Tagged: Andrew Friedman

Prepping for the Draft, Rays Style

Major League Baseball will put on its draft tonight as every team around the league looks to improve its club

And if all goes well, these teams will see the fruits of their collective labor in, oh, say, about 3 or 4 years. 

What!?

Yeah, come on, you know how it goes.  This ain’t the NFL or NBA.  These guys who hear their seemingly anonymous names called tonight won’t really find themselves on major league rosters for some time now.

Despite this, teams will be taking very seriously the goings-on that will occur at 7 pm Eastern Time.

A good draft tonight can turn a team like the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays into, say, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

That 2008 squad became potent with the development of one great draft pick, Evan Longoria, and the shining of another, BJ Upton. In fact, the Rays’ success can be attributed quite squarely on the fact that they have drafted well during the Stuart Sternberg era as 10 of the 25 guys on the roster are homegrown.

Manager Joe Maddon and General Manager Andrew Friedman have said this week that they will be looking at the middle of the field as the focus of their draft. We can take that to mean, I assume, catcher, second base, shortstop, and center field.

I am not an expert on amateur baseball players, so I won’t pretend to give a list of great college and high school players who can have an impact on the Rays in the near future.  However, I will say that a guy like Zach Cox, a guy who can play 3B and 2B, would fit well with what Maddon and Friedman would like to see on the roster in the future. 

The Rays have the 17th overall pick in the draft, and the rumor is that they have targeted a catcher who, at one time, was Stephen Strasburg‘s battery mate–just like every other team in the draft.  So, we can’t expect Bryce Harper to don a Rays uni any time soon. 

However, a move for a catcher such as this would make sense considering the fall of Dioner Navarro, the question marks surrounding Kelly Shoppach, and the high hopes–yet unrealized potential–that plague John Jaso

You would think that the Rays would be pretty satiated at the middle infield positions.  They have Jason Bartlett firmly ensconced at short.  At second base they have multiple options: Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, and Reid Brignac.  In the minors, the Rays have Eliot Johnson and Tim Beckham, though the latter 20-year-old seems to be a few years away as he is toiling at Single-A Charlotte.

Center field is a place that seems to be in question.  BJ Upton mans the spot right now, but soon his arbitration clock will run out and he will become an unrestricted free agent.  Then the Rays will have to decide whether or not to pay him what he thinks he is worth.  Desmond Jennings has center field skills, but he might already be in left field after the Rays (potentially) lose Carl Crawford.  Cuban defector Leslie Anderson was just promoted to AA Montgomery and could be with the big club in the next year or so if his fast rise continues. 

Whichever way the Rays decide to go, I think we can rest assured that it will be the right way.  They have not accrued what Baseball America has deemed the #1 ranked minor league system by accident.  And with 6 picks in the first 98 of this year’s draft, the probability is high that the Rays will put together yet another successful group of recruits.

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Update: 8:24

The Rays are coming up at pick 17. 

The rumor is that they might choose a P/OF Bryce Brentz.  Who knows what position he might play as a pro.  Bryce Harper was supposed to be a catcher, yet the Nats have already made it clear he will be an outfielder. 

However, should the Rays find INF Zach Cox still available at 17 (he is a top 10 projection), I think they will go with him.  This guy is a left-handed hitting power hitter who has the defensive ability and range to play at the hot corner or at 2B. 

Cubs are up.  Rays coming up…

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Update: 8:32

Cubbies took a pitcher.  Rays have their pick (Brentz) and a top-tier infielder (Cox) available.

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Update: 8:37

Rays took neither Cox nor Brentz.  Instead they took Josh Sale, a guy that the MLB Net guys seem excited about.  He is a college guy (Gonzaga) who plays the outfield.  Apparently he will play a corner outfield spot who will hit for some decent power and has little speed.  He sounds like a nice future RF, but it would be pointless to pontificate on where he will play as his major league debut is still several years away.  However, as a college player (as David Price was) his future might arrive a little sooner than many might think. 

Should this guy progress faster than most, then we might see a near-future outfield that could have Desmond Jennings, Leslie Anderson, BJ Upton, Ben Zobrist, and this kid in the mix.  Not too shabby. 

However, it should be noted that the Rays went neither middle infield NOR best available with this pick.  Peter Gammons has guessed that this pick might be more motivated by $$ than anything else, which makes sense.  Remember, the Rays were unable to sign two of their first three picks in their draft last year. 

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Update: 9:55

The Rays closed out their participation in the first round of the draft by taking a catcher with the 31st pick: Jason O’Conner.  The experts said that this guy should be more versatile than a catcher has a right to be, which might mean that Maddon can see him playing middle infield or catcher.  He is from the great state of Indiana, so he’s got that going for him. 

So the Rays got (maybe) their catcher.  That certainly was something that most Rays fans were looking for considering the current state, and franchise depth, of the position.

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Rays Lock Down Some Hitting Help

Hank Blalock is looking to regain the form he showed in 2003 and 2004.

 

The Rays made one of their patented moves Monday, adding Utility Man Hank Blalock to the Spring Training roster.

 

I think it is a great move.

 

I was a proponent of picking up Blalock earlier this year when it appeared as if the 29-year-old veteran would be without a team when Spring Training started.  He seemed to be an affordable and reliable option at DH should Pat Burrell do what he did in 2009 and he would be a stronger corner infield bat off the bench than Dan Johnson would be in case the Rays have some injury issues in 2010.

