Tagged: Pat Burrell

2009 Season Retrospective: Part One

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2009 season has been completed, here are some facts and figures from the season, including the good, bad and completely miserable:

  • Record: 84–78 (Third place)
  • Home Run Leader: Carlos Pena (39)
  • Stolen Base Leader: Carl Crawford (60)
  • Best Starter ERA: Jeff Niemann (3.94)
  • Batting Leader: Jason Bartlett (.320 — Franchise Record)
  • Best Bullpen ERA: J.P. Howell (2.84)
  • RBI Leader: Evan Longoria (113)

Longoria also led in runs scored (100). B.J. Upton was second in stolen bases (42). Matt Garza finished just behind Niemann in ERA (3.95). Howell led the team in saves (17), but also in blown saves (8).

  • Pat Burrell: .221, 14 HR in 122 games
  • Dioner Navarro: .218, 8 HR, 18 walks in 115 games
  • B.J. Upton: .241, 11 HR in 144 games
  • Andy Sonnanstine: 6–9, 6.77 ERA in 22 games (18 starts)
  • Grant Balfour: 5–4, 4.81 ERA (1.50 in 2008)
  • Scott Kazmir: 8–7, 5.92 ERA with the Rays in 20 games; 2–2, 1.73 ERA with the Angels in six games
  • James Shields: 11–12, 4.14 ERA

So without six busts and a mediocre season from Shields, this team probably would have made the postseason. Every one of those guys could have done much better, as they have before. Thankfully, they were aided by the surprising Ben Zobrist (.297, 27 HR, 17 SB) and Bartlett (30 SB, 14 HR; one HR in 2008).

  • Five players (Pena, Upton, Longoria, Burrell, Zobrist) struck out more than 100 times, while Crawford reached 99. Bartlett had a career–high 89 in 137 games. This is actually down from last season, when seven players reached triple digits.
  • Crawford stole his first 32 bases consecutively, but ended up being caught 16 times. He claims he was safe on half of those, and I can recall at least one (in New York) where he was indeed safe.
  • Troy Percival remained on the payroll the entire season, despite posting a 6.35 ERA in 14 games before going home in May. He still earned $4 million.
  • Lance Cormier and Randy Choate were the anti–Percival, pitching surprisingly well after signing minor league contracts. Cormier held down a 3.26 ERA and Choate 3.47.
  • Longoria hit 8 home runs with 26 RBI against the Red Sox.

Those are some random bits of information to close this out. Join me again soon for Part Two: Honest Opinions. Until next time, go Rays… and anyone who beats the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies.

On Again, Off Again

Lately the Rays have paralleled what I have done to this blog: on again, off again. I don’t know why I’ve been gone for so long. A big part of that had to do with me traveling out of and back to Tampa for a few weeks, though I have had Internet access and have been following the Rays. Some big moves have been made and big games won and lost in recent weeks, so let’s just cut to the good news.

–Gregg Zaun, recently acquired from Baltimore, has become one of my favorite Rays players. He blocks pitches, something I saw Dioner Navarro put very little effort into, even with nobody on base. He also refrains from throwing the ball into center field. He’s even better than Navarro offensively now, which was never true last season. If he were a bit younger, I would go ahead and trade Navarro and keep Zaun for a few years. He has been big with this pitching staff and the bottom of the lineup.

–I also like the pickup of Russ Springer. The veteran relief pitcher has been good everywhere he’s been in his long career. He can bring yet another dimension to the Rays bullpen and teach the younger guys some new things. His experience is valuable as much as Zaun’s.

–Pat Burrell… hitting home runs? It looks like he stopped being Adam Everett and finally went back to being Pat Burrell. He has nine home runs since the All–Star break, even hitting two in consecutive games. If he finishes at this pace, he may eclipse 20 home runs for the season — a distant thought after those first three atrocious months.

–B.J. Upton has also homered in two straight games and brought his season total up to nine, matching last season. He needs to finish this year like the 2008 playoffs all over again or he may be out. This is a good start.

