be Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist. The one outfield bench spot is up for grabs, but the Rays won’t want to start their No. 1 prospect’s season on the bench at the young age of 22.
Unless Myers goes on an absolute tear this spring, he’ll be starting the season with Triple-A Durham. But if he shines bright enough in the Grapefruit League, don’t be surprised to see Maddon stick him in the Opening Day lineup.
Ordering the Lineup
In recent years, the Rays have put out maybe the most inconsistent lineup in all of baseball. It seems like Joe Maddon manages to put together a different lineup every single game and has tried out ever possible order and combination possible.
Don’t expect to see much different in 2013. However, Maddon will still be on a mission to find which players he’s going to put in different parts of the lineup and what kind of pattern he might try to experiment with in April.
The MLB offseason is still over a month from over, and the Tampa Bay Rays have yet some holes to fill in on their roster. One addition they could really use is a DH, prefferably a power-hitting right-handed one who can also platoon at first base with the newly-acquired James Loney.
Michael Morse could be just the guy. After re-signing first baseman Adam LaRoche earlier this week, the Washington Nationals are now open to trading Morse, and have already discussed a potential deal with multiple teams. It looks like the Rays could very possibly be one of teams in on him (Twitterlinks), and Nationals even pointed out that “the Rays would make great trade partners.”
The 30-year-old outfielder has hit .296/.345/.516 with 64 homers and 198 RBI over the last three years, which is exactly the kind of offensive production the Rays need in their lineup. Morse is mainly an corner outfielder, but can also play a bit of first base and third base as well. His poor defense is likely the reason why AL clubs seem to be more suitable to acquire Morse as a designated hitter. The problem with that, however, is that Morse strongly opposes playing DH. Knowing how much the Rays value defense, he’d have to accept playing DH if they were to sign him.
It’s clear that Morse would be a great fit for the Rays, but is he affordable for Tampa Bay’s small budget? Morse is under a contract that will make him $7 million in 2013 before he becomes a free agent after the season. Considering that the contract is only for one more year, I believe picking up a quality DH who can supply 20+ home run power as well as platoon at first base is definitely worth the money and will without a doubt improve the Rays’ chances of contending this season.
What would a potential Mike Morse deal include? In exchange for the slugger, the Nats are reportedly looking for a left-handed reliever and/or prospects. Prospect southpaw Alex Torres and lefty specialist Cesar Ramos instantly come in mind, and the Rays probably wouldn’t be too reluctant to give up either of them.
If the one thing’s for sure, the chances of Morse being traded this winter are pretty high. Washington does not want sit a $7 million dollar player on the bench instead of getting rid of his salary for prospect talent.
Andrew Friedman and the Rays are in prime position to make an aggressive move right here that would give the lineup a much-needed boost, and I say they take advantage of the opportunity.
September 1 is now just a day away, which means tomorrow all of MLB’s 30 rosters will expand from 25 players to 40 players. The Rays have already announced their first round of call-ups, which will include catcher Chris Gimenez, reliever Cesar Ramos, outfielder Rich Thompson and infielder Reid Brignac.
Chris Gimenez, who already played 24 games with the Rays earlier this season, will be used as a third backup catcher behind Jose Lobaton and Jose Molina. Expect to see Gimenez get a good amount of at-bats against left-handed pitching this month, as he’s posted an average of .375 versus lefties this year (MLB and AAA).
Cesar Ramos has been up and down between Triple-A Durham and the majors during his past two years with the Rays. Ramos will provide the bullpen with an extra arm and be used primarily against left-handed batters, which are his specialty.
Rich Thompson is another call-up that has already been with the Rays once this season. Thompson—who was acquired from Philadelphia earlier in the year—will mainly serve as a pinch runner and should give the Rays a nice boost on the base pads. He’s hitting .311/.369/.426 with Durham this year, but hasn’t proven that he can hit MLB pitching yet.
