The Rays kicked off 2008 differently than any of their past seven seasons; with a win. The Rays defeated the Baltimore Orioles in their season opener at Camden Yards, 6-2. Obviously the Rays record is now 1-0.
James Shields was the story on the mound for the Rays today. Shields, along with Scott Kazmir was the most reliable arm for the Rays last year and he got off to a terrific start in 2008. Shields spotted the Orioles a 2-0 lead in the first inning by giving up a two run double to Kevin Millar, he was on cruise control after that. Shields didn’t allow another run over the next six innings and completed his day after seven innings and only 86 pitches. Had this game been later in the year he probably could have gone the distance. The bullpen took it from there and Dan Wheeler pitched a perfect 9th to close out the game.
The Ray offense was lead by catcher, Dioner Navarro as he racked up three hits, an RBI and scored a run. BJ Upton drove in two runs in the third inning on a single, his only hit of the day. When it was all said and done eight different Rays collected hits, including Eric Hinske who hit a solo home run in the 4th inning.
The Rays will take the day off tomorrow and continue their three game series against the Orioles on Wednesday. Matt Garza is penciled in to get the start on Wednesday in his debut with the Rays. Game time is 7:05 EST.
With Opening Day only two days away the Rays have set their 25 man roster. Players making the team included Eric Hinske who was signed by the club to a minor league deal. Hinske could be a very reserve for the club as he can play the corner outfield spots and the corner infield spots. Hinske should come in handy when someone goes down with an injury or needs a day off.
Hinske made Joel Guzman a casualty of camp. Guzman was once thought to be one of the top prospects in the game but has yet to stick in the big leagues, he will start the season in AAA Durham. Joining him in the minors is Juan Salas. Salas is a hard throwing reliever who just wasn’t able to put it together during spring training. He’ll get a chance to sharpen up his game in AA.
Long time back up catcher Josh Paul was released. Paul has been in the bigs for a long time and it’s a bit surprising they decided to cut him loose. With Paul out as the back up catcher the team decided to keep Shawn Riggans to fill that role.
The Rays have opted to send Evan Longoria down to AAA to start the season. The move could end up saving the Rays millions of dollars in a few years. By Longoria not entering the majors right away his “arbitration clock” will start later thus saving the Rays the extra cash.
The upside to a move like this is obviously saving the money. The Rays are not the Yankees, Red Sox, or Mets and can’t just pay millions all over the place. The other upside here is that it takes some pressure off of Longoria. The guy is already being looked at as a savior for Rays baseball. He clearly has immense talent and could be an asset to the club already. By holding off just a little bit he won’t be looked at as the problem if things go sour in April. Last year the Royals had Alex Gordon up all season and he really struggled.
The downside is pretty obvious as well: He’s good enough to start for the Rays right now. The Rays will probably start Willy Aybar at third base until they do decide to call up Longoria. While Aybar isn’t terrible, he’s not a star in the making like Longoria. The Rays have higher hopes than ever this season and their fans are looking for a .500 team for the first time ever. If they get off to a sluggish start in April the fans will be screaming for Longoria to get the call. The club won’t save as much money and will have upset their fan base. Makes you wonder if it’s worth it?
Jeff Niemann, one of the many promising pitching arms in the Rays minor league system will start the season in AAA Durham. Niemann, who stands 6’9” and is listed at 260 lbs, will try to tighten up his game a bit more in the minors before making his major league debut.
In 2007 Niemann, now 25 years old, spent the entire season in Durham and posted a 12-6 record. Niemann given his stature is a power pitcher and has averaged better than a strike out per inning in his 238 career minor league innings.
Baseball America ranks Niemann as the seventh best prospect in the organization. They note that injuries have slowed his progress but that he still projects to blossom into a number 2 or 3 starter. I’m guessing we see him Tampa Bay at some point in 2008.
The Rays announced that pitcher James Shields will be their Opening Day starter when the Rays open up against the Baltimore Orioles.
Scott Kazmir would have almost certainly been named the started if he were healthy, but he’s not, so the Rays will send Shields out there. Shields is no slouch however as he made a major leap forward in 2007. Shields threw 215 innings last year and seems to be headed towards a real workhorse career. In his 215 innings, Shields racked up more than his fair share of Ks and finished with a record of 12-8.