–If Upton fails to deliver, I have the perfect guy to replace him: Desmond Jennings. Not a big name… yet. But he is a 22–year–old center fielder with the Durham Bulls who is rising like a comet through the Rays’ system. Between AA and AAA this year, he’s hitting .315 with nine home runs, 43 stolen bases, 56 walks and just 62 strikeouts. After missing most of 2008 with injuries, he is back on the map in a big way. I would consider calling him up in September, if at all possible. There is at least an outside chance he can start somewhere next year. I am a big fan of his, so I’ll be cheering for him.

–How about the work of Jeff Niemann? I knew in Spring Training that he was the man for the fifth starter spot, and he has proven to be at least number three, if not better. After his latest win, he is now 11–5 with a rotation–best 3.71 ERA. His fastball and curveball are starting to work very well together and that top Draft potential is shining through. Jason Hammel is having a decent season with the Rockies, but Niemann blows him out of the water.

–J.P. Howell is turning out to be a very serviceable closer. Even though he gave up an inexcusable walk–off to home run to Ryan Freaking Langerhans in Seattle, he has generally been shutting hitters down lately. As long as they give him good pitching in front of him, and preferably a multiple–run lead, he can finish out every game if they let him.

–I need to attend more games. I’ve only been to one this year, watching the Rays beat the Red Sox. Money shortages and my time out of town have prevented me from attending more often, but I think I’ll be going to Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers, who stand in the Rays’ path to a Wild Card berth. I’ll be looking for intriguing September games as well.

I could also rant about the Rays’ numerous problems, which include: Leaving the bases loaded, striking out too often, giving up big hits and home runs to every team’s lightest hitter, allowing line drives into center field with runners in scoring position, leaving the bases loaded and striking out too often. But I can save it for the next losing streak. We need a sweep of the Orioles and then the Rangers to cap off Joe Maddon’s Johnny Cash phase. Until next time, go Rays.

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.

Burrell to Disabled List; Isringhausen Called Up

The Rays placed designated hitter Pat Burrell on the disabled list due to a stiff neck that has hampered his approach to hitting.  This explains his only having one home run this season, hit back on April 13.

Additionally, they called up pitcher Jason Isringhausen from Durham.  The former Cardinals closer had been on a rehab assignment and may very well assume the same role in Tampa Bay.

Isringhausen pitched the ninth inning in the Rays’ 13–4 beatdown of the Oakland A’s, allowing one double but otherwise pitching very strongly.  He had a decent fastball working and showed a lot of break to his signature curveball.  The Rays could have lost him for nothing within a few days had he not been brought up, but it was the right time and the right decision.  Now they have another anchor in their deep bullpen that can keep the team afloat.  They definitely need everyone they can get right now.  I can’t wait for Chad Bradford to return as well and round out the relief core.

The Rays are on a good streak right now, which they absolutely have to keep up and running if they want to catch the pesky Blue Jays (who my dad now believes will finish 148–14 this season), the Yankees and the Red Sox anytime soon.  The A’s look like they could use a broom ride out of town.  Until next time, go Rays.

Road Splits and Not Giving Up Just Yet

I was on vacation for a few days in New Smyrna Beach as a three–week school break began, so I decided to wait until the conclusion of this roadtrip to comment about it.  The last two series were not exactly what the Rays ordered, but they did return from the seven–game tour at 4–3.

They had their bats full with the Red Sox in Fenway Park during the weekend.  Friday was a difficult loss featuring James Shields wasting a 3–0 lead with his magic Boston curse.  In fact, the sixth inning had Boston score five times on Jason Bay and J.D. Drew home runs.  With nobody out.  Good thing I was watching something on my DVR during that inning.  For that I still have my living room TV.  The Rays never recovered, losing 7–3.

Saturday was the highlight of the series as the Rays marched to a 14–5 win, despite the first home runs of the year from Rocco Baldelli and Julio Lugo, both former Tampa Bay starters.  Scott Kazmir picked up the victory behind, among other things, Evan Longoria’s 11th home run.