After seeing his career take a huge downward turn this year, Reid Brignac is finally returning to the big leagues. Many believed Brignac’s last demotion was the end of his MLB career because of his persistent struggles in the minors, but his chance came at the right time, as Sean Rodriguez—who was expected to be called up instead—broke his hand this week while punching his locker. Hopefully Brignac can help out the infield’s defense and the team’s running game as well.
The next round of call-ups should come after Monday, as Durham’s season comes to an end. A first baseman is one thing we can expect when the Rays make their next moves.
With Carlos Pena’s continuing struggles leading him towards less playing time, don’t be surprised to see the Rays call up either Henry Wrigley or Leslie Anderson. Wrigley and Anderson—both first basemen—have both hit well with Durham this season and have yet to earn a single game in the big leagues. With Pena at an all-time low and the rosters expanding, this is clearly their best opportunity.
Top pitching prospect Chris Archer could also be a possibility in the coming week. After a slow start to the season, Archer has pitched well as of late, and could be a nice addition to the bullpen.
The latest Rays news and notes:
- If you haven’t already heard, a total of 71 Rays shaved their heads yesterday on the Charlotte Sports Park boardwalk before their game against the Philadelphia to benefit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at All Children’s Hospital. It was definitely one of the Rays’ most exciting charity event ever, and probably had the most participation. Read and watch more about it at Raysbaseball.com.
- The Rays tied their second game in three days yesterday, finishing their game against the Phillies with a 6-6 ninth-inning draw. Wade Davis’ struggles continued, as he allowed 3 earned runs in 4 innings while allowing 8 hits in his third spring start. Despite another poor outing, Davis said he felt good. Kyle Farnsworth and Cesar Ramos followed Davis’ start, combining for three innings of scoreless work. Offensively, Sam Fuld and Reid Brignac both had themselves a good day going 2-3, while Luke Scott collected his first hit of the spring. Jesus Feliciano got the big hit of the day, driving in the tying run in the bottom of the ninth with a two-out double. Click here for a full boxscore of Thursday’s game.
- Next up for the Rays is the Toronto Blue Jays at 1:05 in Dunedin. Jeff Niemann will start today’s game, here’s the starting lineup via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
- As for injuries, the main focus is obviously concerning the scary collision between Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton that happened during Wednesday’s game versus the Marlins. Fortunately, both are okay and apparently not injured. Jennings is returning today while Upton will likely play tomorrow. Catcher Robinson Chirinos seems to be in a much worse condition, as his concussion is slowly healing. Chirinos, who’s battling for the backup catcher spot, has not yet set a date for his return.
- The Rays made their second round of roster cuts on Wednesday. Among the six assigned to the minors were Hak-Ju Lee, Alex Colome, and Wilking Rodriguez. The Rays had their first cuts on Monday when Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Alex Torres were optioned down.
The wait is finally over; Spring Training is officially underway! The long offseason has finally come to an end, which means baseball will soon return to Tampa Bay. As the Rays prepare for another successful season in 2012, there are some questions yet to be answered. Take a look at the five biggest questions coming into Spring Training.
Who will take over the the fifth spot in the rotation?
Having an overcrowded rotation is probably the best problem a team can have. With the addition of phenom rookie Matt Moore, the Rays’ position in the MLB arms race is higher than ever. The front four in the rotation is pretty predictable. Expect to see James Shields in the number one spot, followed by Price, Hellickson, and Moore. Of course, all eyes will be on who wins the last spot in the rotation. Although there is really four candidates for the fifth spot (Jeff Niemann, Alex Cobb, Wade Davis, and Alex Torres), the decision is likely going to come down to two players. It appears as if Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, who were both part of the Rays starting rotation last season, will battle it out for the job this spring. It should be fun to watch, as Joe Maddon’s decision will most likely be heavily based off their Spring Training performances. Niemann pitched nearly 50 less innings than Davis last season, but there statistics were still pretty similar. Niemann finished the year with a 4.06 ERA and an 11-7 record, while Davis posted a 4.45 ERA with an 11-10 record. The numbers show that Niemann has been the more effective pitcher in the past, but that’s something he’ll have to prove this March. It’s hard to predict who will get the No. 5 role, but I think the early edge probably goes to Niemann. Again, we’ll just have to wait and see how they fare during Spring Training. As for the three pitchers who will be kept out of the starting rotation, they’re still valuable reserves on the roster. Almost never does a team go through a whole season without an injury to one of their starters, which means that they’ll have their chance to step in and contribute during the season. While the starting five are healthy, the reserve starters will likely help strengthen the bullpen. Whoever is edged out out of the rotation — Niemann or Davis — will become the team’s long reliever this season.
