Mere minutes after the Rays defeated the Florida Marlins 73 in Friday night’s game at Tropicana Field, major changes to the roster were announced. Scott Kazmir returns from the disabled list, where he had been with a quadriceps strain/mechanical problem. Returning from elbow surgery, Chad Bradford will be making his 2009 Rays debut this weekend. The victims here were relief pitcher Winston Abreu, who was designated for assignment, and starter Andy Sonnanstine, whose 6.61 ERA this season ranked him the worst in the league among qualifiers and got him sent to AAA Durham.
Abreu didn’t do too badly from what I saw. He was dominating at Durham. Hopefully he stays in this organization and continues what he did before at that level.
Sonnanstine’s demotion to AAA has been longawaited. This season, at least. His frequently giving up home runs and fiverun innings became too much for everyone to handle. After two years straight in the Major Leagues, he now returns to Durham to fix… whatever his problem is. From the playoff starting rotation to this. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Hopefully he, like Kazmir, figures it out.
Speaking of Kazmir, he will start the Saturday night Citrus Series game against the Marlins. He did very well in rehab, not only healing that quadriceps but finding and straightening out pitching delivery flaws. He wasn’t driving off of his back leg, which reduced his fastball to about a AA level pitch. He’s good at 94 miles per hour, but worthless at 88. He’s no J.P. Howell, but now he’s finally getting back on track.
Chad Bradford also makes his season debut. He was a major presence in last year’s bullpen after being picked up off waivers from Baltimore. His unusual delivery and high rate of ground ball outs make him a big time commodity. He’s a great postseason pitcher and tends to at least do well regardless of the situation. We needed him back, and now we have him to give us another intriguing option.
If you can attend these home games in any possible way, please go. The attendance is looking somewhat dismal so far. But I do hear that the Rays are considering a Hillsborough County stadium (finally, please build it soon), so revenue and higher crowds may be forthcoming. Until next time, go Rays.
Our Tampa Bay Rays, America’s new team, have taken a 20 lead in the Division Series, knocking off the White Sox in a 62 classic. Rays starter Scott Kazmir was starting to have a “here it goes again” night by promptly loading the bases (hitting Orlando Cabrera was unintentional, Harold Reynolds) and allowing two runs before his team even hit. The Rays got one back with a Dioner Navarro single while narrowly avoiding more Chicago damage. Kazmir pitched very effectively after the early runs scored, but was down until the bottom of the fifth inning.
After a Jason Bartlett single, Akinori Iwamura brought out a slice of his Japanese years. He took a 11 fastball out and over the plate from Mark Buehrle and drove it deep to left center field… carrying… carrying deep… and gone for a leadchanging home run. That’s classic Iwamura power out into the opposite power alley, where he hit at least half of his regular season home runs. He took a welldeserved curtain call afterwards. Kazmir left after 5.1 innings pitched with two earned runs surrendered, pitching well for a guy who threw 37 pitches in the first inning. Grant Balfour came in for an epic rematch with Orlando Cabrera, whom Balfour quickly silenced with a groundout, going on to get out of the inning with the lead.
It remained 32 Rays until the eighth inning, when Buehrle allowed a leadoff triple to B.J. Upton, who ran full speed the whole way as he always should. The White Sox starter would be chased out by Carl Crawford, who dinged a little opposite field single to score Upton. He then stole second base without a throw off Octavio Dotel, proving once and for all that good old Carl is back in full swing. Rocco Baldelli lined his first playoff hit into center field to score Crawford. With two out, Dioner Navarro came to the plate to set up another great 2008 Rays highlight. With the count at 11 against Matt Thornton, Navarro lifted a popup to shallow center field. Alexei Ramirez lost sight of the ball and the outfielders didn’t get there in time. The ball dropped in the triangle as Rocco ran like a cheetah after its dinner. Not quite as great as he once was, but as good once as he ever was, he flew around third base and surprisingly scored without much of a play to make it 62. Vintage Baldelli running all the way home was just another embodiment of this Rays team, not to mention another dagger to the White Sox. It was as if he was 22 years old again. Chicago did get another runner on base after a hideously atrocious call at first base on a tag by Willy Aybar, but Chad Bradford spared the umpire and his team with a 543 double play. He followed that brilliantly with a three pitch looking strikeout of Jim Thome to make it 20 Rays and send Chicago back home against the wall.
The Rays will now take a nearly insurmountable advantage into enemy territory, where Matt Garza will get the ball on Sunday at 4:07 P.M. This is the same time as kickoff for a big Buccaneers football game in Denver, but I think my priorities will lie with the baseball team this week. Many others’ should too. Why not? We had great crowds at those home playoff games and continued showing doubters up. Let’s keep riding this tidal wave of success, and until next time, go Rays.