First off today, the Rays closed Al Lang Field as a Spring Training site today with a 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Matt Garza allowed two runs, zero earned, in five innings pitched, with four different relievers each allowing a run. (We don’t want to see more of that in April, like 2007.) Carl Crawford had three hits and his sixth stolen base of the Spring, and Dioner Navarro had two hits. More newsworthy, however, is the fact that Al Lang Field, which has been a Spring Training stadium since the Boston Braves used it from 1922-37, has now hosted its final preseason game. I’m not sure how many fans nationwide have heard about this or understand the significance of this event, but it was a top headline all over the local news here throughout this week. The Rays named The All-Time Al Lang Field Team today, including such names as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth.
Scott Kazmir still moves forward in rehab, throwing about 70-80 times from around 120 feet today. The team, in its ultra-conservative approach, says that Kazmir will throw a bullpen session on Sunday, then pitch in three Minor League Spring Training games, progressing in time and pitches thrown. Then, finally, he may return sometime in April at a low risk for any setbacks or relapses. As much as I would like to see him go ahead and pitch from day one, he has had no time so far this Spring, and even as good as he is, throwing him to the lions (or in the case of the Orioles, maybe Siamese cats) out of the starting gate could backfire. And we should also have him ready and going late in the season should there be a little thing called a playoff race.
Speaking of conservative approaches, according to my dad, a baseball columnist online actually said that there may be an on-field reason for Evan Longoria’s demotion to AAA Durham: he can’t hit breaking balls. Thus, so says this guy, Longoria could spend two or three months in Durham if he doesn’t adjust quickly. It is true that many young players have this problem, but if it was that pronounced, wouldn’t somebody have said it sooner? He’s just learning more of the game with age, I think he’ll get it soon.
The Rays have acquired outfielder Nathan Haynes off waivers from the Angels and placed Rocco Baldelli on the 60-day disabled list. According to stats that I have looked up, Haynes appears to be a light-hitting all-around outfielder who runs well and could be a good fourth or fifth option. He stole four bases for the Cactus League’s Angels earlier this Spring, so maybe he can be a good pinch runner who fits into the Rays’ baserunning system. We didn’t give up anything to get him, so it’s certainly a good move if there is a place for him.
With the Atlanta Braves, sources have said that they picked up utility infielder Ruben Gotay off waivers from the rival Mets to start the season while Omar Infante is injured. First baseman Scott Thorman actually cleared waivers and is off to AAA Richmond once again. I think he’s on his last strike here…his continuous disappointments are only further motivation to re-sign Mark Teixeira. Meanwhile, with the Mets, former Tampa Bay relief pitcher Brian Stokes may squeeze onto the roster and start the year in the Mets’ bullpen after Rule 5 Draft pick Steven Register was waived. I hope they do use Stokes so the Braves can use him for batting practice.
In surprising news from the other Class of 1998 MLB team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting pitcher Doug Davis has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He could still pitch tonight, and even into April, before having surgery to have it removed. This probably means they, thankfully, detected it early before it became life-threatening. So he should get well soon, as all of us fans hope he does.
Elsewhere in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers host the Boston Red Sox at the L.A. Coliseum for an exhibition game tonight. It may be seen by as many as 115,000 fans, which would destroy the baseball record and the all time American team sports record, which were both set in the same stadium. The only problem with this would be the Red Sox playing exhibition games after their regular season already started, but this still looks to be a huge historic event. But from what I’ve read about the stadium’s baseball dimensions, Manny Ramirez and others will have a difficult time hitting into the power alley, as the left center field fence goes back at least 450 feet. Maybe if they moved that in, they could expand the seating capacity even further. (And maybe they have.) The awkward dimensions were actually the main motivation for the building of Dodger Stadium in the first place. But I can only imagine if the Dodgers had hosted more World Series games there. They would have drawn unbreakable record crowds, just like they’ll do tonight.
That covers most of the news, until final roster cuts are made and the season starts. Until next time, go Rays.
The big announcement has been made, according to The Tampa Tribune…
Why the **** would they make this move? Besides money and waiting out arbitration another year, there is no sufficient reason. Sure, Longoria has slightly fallen to a .262 average this Spring while Eric Hinske is hitting .372, but why not just go ahead and get him adjusted now? Why, exactly, would you send him to Durham for two weeks and block a roster spot there when he could be in Tampa Bay from day one? The move makes very little sense. I’ll have more once the news spreads.
As long as Longoria is going to AAA, I beg of the Rays to please start Eric Hinske at third base until he is called up. If they start Willy Aybar, they’re idiots. Hinske has been very good so far, and if not Longoria, then it should be him. Longoria will be up in April anyway. Though I thought the cheap Rays ownership died with Vince Naimoli’s departure. So, until next time, go Rays and Bulls.