Who will win the battle at short?
The shortstop position is one of the big topics for the Rays this season, and it’s a big question of how much production can come from there in 2012. The competition for the shortstop job features three candidates: Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, and the newly-acquired Jeff Keppinger. Like the rotation battle, the candidates are going to have to prove themselves during Spring Training. Rodriguez, who can play pretty much every position besides pitcher and catcher, seems to be the early favorite entering Sprig Training. Rodriguez put up the best offensive production out of all the Rays’ shortstops last year, batting .223 with eight home runs and 36 RBI’s. He also has good speed on the bases, collecting 11 thefts in 2011. His defense is maybe a bit above average, and he has proven to be a consistent fielder at short. Brignac also has similar plus sides to Rodriguez. His defense is at least as good as Rodriguez’s, and he’s probably just as much as a threat on the basepads. Besides his speed, Brignac has pretty much no offensive value. That’s main reason why his odds don’t look good for the shortstop job. Brignac finished the season with a low .193 average and just 15 RBI’s. As for Jeff Keppinger, he could earn himself a starting role with a strong Spring Training performance. He’s going to have to hit well for average, as his defense, power, and speed are not going to cut it. Keppinger is less than average defensively at shortstop, and plays a lot more games at second. A lifetime .281 hitter, Keppinger mostly adds offensive value to the roster. The Rays have a defense-oriented infield, but I believe Keppinger could possibly get the shortstop gig if he can convince the Rays that he is offensively stable enough. Still, Rodriguez seems to be the best fit for the job at the moment, and is probably the best prediction to play shortstop on Opening Day.
Who Will Be a Part of the Bullpen?
The battles for the rotation and shortstop spots may be the biggest storylines for the Rays this spring, but there will also be a heated competition for the bullpen. The Rays made multiple moves to reinforce their bullpen this season, now we will have to see how Maddon will piece them together. The closer role and setup man role are pretty predictable for 2012, as Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta look like they will return to their respectable spots in the bullpen. That leaves five more spots in the bullpen, with at least eight serious candidates. New right-handed additions Burke Badenhop and Fernando Rodney will likely find themselves a spot in the bullpen. The long reliever of the ‘pen would be however loses the Davis-Niemann battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. So, that leaves just two spots left in the bullpen. I’m assuming Maddon will want two lefties in his bullpen, bringing multiple names into the picture. The Rays showed a lot of confidence in J.P. Howell this offseason, which makes me predict that he’ll become the team’s left-handed specialist in the ‘pen. That leaves two main names who will likely fight it out for the middle relief role; Jake McGee and Josh Lueke. Even though McGee had a better statistical season last year, I think Lueke will be the one on the Opening Day roster. McGee is younger, and the Rays may prefer that he continues to develop in AAA Durham. However, McGee could be one among a handful of players who will be called up to contribute in the bullpen throughout the season. Brandon Gomes, Dane De La Rosa, Alex Torres, and Cesar Ramos could all potentially find themselves just outside the bullpen as well. Here’s how I predict the bullpen will look at the start of the regular season:
Can Matt Joyce Develop into a First Baseman?
