Rays Take Angels Series

The Rays returned home this week and returned to last week’s form, winning two out of three games from Joe Maddon’s old Angels team despite losing the opener.

They lost the first game 4–3 as James Shields only surrendered two earned runs out of four total. Carlos Pena made his sixth error after having made two in 2008. Despite a Ben Zobrist eighth inning home run and solid relief work from Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and J.P. Howell, the Rays fell to Jered Weaver and Los Angeles (of Anaheim).

The bats came out in droves in game two, picking up a lackluster performance from Jeff Niemann (3.2 IP, 5 R, 4 ER) to beat usual Ray killer John Lackey 9–5. Pena and Willy Aybar homered off Lackey while Zobrist (7) and B.J. Upton (18) picked up stolen bases. Lance Cormier rescued Niemann with more than two innings of shutdown relief. Jason Isringhausen, Joe Nelson and Dan Wheeler showed their A–game as well as the Rays evened up the series.

The rubber game was the best of both worlds: the bats kept on swinging, the pitchers kept mowing the Angels down. Evan Longoria snapped an 0–for–19 stretch with a towering home run off Centerfield Street, his 14th this year and the first of four Tampa Bay home runs. Carl Crawford (5), Dioner Navarro (4) and Pena (19) also hit home runs. Crawford added his 35th stolen base, on a pickoff throw no less, and Gabe Gross stole two for the first time since… ever. He went 3–for–4 with a walk, pacing the bottom of the order.

David Price needs to keep his pitch count down, though he doesn’t give up runs. He walked six batters in just 4.1 innings, but also struck out six and allowed just two hits. He kept his team in this game, but needs to stop walking everything that moves and just get outs. The bullpen, as it did for Niemann, came to the rescue as Balfour, Choate and Nelson struck out six more hitters and only allowed four baserunners. The Rays won 11–1 and won the series.

Now with the Washington Nationals, the worst team baseball has seen in years, in town, it may be the perfect time to give the bullpen a break. Matt Garza starts tonight against rookie Craig Stammen. And no, Stephen Strasburg will not be seen in this series.

Now on to roster moves: Pat Burrell is returning for the Nationals series. This is a team he should be familiar with, having played in their division for several years. His strained neck may finally be healed, though he was 1–for–13 with six strikeouts in his low minor league rehab. In exchange, Matt Joyce was sent back to Durham. I think it’s unfortunate because this guy can drive an extra–base hit off anyone, but the fact that he was hitting .188 and needs to play everyday somewhere justifies the Rays’ decision. Hopefully we see him in the AAA All Star Game (vote for him here) and back up here by September. The way Gabe Kapler has slacked off, somebody needs to pick him up.

Jason Bartlett will be rehabbing with the Charlotte Stone Crabs this weekend. As speed is a key asset to his game, his ankle injury has been treated with great caution. Hopefully he burns everyone out on the bases and shows up in Colorado ready to pierce the thin air with bullets.

In the Draft, the Rays took Fred McGriff’s distant relative LeVon Washington with the 30th overall pick. A high school middle infielder currently healing a shoulder injury, Washington runs faster than Tim Beckham and projects to be a high average hitter with decent power despite his small frame. He compared himself to Jose Reyes, which I would say is accurate.

They also selected Georgia high school catcher Luke Bailey in the fourth round. A first round talent coming off Tommy John surgery, this guy could be a steal in the long run. The Rays took a big gamble on Bailey, and I see it ultimately paying off. That surgery works miracles these days.

With the 349th overall pick, the Rays selected Alex Koronis, a junior pitcher from The University of Tampa, which of course is my school. He might not sign because he has another year of eligibility, but he has been the Spartans’ go–to guy out of the bullpen, according to coach Joe Urso. He can close games, pitch in long relief, or even start and go the distance. I interviewed him for a newspaper piece not long ago, and I can tell you he’s an interesting character and a good guy. So whether or not he joins the Rays, he’ll go on to a bright future.

Now let’s beat those Nationals and not continue our legacy of playing down to inferior teams. I like how Kevin Kennedy brought that up after last night’s game. Until next time, go Rays.

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