If you had told someone not familiar with the Rays that the two pitchers from the two games so far against the Sox were the same two in the same order as had pitched last Sunday and Monday, I think you would have a pretty hard time convincing them.
Jeff Niemann, coming off a stunning major league debut last weekend…
For the first time this year, I didn’t watch the Rays last night (snapping an impressive 5-game watching streak, which may well turn out to be my longest of the year!). I had intended to watch some at work today, but the computers here disagree with Windows Media Player, so I shall just have to catch the highlights when I get home.
Not that there were that many highlights to be honest. Three hits, one of which was a Jonny Gomes homer. And that was it. Jason Hammel looks like he did ok, but unless he can really break out soon, I’ve got to believe that he will be departing the Rays (either to the minors or elsewhere via waivers) when Kaz is ready to return.
So a 2-2 split of the series at Yankee Stadium, and a 3-3 road trip to open the year. Not bad, but I think that the players are a bit disappointed not to be returning home with a winning record. Which is a very encouraging sign indeed.
Bad news, which considering my entry yesterday will come as no surprise, is that Cliff Floyd was a late scratch from yesterday’s game with a sore knee. No word yet on how serious, but hopefully it isn’t too bad. Elsewhere, Ben Zobrist has also had a setback in his return from a broken thumb, and it will likely be at least another 3 weeks before he is ready to rejoin the team.
Today’s home opener will see Matt Garza go up against Eric Bedard and the Seattle Mariners. Ordinarily I would be very positive going into this game, but looking at the numbers that some of our players have put up against Bedard in the past, and well… Lets just say that I’m holding out hope that sometimes stats don’t mean anything!
For most players, an inning like Jonny Gomes had in the second yesterday would pretty much set the tone for the entire game. Within the space of ten minutes, Gomes had been embarrassingly thrown out at second while in his home run trot – believeing his line drive to right had cleared the wall, not bounced off the top of it – and then missed a routine fly ball, losing it in the wind and shadows. You would have excused him for thinking that it was going to be one of those days.
But Jonny is not really one of those sort of players. Next inning he came back to the plate, and delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Rays the lead for the first time at 2-1. Next time up in the fifth, he found another Andy Pettitte pitch to his liking and belted another line shot, this time to left, and this time clearing the wall by inches for a 3-run homer ad a 5-1 lead. That would be extended in the eighth with a solo-shot by Willy Aybar, before the Yanks completed the scoring in the bottom of the frame.
On the hill, Edwin Jackson struggled early on, but ended with a fine line of 6IP, 5H, 1ER, 2BB, 4Ks and the win. It really was very encouraging to see him work through the first couple of innings without giving up the big runs, and then settle down – he breezed through the last 9 hitters he faced with relative ease. He was followed by another perfect 7th from Dan Wheeler, a shaky 8th resulting in two runs given up by Trever Miller and requiring Al Reyes to get the third out. Troy Percival then came in for his first appearance of the year, and earned his first save since 2005 with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Other good news yesterday was that Scott Kazmir had a strong mound session as he works back from injury. If everything goes well there is a chance he could be back with the Rays at the end of the month – which would obviously be great news all round.
Today’s matchup is James Shields against Chien-ming Wang. So you may want to watch this one!
Wisely or not, I decided to stay up and watch last night’s effort – partly because I wanted to see Matt Garza’s debut, but mostly because I’m just plain excited at having baseball to watch again.
By the time that Jonny Gomes popped up to end the game however, I was left with a distinct feeling of deja vu.
If I’m honest, it wasn’t the greatest all-round performance by the Rays anyway. Two nicely timed homers (a 3-run Cliff Floyd shot, and a 2-run blast from Carlos Pena) aside, and it was a story of missed opportunities at the plate. Twice we loaded the bases – once failing to score with only one out, and once scoring only once despite having nobody out. You’ve got to convert in those situations.
That being said, in truth the six runs we did manage looked like they would, and indeed should have been enough. Garza pitched nicely without ever completely getting on top of the Orioles’ hitters, and, as often seems to be the case with the Rays, was hurt by the longball – a two-run shot by erstwhile Ray Aubrey Huff being the blow that saw him lifted in the sixth. But with a one-run lead, and Gary Glover and Dan Wheeler shutting down the rally through the seventh, and things seemed ok.
Despite all the changes, we are still the Rays, however. And I was wary of the way things were going from one (non-)decision in the top of the eighth. I suppose that the choice that Joe Maddon had was in a way a question of baseball philosophy. One run up, two innings left, do you want a good hitting outfielder or a good fielding outfielder in the game? Perhaps I’m biased because one of the players in question is Jonny Gomes. But look at the situation. One out, facing a difficult lefty (Jamie Walker), Nathan Haynes coming up. Now Haynes was in the team because left handed hitters beat up on Daniel Cabrera, the O’s starter. But now its a lefty – and of Haynes’ 48 ML plate appearances before last night, all but two had come against right handers. Which, while far from conclusive does indicate that maybe he’s not so good facing the lefty.
So what do you do? Do you pinch hit with Gomes, who hits 70 points better against leftys than rightys, and is actually a much better outfielder than people either realise or give him credit for. Or do you leave in Haynes, which is all but surrendering an out, because he plays superior defense. Now I don’t know about you, but I always do whatever I can to go after that insurance run.
Maddon of course saw things the other way, and Haynes struck out rather pathetically on three pitches. And, just to rub salt in the wound, he went on to make an error, misplaying a Huff drive of the wall in the bottom of the inning, ultimately leading to another Baltimore run.
Not that I’m blaming Haynes for the loss. Or Maddon for that matter – although once again he showed his rather worrying habit for leaving a pitcher in when it was clear he didn’t have his stuff. The guy in question last night was Al Reyes, who coming into the game in his new setup role, walked the first hitter he faced on 4 pitches. Even watching on TV it was obvious that Reyes just could not find his groove, and by the time there were two men on and Huff was at the plate, the right course of action was pretty clear. Bring on the lefty from the ‘pen (we’ve got two of them this year!) and look for the ground ball double play to escape the inning.
But he didn’t, Huff doubled, and by the time the inning was over the O’s had turned a 6-5 deficit into a 9-6 win.
If I sound overly frustrated about all that, then its most probably because I’m tired. And I know that its early days, but if the Rays are serious about progressing up the standings, then we absolutely have to be able to close out games when we have a lead going into the home stretch. Especially against teams like the Orioles.