Sunday was an immensely frustrating loss.  It could become a DVD titled “Everything Wrong With the Rays.”  They held onto a tie until the bottom of the eighth inning, when David Ortiz and Jason Bay manufactured a run with the Green Monster and the Red Sox took a 4–3 lead.  Akinori Iwamura reached second base against Jonathan Papelbon, then Jason Bartlett singled to shallow center field, slowly enough so Iwamura could score… except he didn’t.  He held up as he was not entirely sure the ball would drop.  I had just finished telling my dad the Rays had tied the game when I saw him standing at third base.  Game not tied.  At that point, though I certainly didn’t want to, I pessimistically thought “no way this run scores.”  Especially when Carlos Pena pinch hit.  He can hit boatloads of home runs, but it is either that or a strikeout.  And once it gets to two strikes, the third one should just be spotted.  Sure enough, strikeout number one.  B.J. Upton (translate B.J. into slang and that has been his 2009 season) then became strikeout number two as high fastballs failed him yet again.  Carl Crawford pulled the same “I don’t hit fastballs” crap and became strikeout number three.  This finished off possibly the season’s worst loss.

After an actual off day (for once), it was off to Baltimore to face the Orioles to find out who belonged in last place.  The Rays went down 1–0 in the first inning, then scored five on a long series of hits to take a four–run lead against former (Devil) Ray Mark Hendrickson.  Andy Sonnanstine proceeded to give every run back and hand the Orioles the game.  Adam Jones topped it off with his second home run of the game, worth three runs.  Scoring was halted after the third inning as Brian Bass shut Tampa Bay down with four shutout innings in relief.  Baltimore won, 7–5.

The turnaround would begin the next night with Jeff Niemann facing Brad Bergesen.  If they couldn’t win this game, they would be in dead last place and their season facing an early crash.  Another former Tampa Bay regular, Ty Wigginton, gave the Orioles a quick lead with a home run.  He would end up with three hits.  Jason Bartlett then hit his fifth home run of the year to tie the game.  This also ties his career high for home runs in a season, set in 2007 with the Twins.  (Bartlett would later steal his ninth base in 10 tries.)  Tied at two in the sixth inning, the Rays took a 4–2 lead, then put together a monster insurance inning with four runs against Bob McCrory, who was sent to AAA after the game.  B.J. Upton had a three–hit game for the first time since last postseason, and Pena went 2–for–3 with two walks and three runs scored.  For the first time all season (seemingly, at least), he had no strikeouts.  With an 8–2 lead and Niemann in line for the win, in came Troy Percival.  It was time for every fan’s favorite nightmare…

The Troy Percival Tank Show!

It started with a double by light–hitting Cesar Izturis.  Then Brian Roberts, one of Baltimore’s notorious Rays killers, hit his fifth home run of the year (third against Tampa Bay) into the right field seats.  Then Felix Pie, who hits a home run once per lunar eclipse, smashed a room service fastball about 420 feet over the center field wall.  The panic button had to be hit, even after Nick Markakis was retired on a flyout.  Aubrey Huff (another former Devil Ray and one of those Rays killers) doubled to right field, advancing when Gabe Gross lost the ball behind him.  So much for Percival’s streak of good outings.  It was past the time to drag him off the mound, so Joe Maddon did just that and called upon J.P. Howell.  Huff scored on a Melvin Mora single.  Lou Montanez was then retired on a fielder’s choice.  Wigginton came up, looking to tie the game and knowing that he destroys left–handed pitching.  However, his fourth hit would never arrive as he chopped the ball to Longoria, who threw to Iwamura for the long–awaited final out.  The Rays pulled out an 8–6 victory.

Here is Mr. Percival after the game:

“I felt good and there was no excuse for it.  I was just getting underneath the ball, which I didn’t think I was doing down in the bullpen.  But that’s the strongest my arm has felt in two years. And I was just throwing the ball down the middle.  I guess I should have treated it more like a one–run game and really focused on hitting my edges and what have you.”

Why, exactly, would he think he is the Percival of 1999 instead of 2009?  His 97–mile–an–hour fastball could have been unhittable then, but now all the pitch is good for is a souvenir.  I know it was a six–run lead, but nearly every strike he threw was being hit hard.  He can’t even make winning as fun as it should be.  Troy should be thankful for the insurance runs and for Howell’s bailout.  (Jason Isringhausen has done well in rehab and may be on his way up too, so his spot is possibly in serious danger.)