I saw Shields pitch a few times on TV in 2007 and was really impressed by his control and the command he had on all of his pitches. Shields should feast on free swinging teams and younger teams. That has the Baltimore Orioles written all over it, expect a nice outing from him on Opening Day.
Rays ace pitcher, Scott Kazmir will almost certainly start the season on the disabled list. The Rays are the trendy pre-season pick to make a major jump forward in 2008. The Rays are an organization stocked with young talent. Perhaps no player represents this more than Kazmir. Kazmir was acquired in a trade with the New York Mets a few years back. The Rays sent Victor Zambrano to the Mets at the peak of his value to the Mets and got the talented but unproved Kazmir in return.
Despite playing on several last place teams in his brief career, Kazmir has a career record of 35-29 while averaging better than a strike out per inning. Kazmir was named to the AL All Star team in 2006 and went 13-9 with a league leading 239 Ks in 2007.
If the Rays are really going to get out of the cellar in AL East and win 80 games for the first time in franchise history they need Kazmir to be healthy and be at his absolute best. Without him in their rotation they have a massive hole to fill.
Kazmir has been held out recently with a sore elbow. Rays manager Joe Maddon has said that while Kazmir will almost certainly start the season on the DL, his stay will be brief and he should be good to go.
The Rays got into a good ol fashioned brawl with the New York Yankees the other day. This was all stemming from a home plate collision a few days before. Yankees Manager Joe Girardi went on and on about how he thought the play was dirty and uncalled for. While a home plate collision, during spring training or the regular season, is hardly a dirty a play, sticking your spikes up at another player is a dirty play. That’s how the Yankees retaliated.
Five players ended up getting tossed from the game. There was a feeling that there could be some retaliation during the game and the umpires were clearly looking out for that sort of stuff. In the first inning, Evan Longoria took a fastball high and tight from Yankees pitcher Heath Phillips. Phillips was promptly tossed. After Shelley Duncan slid spikes first into Aki Iwamura benches cleared and players briefly fought before it was broken up.
It will interesting to see if any of this tension carries over into the regular season. Since they are division rivals they will play each other a bunch this season and there could be more fireworks to come.
As mentioned here last week, David Price made his Rays debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday. Price came on in the seventh inning and after hitting the first batter he faced, Price struck out the next three hitters.
Now this doesn’t say that Price is a lock for the rotation this spring because he’s not. What it does tell us is that the guy is not easily intimidated. He took on the proudest history in sports (even though it was spring training) and took control.
In the meantime Price helped lead the new look Rays to the their seventh win in eight games. The Rays have since lost their last two games but are still an impressive 7-3 this spring. Hopefully manager Joe Maddon can turn this winning into a positive outlook for the 2008 regular season.
Usually a game on March 8th cannot be considered a big deal, even if it is against a division rival like the New York Yankees. However, this Saturday, 2007 number one pick David Price will make his spring debut.
Price was the number one overall pick in 2007 out of Vanderbilt. He was named College Player of the Year by Baseball America and the Rays have very high hopes for his future. Since Price is already 22 years old there is a chance that Rays fans could see him on their big league roster as soon as this fall.
Price is scheduled to throw only one inning on Saturday but Rays fans will have their eyes focused on him to see how he does in his first pro performance.
The Rays lost to the Houston Astros this afternoon by a score of 8-4. The pitching obviously struggled today. Starter Jason Hammel allowed four hits and 1 earned run in his three innings of work. Solid but not spectacular. Scott Dohman really struggled allowing four runs in his one inning of work, including 4 hits and one walk.
On the brighter side of things, BJ Upton continued to crush the ball coming up with a pair of doubles and RBIs. Upton has his average up to .444 on the spring as he tries to pick up where he left off last season.
Tomorrow the Rays will play the Phillies as ace James Shields take the hill. Reliever Troy Percival is also scheduled to pitch. If Percival picks up where he left off last season he will give the Rays a huge weapon out of their bullpen.
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