Matt Joyce did not conduct his usual offseason workouts this winter. For the first time in his big league career, the 27 year-old Tampa-native is trying out the first base position. The All-Star outfielder is possibly considering becoming a first baseman. Even though Carlos Pena will be manning first base for the whole season, it’s always good to have the idea in mind. Offensively, Joyce is an adequate hitter for the position, and he’s still developing. In just his first big league season, Joyce batted .277 with 75 RBI’s and 19 home runs. Joyce’s power is something that will help him fit in at first, if he were to continue to pursue the position. Obviously, the biggest adjustment for Joyce would be defensively. Being an outfielder for his whole MLB career, Joyce would have a lot to learn in order to master the position. Joyce is one of many outfielders who have tried the move to first, and it hasn’t been much of a success story. Knowing Joyce, though, I believe he can complete the transition if he’s truly determined. Last offseason, Joyce worked to improve his baserunning and defense, and the results were great and very noticeable throughout the 2011 season. Joyce has terrific work ethic, and he’s one of those players who will do what it takes to achieve his goals. Joe Maddon may make team orders, but at the end of the day it really depends on whether Joyce is willing to put in the hard work or not.
Which Prospects Will Stand Out This March?
Besides Matt Moore, there are a handful of Rays prospects who have a lot to prove this Spring. Shortstop Tim Beckham is one of those names. Beckham, who’s ranked the Rays’ fourth-best prospect (by MLB.com), has a crucial year coming up ahead of him. The former first-overall draft pick has disappointed a bit so far in his minor league career, considering the extremely high expectations put on him since the beginning. Beckham compiled a .271 average with 70 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases through his 131 games last season, during his time with AA Montgomery and his brief stint with AAA Durham. It may not be the big numbers that stand out among scouts, but he was only 21 in 2011. He made a lot of progress last year, specifically improving in his defensive game. Many scouts say he may not have a big league future at the shortstop position, but Beckham is making efforts to prove them wrong. Even if Beckham won’t be an MLB shortstop, I still believe he has the potential to be a solid big league player. Any way you look at it, this is a very important Spring Training for Beckham, and I doubt he’ll disappoint.
Hak-Ju Lee is another top prospect who received a Spring Training invitation. The Rays are hopeful the 21-year-old Korean-native is there future shortstop. Lee, who was acquired in the Matt Garza trade two offseasons ago, ended his 2011 season in AA Montgomery after spending most of the year at the Class-A+ level. He finished the year with a .292 average along with 30 RBI’s and 17 stolen bases. Lee features great speed as well as plus defense, and is expected to make major progress in the minors this season. Although Lee will most likely not be joining the Rays in 2012, he should be a fun player to watch at Spring Training. It will be interesting to see if Lee and Beckham will have themselves a bit of a private battle throughout the spring.
Brandon Guyer, another youngster acquired in the Matt Garza trade, may have the most important Spring Training out of all the Rays prospects. The 26-year-old will have to play some quality baseball if he wants to break into the Rays’ crowded outfield. Guyer batted .312 with 14 homers and 16 stolen bases through his 107 at-bats with AAA Durham last season, displaying his power-speed combination. Even with the good numbers, it will be hard for him to find a decent amount of MLB playing time this season. With B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and Sam Fuld taking over the outfield, he’s going to have to impress this March if he wants the big league shot he deserves.
With the exception of Matt Moore, there will be three main prospect pitchers to keep an eye on during Spring Training. Alex Cobb, Alex Torres, and Chris Archer will all have a lot of work to do this spring in order to prove they have what it takes to join the Rays’ talented rotation in the future. Cobb has the most MLB experience out of the three, going 3-2 with a 3.42 ERA in his nine starts last season. He has also been successful in his minor league career, and has improved year by year. Alex Torres will need to follow Cobb’s path and improve his numbers if he wants a future as a Rays starter. Torres’ stats weren’t bad last year, as he went 9-7 with a 3.08 ERA through his 27 starts at AAA Durham. Still, some things have to be fixed, and I’m pretty confident Torres will make progress doing so during Spring Training. As for Chris Archer, the Rays hope he can start the spring where he finished off. Archer, who is ranked the third best prospect (by MLB.com), ended his minor league season strong after having some struggles earlier in the year. It’ll be a big season for the 23-year-old hurler in 2012, and it should be interesting to see how he starts along side the rest of the Rays’ pitching talent. I think this may be the year Archer really shines and shows off his high potential.