As the season nears, there are more Spring Training headlines than ever before flying out onto the Internet, ESPN, and every other possible source. Decisions are being made as to who will be on Opening Day rosters. A few of them are…
-Javier Lopez, the former Braves catcher, retired yesterday after Bobby Cox informed him that he would not make the team out of training camp. (Corky Miller is the leading candidate for the backup catching job.) One of my favorite players of the Braves’ division title era, dating back to his home run in Game 2 of the 1995 World Series, he set the world on fire with 43 home runs only five years ago, then wasted away in Baltimore before a decent effort in his final comeback attempt proved unsuccessful. He seems like the type of guy who, in retirement, can become a coach of some sort, maybe a Minor League instructor. I think that would be his best career path at this point. Lopez had some very good years, but it’s time for him to move on.
-John Smoltz could, if extreme caution prevails, start the season in the same boat as Scott Kazmir, on the disabled list. He may be ready to pitch next week, but at 40 years old, they’re treating Smoltz like a young fragile arm. He wouldn’t miss enough time to make it too significant if he doesn’t start the season.
-Without Kazmir, the Rays have announced that James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson, and Jason Hammel will form the starting rotation for about the first week of the season. Upon his return, Kazmir should take the number one spot and drop Jason Hammel into his projected long relief role. This looks to be the correct order for this rotation, and it should remain this way judging by what I’ve seen. Sonnanstine has forged ahead with a 0.64 ERA this Spring, and could be a nice fourth starter in 2008 behind the big three of Kazmir, Shields, and Garza. No other injury problems have surfaced, thankfully.
-Evan Longoria…no announcement yet. This concludes your required Evan Longoria update, brought to you by your Tampa Bay Rays.
-Troy Percival is locked in for the Rays’ bullpen, but he got hammered today, giving up seven runs in one inning to the Cincinnati Reds. He came in with a huge lead, so maybe he pulled an Al Reyes and played it soft until it suddenly got close. Or maybe he just got destroyed. Probably both. This was one game, but it can’t continue next month and beyond. Though, in this one, the offense bailed him out and won the game.
More decisions as they are made and announced. Speaking of announcements, the Tigers are expected to tell the world that they have extended Miguel Cabrera’s contract and paid him what he wanted: 8 years, $153.3 million. The former Marlins third baseman is thankfully out of the Braves’ division, and now ready to turn the large field of Comerica Park upside down. I would like to see him live up to the hype, as I’m a bit of a Tigers mark dating back to their 2006 World Series run. So, until next time, go Rays.
Today I used all of my Best Buy gift card money to buy MLB 08: The Show for my PlayStation 2. I’ve only played one game to this point, on my ridiculously easy settings, where the Rays beat the Florida Marlins 12-0. Carlos Pena had the first hit, a single to left field, and Rocco Baldelli the first home run, a two-run blast to right field (B.J. Upton hit the second, a solo shot to center field). Carl Crawford tripled, and Scott Kazmir pitched eight dominant five-hit innings before Troy Percival finished the job. From what I gather so far, it’s nearly identical to last year’s game, but there are some new animations and I think the gameplay is more fluid with new and improved fielding and home run animations. There is one critical change in the interface, being that after selecting a pitch, the little ball marker points arrows indicating where the pitch will break, which is a great pitching feature for breaking ball throwers. And check this out for new realism: I ran Kazmir over 100 pitches without even walking anyone. The AI is much more adept at fouling off two-strike pitches and running up pitch counts, though I still managed to strike out nine of the first 12 Marlins hitters. It will probably, as last year’s game did, take a brief adjustment period to this game’s style before I get as good as I want to be. It looks good so far. More news on this and other happenings as they occur, as I’m now on Spring Break and have more free time. Until next time, go Rays.
I have uploaded a gallery of photos to this here very blog from Saturday’s Rays-Braves game at Champion Stadium. You can find this at http://braverays.mlblogs.com/photos/raysbraves_2008/index.html, where I have uploaded nearly 30 game photos with descriptions. More on the Scott Kazmir/disabled list news later on. Until next time, go Rays.
So, of course, Saturday was my time to take my annual weekend vacation to Kissimmee to see the Atlanta Braves in live Spring Training action. This year, they played the Tampa Bay Rays, so I couldn’t lose either way. The game took place in a hot and humid Champion Stadium–on one hand, I hate the heat and need to hit the shade in that weather, but if it meant watching these two teams battle while the ladies in the crowd didn’t have to cover themselves up in anything besides sunscreen, fine with me. I didn’t play Braves trivia this year, though I did say hi to quizmaster Suzi Q during the game. I have pictures from this game that will be uploaded as soon as I can find the USB connector to my computer. Once they’re up, I’ll have even more to say than I already do. By the way, the Rays won 11-10 after leading 10-3 in the eighth inning. Early post-game thoughts:
-John Smoltz was his usual mound master self in the first four innings, but didn’t he ever tank that fifth inning. He got up to 0-2 on Evan Longoria, then lost him and allowed a walk. At this point, my dad said Smoltz was "laboring" on the mound, and I got the same thought. It intensified after he walked John Rodriguez on four pitches. I knew the Braves needed bullpen help ASAP, but Smoltz was allowed to deal with shortstop Reid Brignac, hitting around the Mendoza Line this Spring. Big mistake–the AAA shortstop lined a two-run double to right center field and put the Rays on the board emphatically. Jason Hammel executed a perfect first-pitch sacrifice bunt to move Brignac over, and Elliot Johnson sacrifice flied him home to make it 3-0. Second hitter Jon Weber hit a hard ground ball to first base…off the glove of Mark Teixeira. E3, and Carlos Pena steps up. Smoltz falls behind, and bam–Pena takes him the opposite way into the wind for a home run, just off the glove of leaping left fielder Josh Anderson (who had tumbled into the bullpen chasing a foul ball earlier in the inning). 5-0 Rays, and John Smoltz is done after 4.2 innings pitched, five runs (three earned) surrendered. The Rays scored five times on two hits in one inning. As my dad casually stated, "two walks and an error will do that." Well said, indeed.