Now for Carl Crawford watch: he has stolen 22 bases in as many attempts.  He also left the last game with a bruised shoulder after making a great diving catch.  Ben Zobrist performed admirably in his place.

Pat Burrell was also out with an injury, sent back to Tampa with a neck ailment.  This may very well be what has slowed down his performance this season.  He has not been fully able to finish off swings and look directly at the pitcher to follow the ball.  So it is time for a cure and, soon after, the home runs we have been expecting.

As I noted earlier, the Rays still finished 4–3 on this roadtrip despite its turbulent nature and bitter losses. Even with the above rants and problems, it is a relief to at least escape with series splits.  Now they return home to face the Indians and A’s.  I am looking to get tickets to one of these games, but I don’t know which one yet.  Please, if you can, get out to Tropicana Field during this homestand.  There will be lower attendances expected and fewer opposing fans.  This is a great time to catch Rays baseball live.  They can use the support and the home wins.  Especially against teams they are supposed to beat.  Until next time, go Rays.

Rays Destroy Yankees in Home Opener

The American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays raised their banners for their division and league championships inside Tropicana Field on Monday evening.  Then they got down to big business and fired rockets all over the field in the process of throttling the New York Yankees, 15–5.

The Rays scored four first inning runs against Chien–Ming Wang, who left pitches up and just wasn’t his usual self.  Carlos Pena opened it up with a two–run double, then topped it off in the next inning with a towering grand slam that made it 9–0.  A six–RBI night for Pena proved that he is back in shape and ready to smash again.

Meanwhile, Jason Bartlett stole a base and later hit his second home run in as many games, topping his regular season total from 2008.  Carl Crawford, the only starter without a hit, still managed a stolen base following a walk.  Speaking of base stealing, B.J. Upton returned ready to strike, taking both second and third bases against Wang and Jorge Posada.  He also walked three times and made one of the top plays of the season, a no–look catch over the shoulder against the wall to rob Xavier Nady of extra bases.  Pat Burrell got himself into the home run column with a long blast off Edwar Ramirez.

Pitching–wise, Scott Kazmir went 6.2 innings and allowed three earned runs, though his performance was better than that indicated.  He walked nobody (yes, zero walks in a Kazmir start) and struck out six Yankees.  Lance Cormier pitched decently, but gave up two lame–duck runs before Brian Shouse shut it down.

The Yankees used Nick Swisher to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning.  As you may know, he is a position player.  He put the first two hitters on base before striking out Gabe Kapler (embarrassing) and allowing two short fly balls to escape with a perfect 0.00 ERA.  That and Swisher’s earlier home run were the highlights of their nightmare Monday.

The Rays have to do it all over again next time as Matt Garza takes on A.J. Burnett.  This is a big pitching matchup, but so was this last one and look how that turned out.  A great start, and now they can ride that momentum wave into a winning streak.  Until next time, go Rays.

Rays Sign Pat Burrell

According to reports by FOX Sports and ESPN, the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays have signed Pat Burrell to a two year, $16 million deal to become their new designated hitter.  Burrell played for the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies last season, hitting .250 with 33 home runs, 102 walks and 136 strikeouts.  He is a .257 hitter for his career with 251 home runs in nine seasons.

I never thought Pat Burrell was that great of a player, but maybe his being a Philly clouded my judgment to some extent.  I would take him over the alternative, Jason Giambi, because he is the right–handed bat that the Rays needed and he is younger (32 years old to Giambi’s 38).  He can hit about 30 home runs a year, maybe more if he just concentrates on offense by being a DH (which is the current plan, thankfully).  His high walk rates (over 100 per year) can also lead to runs scoring and help make up for his low batting averages and high strikeout rates.  His career on–base percentage of .367 helps cover up that .257 average.  Batting behind Pena and Longoria, I think Burrell can drive in 100 runs easily.

This is, of course, the optimistic way to view this move, which I always look at when players join the Rays.  There are some negatives about Burrell including questions about his attitude, but as far as I know he is not a criminal and he doesn’t no–show games and team events.  So I will accept him as a part of this team and hopefully accept catwalk dents and holes in the roof as part of the stadium.

Welcome to the Rays, Pat.