As the first half of the 2013 MLB season nears an end, let’s look back at what went right and what went wrong for the Tampa Bay Rays after almost three months of baseball.
It’s been a frustrating first half for the Rays for multiple reasons, but at 42-39, they’re still very much in competition.
Here are the main winners and losers from the first half of the Rays’ season.
Winner: The offense
The Rays’ offense has been amongst the best in all of baseball this season. Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the MLB in wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) at 109 and ninth in the league in runs (375).
The lineup, which has managed to stay healthy, has really clicked for Joe Maddon’s club. Evan Longoria (.388 wOBA and 47 RBI) has swung the bat very well, along with Matt Joyce (.348 wOBA) and James Loney (.361 wOBA). Ben Zobrist, Kelly Johnson and Desmond Jennings have also been key contributors.
With Wil Myers now in the meat of this impressive lineup, Tampa’s offensive could be even more dangerous in the second half.
Loser: David Price
It’s been a lousy 2013 for David Price coming off a Cy Young award-winning season last year. The Rays’ ace posted a 1-4 record with a 5.24 ERA and 4.03 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) through nine starts before hitting the DL with a tricep strain last month.
Not only have Price’s early-season struggles and injury hurt the Rays, but they haven’t helped out his future trade value much either. On a more positive note, though, he is set to join the rotation this Tuesday.
If one thing’s for sure, the Rays are going to need Price back to to form in the second half if they want to compete in October.
Winner: James Loney
James Loney has enjoyed a nice comeback year with the Rays so far after disappointing 2012 season. Loney’s put up an impressive .314/.367/.474 line with 40 RBI and a 134 wRC+.
He’s been very productive defensively as well, posting a 2.9 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating).
Loser: Jeff Niemann
The Jeff Niemann story is a very unfortunate one. It seems like every time the “Tall Texan” is about to break out into stardom, a big injury ruins his season.
The 30-year-old right-hander won’t throw a single pitch in 2013 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. Niemann already lost his spot in the rotation in spring training to veteran Roberto Hernandez, so his future as a starter in Tampa Bay isn’t a very bright one, especially now with the emergence of Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Alex Torres.
Winner: Rookie pitchers
It’s been a good season for the Rays’ talented young crop of prospect pitchers. Chris Archer, Alex Colome and Alex Torres have all received some big league playing time this year thanks to injuries.
Archer, who proved he was Major League ready in 2012, has once again flashed his high potential this season. He owns a 4.40 ERA through six starts.
Colome has been solid in his big league debut this season, allowing just four earned runs in his first three starts with the Rays. He’s pitched 16 innings, striking out 12 batters but also walking nine.
Archer and Colome sure have been exciting, but neither have made as big of a splash as Torres. The 25-year-old southpaw has been ridiculously good out of the bullpen, allowing just one run in 23 innings while striking out 31 and walking seven. If Torres can continue to pitch lights out, he’ll find himself in a bigger role on the team.
Loser: The Bullpen
Tampa Bay’s bullpen has been a huge disappointment this year, blowing countless leads late in games after being nearly flawless last season. Rays relievers have posted a 3.79 ERA, which ranks 17th in the league.
Fernando Rodney has regressed significantly as well in 2012, blowing already five saves in 21 opportunities. However, Rodney—like the rest of the Rays’ bullpen—appears to be turning things around now as the ‘pen seems to be going into the second half on a high note.
The decision for the fifth starter in the Rays’ rotation is finally in. Roberto Hernandez will join Tampa Bay’s starting five and Jeff Niemann will start the season in the bullpen.
#Rays have named Hernandez their fifth starter. Niemann will pitch out of the bullpen. Starters: Price, Hellickson, Moore, Cobb, Hernandez.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) March 29, 2013
Jeff Niemann—who competed well and made this a very tough decision for Joe Maddon—had the better spring. He posted a 2.92 ERA with 17 strikeouts and four walks over 24.2 innings in Grapefruit League play, while Hernandez posted a 5.33 ERA with 14 strikeouts and six walks over 27 innings.
Despite performing better, Niemann lost this job due to lack of velocity during spring training. He didn’t even reach 90 MPH on his fastball once, which obviously concerned the Rays considering his average fastball velocity lifetime is 91.3 MPH.
#Rays will put Niemann in bullpen, give him time to build velocity, use him in long relief for now.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 29, 2013
Another reason why Hernandez got the edge over Niemann is because Maddon, at the moment, believes that the 32-year-old veteran can provide more innings. Getting deep into games is maybe the biggest thing Maddon was looking for out of these two.
Another advantage in Hernandez’s favor is the fact that he does well enticing groundballs, something that he’s had success in throughout his entire career.
Niemann, who will serve as the Rays’ long reliever, has not not been a successful relief pitcher in the past. However, his steady increase in groundballs over the last years could be a positive sign.
#Rays Niemann disappointed at decision, felt he did all he could, but willing to accept new role in bullpen
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 29, 2013
Remember, Niemann had a shoulder injury at the end of last season, so he’s not in the same form as he was in the beginning of last year.
The Rays also announced the order of their rotation this morning:
So #Rays rotation is Price, Hellickson, Hernandez, Moore, Cobb
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) March 29, 2013
Hernandez will actually slot in the third spot in the rotation, due to the way things line up from spring training, giving everyone the full-time rest they need.
At the end of the day, this decision is really just a makeshift roster move by the Rays, as prospect Chris Archer will soon be called up to take over the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Unti then, it will be interesting to see if Hernandez will become the next verteran arm to turn his career around with the Rays.