-On the other end of the spectrum, Jason Hammel was as good as I have ever seen him. He allowed three hits and no runs in his five innings of work. He hit the outside corner like nobody’s business and threw good low-90s fastballs mixed with the occasional changeup. From my point of view, it looked like he was just catching or just missing the black edge of the plate and getting the calls every time. He couldn’t have done much better. If he can pull that out of the hat occasionally this season, we’ll have quite an effective long reliever/spot starter.
-"Cowboy" Joe West umpired at third base in this game. I actually have a personally signed baseball addressed to me from him in my room. I got it Christmas Day 2004.
-The best hitter in batting practice? Shawn Riggans, the Rays backup catcher. He hit a home run and another warning track fly ball in pre-game warmups. He hit it hard in the game, too. Maybe he was just on Saturday. That is, until he got hit by Blaine Boyer’s fastball.
-Jeff Francoeur has one of the best arms I’ve ever seen. After a flyout, he nearly doubled off Dioner Navarro going back to first base. Don’t even test him on your best day.
-Chipper Jones made two strong defensive plays that could qualify as "Web Gems" on Baseball Tonight. He got robbed in last year’s Gold Glove balloting. It’s his time again now.
-The Rays’ third baseman, Evan Longoria, is as good as advertised. Beware, all division rivals–he’s also learning more plate discipline and still maturing.
-I saw great effort from guys like Josh Anderson and Elliot Johnson, who drag bunted and beat it out at one point for a base hit.
-I would have more on that exciting finish, but we left the game during the top of the eighth inning. The need to check into a hotel, shower, and make it to 6:30 dinner reservations will do that sometimes. And so will the heat. But apparently, I missed Corky Miller blasting a grand slam.
-I saw a nice turnout of both Rays and Braves fans, which I think could only mean good things for the baseball market in the area. With the Braves needing a strong Spring fanbase in Kissimmee and the Rays looking to expand their market, I like to see these fans show their support in large groups.
-I have thoughts on just about everyone I saw at this game, but posting them all here takes too much space. The most impressive people there were Jason Hammel, Carlos Pena, Chipper Jones, Rafael Soriano, Evan Longoria, and Suzi Q.
-After the game, we ate dinner at Kool’s Oakfire Grill (AKA Key W. Kool’s), which makes an amazing strip steak. Then I spent my night at the hotel. I paid visits to the game room and the pool areas, which were hopping with people up until at least 11:00. And, of course, I watched the infamous loop of Stacey’s Top Seven Must Sees at Walt Disney World. "Stacey" is actually 38-year-old actress Stacey J. Aswad, who has done a few national TV commercials. I just thought I would point that out.
That’s about it for my quick game thoughts, as I have college projects to get back to. More, including pictures, coming shortly. Until then, go Rays.
MLB disciplinarian Bob Watson (once the Yankees’ general manager) has handed out the suspensions for the Rays-Yankees brawl. The Yankees’ Shelley Duncan and Melky Cabrera were each suspended for the first three games of the regular season and Joe Girardi and two coaches were fined, while the Rays’ Jonny Gomes was suspended for two games. I suppose you can call that fair–the Yankees, as the aggressors, deserved at least a little more than the Rays. Gomes can probably be replaced just for two games, I still think it was worth it. But Gomes will be going to Kissimmee to face the Braves now, rather than the original plan of facing the Yankees, tomorrow. Of course, the Rays-Braves game is the one that I am attending on my annual trip to the Wide World of Sports Complex, so for more on that…
Read this. The Braves (Peter Gammons’ "most underrated team") plan to debut both John Smoltz and Rafael Soriano tomorrow at Champions Stadium. I would call this a huge test for both pitchers as they get back into the swing of Major League pitching. Meanwhile, the Rays are shipping almost the entire A-team to Steinbrenner Field, and Jason Hammel will be starting, followed by Scott Dohmann and Calvin Medlock. Hammel will most likely end up as the long reliever, so with the Braves also carrying a split squad, I would expect him to pitch a few innings and try to improve his form for the season. The Rays will have Evan Longoria, Jonny Gomes, Carlos Pena, and Dioner Navarro as some of the top players in Kissimmee. So Smoltz will be challenged by a few good hitters, and I have good reason to believe the same for Hammel, who needs to use this time to quickly adjust to this caliber of play. This should be a great game, despite the projection of far too hot for comfort temperatures. I’ll need the shade and a boatload of water, but it should be a fun experience as it always is. I’ll have pictures and commentary when I return to Tampa on Sunday, and until then, go Rays (and Braves).