Here’s Maddon on his choice:
The Rays tied the Orioles Thursday night 4-4 in 10 innings.
David Price was on the mound for his final start of the spring before opening up the season against the O’s Tuesday afternoon. He was limited to just four innings, but looked great, not allowing a single run. He also struck out three batters, while giving up just one hit and one walk.
The Rays’ lineup—which was mostly regulars—collected nine hits. Desmond Jennings had a 4-5 game with a stolen base and a run, and Evan Longoria went 2-for-3 with a long solo homer and an RBI single.
Here’s a full boxscore of Thursday’s game.
Joe Maddon will make the decision on the fifth spot in the starting rotation this morning.
The Rays’ rotation order will also be announced today. Maddon has actually made up his mind on both already, but he’s not saying just yet. Roberto Hernandez appears to be the favorite for the job, despite having the worse spring.
Maddon has made it clear that he wants to get innings (preferably 7+) out of whoever wins the battle.
One big hint pointing towards the likelihood of Hernandez getting the job is that the Rays are saying he’ll pitch three innings in a minor league game of the season. This could also possibly mean that he’ll be the No. 3 starter rather than the No. 5.
Pretty interesting….we’ll see how it plays out later this morning.
Other Rays News and Notes:
The Rays lost Wednesday by a score of 6-1 in Port Charlotte, but the main headline of the day was Jeff Niemann, who was excellent in his final Grapefruit League start.
The Tall Texan tossed six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while walking none and striking out two.
The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation between Niemann and Roberto Hernandez is a very close one, and Joe Maddon’s decision may not come until Friday.
I think the right choice is to put Niemann in the rotation and Hernandez in the ‘pen, and I say that for a couple of reasons. Niemann has had the better spring statistically (2.92 ERA vs. 5.33 ERA) and Hernandez is better suited for the ‘pen, being a good groundball pitcher. Niemann has also proven that he’s a very effective starter when healthy, while Hernandez has been flat-out awful since 2008.
What do you guys think? :
Back to the ballgame, not much news other than Niemann’s outing.
Both Fernando Rodney—making his first appearance since the World Baseball Classic—and Jake McGee had themselves a scoreless inning each.
The only Rays run was scored off a Yunel Escobar RBI triple, which was one of Escobar’s two hits of the day (finished game 2-2). Ryan Roberts also had had two hits, including a double (finished game 2-4).
Evan Longoria walked twice in three plate appearances, flying out in his only at bat.
Here’s for a full boxscore.
The Rays evened their Grapefruit League record to 15-15 Tuesday, losing to Philadelphia in Clearwater.
Roberto Hernandez, who was making his final start in the tight battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation with Jeff Niemann, had a rough outing. Hernandez started the day with four great innings to start off, but then collapsed in both the fifth and sixth innings.
He was scoreless in those first four innings, and was doing a very nice job enticing groundballs. He gave up nine runs in his final two innings, finishing the day this ugly line: 6 IP, 11 H, 9 ER, BB, 0 K.
Tuesday’s lineup, which featured just two Opening Day players, was very quiet throughout the ballgame. The offense compiled just three hits, the only run coming from Sean Rodriguez’s RBI double in the third inning.
Click here for a full boxscore.
The Rays pretty much set their Opening Day roster Tuesday. They optioned down Brandon Gomes, leaving the final two bullpen spots to Jamey Wright and Niemann/Hernandez.
Here’s a look at the 25-man roster to start the regular season and roster moves from yesterday over at TampaBay.com.
Rays News and Notes:
- The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will be coming to a conclusion either today or tomorrow, as Jeff Niemann makes his final start of the spring this afternoon against the Blue Jays in Port Charlotte.
- The Rays beat the Pirates 6-2 Monday. Matt Moore had another shaky start in that one.
- Luke Scott could be sidelined a few days with a tightness in his right calf. It’s nice to hear that it’s not the same left hamstring issue that’s been bothering him, but it’s also upsetting to see that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy with the Rays yet for an extended period of time. As of now it looks like missing Opening Day isn’t a concern.
- Rays senior advisor Don Zimmer will throw out the first pitch for Opening Day.
- David Price is seen on the cover of one of six Sports Illustrated regional baseball preview issues. The issue features the Rays, and SI writers seem to really like them this year in their pre-season predictions.
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.
Following a rain out Wednesday night in Fort Myers versus Minnesota, the Rays returned to action losing to Toronto Thursday afternoon by a score 3-1.
Evan Longoria returned to the lineup, going 1-2 with a double and a walk.
Bats were very quiet throughout the entire game for Tampa Bay, as the lineup compiled just one run on six hits. James Loney knocked in the only run of the day, hitting an RBI single in a 2-for-3 effort.
On the hill for the Rays was Roberto Hernandez, who turned in an excellent outing. Hernandez tossed six solid innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out two and walking none.
Hernandez has been battling Jeff Niemann for the fifth spot in the rotation all spring, and Joe Maddon said that he’ll make his decision who gets the job after Niemann pitches tomorrow.
Relievers Jamey Wright, Joel Peralta and Jake McGee all made one-inning appearances Thursday. Wright and Peralta both surrendered solo homers, and McGee had a scoreless frame.
Here’s a full boxscore of the game.
Rays News and Notes:
- Fernando Rodney returned to Rays camp earlier today (along with Jose Molina) after spending most of his spring with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Rodney said he feels great and is “ready to go” for the season. He’s scheduled to pitch in two exhibitions; March 27th and March 30th.
- More Fernando Rodney: The Process Report analyzes the possibility of Rodney tipping his pitches.