 

It seems that Andrew Friedman was of the same mind.

 

Blalock signed a 1-year $925,000 incentive-laden minor league contract. 

 

Unfortunately, it seems that the Rays do not see him as somebody who can legitimately push Burrell (who is currently hitting a robust benjamin in Spring Training: .100).

 

According to Tampabayrays.com, Friedman told reporters that Blalock is NOT here to push Burrell or serve as an “insurance policy” against the slugger returning to his .221/14/64 2009 form.

 

Even manager Joe Maddon said that Blalock’s chances of breaking camp with the team were “not very good.” 

 

He went on to say, “But things change.”

 

As Lloyd Christmas might exclaim, “So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance!”

 

 

Who knows what Blalock has left to give the majors.  He only played a handful of games in 2007 and 2008 combined, and while his power numbers in 2009 were strong (25 dingers) his On Base Percentage was not (.227).

 

In fairness to “The Bat,” he only hit 14 home runs but drove in more runs (66) than Blalock and had a better OBP (.315).

 

When both players are right, they are big time hitters.  Of course, from Patty you can expect 30 dingers and 100 RBIs.  Blalock will get you 20 long balls and 90 RBIs in a good year.

 

On paper, you would bet on Burrell.

 

 

But we made that mistake before, right?  And now we have a $9 million dead weight hanging from the neck of a club that is trying to cut payroll and may end up losing a guy like Carl Crawford because of overspending on the likes of Burrell.

 

Despite all the posturing by the Rays’ front office, I believe that Friedman and Maddon know what they are doing, and as soon as Burrell falters at the plate you will see Blalock put into the lineup.  He has pop in his bat and provides the Rays with the left-handed complement to Burrell’s right handed bat that I was hoping Jim Thome could give the Rays before he became a Twin. 

 

Regardless of what ultimately happens with Blalock, you can agree that his signing adds a little intrigue to an otherwise safe and bland Rays Spring Training.

Five Battles to Watch for in Spring Training

As Spring Training approaches (not fast enough, despite my Indianapolis Colts’ moving the Bowl of all Bowls), there are several areas on the Tampa Bay Rays that are in need of shoring up.  These five areas certainly “ray-se” concerns among fans, and failure for Andrew Friedman and company to address them may result in a long summer for the Boys in Blue.  

Here are the five key areas of consternation heading into these few weeks before pitchers and catchers report:

DH

Rays fans loved Pat Burrell in 2009.

He did an amazing job of keeping those in attendance at the Trop cool every night as the human oscillating fan. Hearing Dwayne Staats announce, “Swing and a miss,” with regards to Burrell never got old. Wait…it did.

No folks, “The Bat” was far from a fan fave-the typical fate of so many .221, 14 hr, 64 RBI guys making 9 million dollars. As of this moment Burrell is still a Ray-not for lack of trying, though. While the much maligned Milton Bradley’s name was bandied about as a possible replacement at DH, nothing happened. Tough to know whether that was for the best or not.

The question remains, though: Who will fill the DH role in 2010? There is no clear cut answer. It seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will look to free agency to find a Burrell replacement. The addition of closer Rafael Soriano and the resigning of Kelly Shoppach pretty much ate up the petty cash lying around Stuart Sternberg’s office. Promoting from within might occur, with Willy Aybar itching for a chance to play every day. A Burrell trade could happen too, but the price tag for the 33-year-old veteran might be a little high for most teams.

Perhaps Rays fans should prepare for another breezy summer inside the Trop.

 

2B

This position was occupied by several people in 2009.  Akinori Iwamura was certainly one of the Rays’ most beloved second basemen of all time (sorry, Brent Abernathy).  However, he is now gone, doomed to the Sarlaac Pitt.  Other second basemen of 2009 include Reid Brignac, Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar (what an experiment in futility that was) and the great Ben Zobrist.

While Zobrist may very well become the Rays everyday 2B in 2010, there could be a problem should Zorilla be moved to right field instead. Brignac probably will not be the every day answer-though it would be neat to see him break camp as the starter so we can see what he can do with consistent at bats-so the Rays might just consider the recently acquired Sean Rodriguez.

Side Note: I know that every team wishes they had a player with the last name “Rodriguez” simply so they can take that player’s first initial and add it to “Rod,” ala “A-Rod.”  But, seriously, Rays fans, let’s please avoid calling him S-rod, ok?

Rodriguez has some serious pop (easily 20 hr power) and shouldn’t be a defensive liability should he take over the 2B position.  I am sure that the Rays see him as a long term answer at that spot in the infield, but it will remain to be seen if Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon will give the youngster the green light coming out of Spring Training.  If he can win the job when the team breaks from Port Charlotte, many things would be cleared up as Zorilla’s move to right would be set.

 

RF

Should S-Rod (oops!) take the 2B competition, the question of who will be the next right fielder becomes simple arithmatic.

Zobrist’s bat and strong arm at the corner outfield position would be a perfect fit.  He would seemingly complete one of the better outfields in the majors and finally settle the revolving door that the Rays have had at that position for years. 

However, if Zobrist were forced to man the 2B position because Rodriguez was not ready for the majors and Reid Brignac was, well, the same ol’ Reid Brignac-a move that Maddon may not frown upon as much as may be thought-then the Rays could potentially be in trouble in right.

In the offseason they unloaded one of the Gabes (both Kapler and Gross were really one entity in 2009, but the Kap has stuck around for about a million in 2010) which means more playing time for Kap-should he earn it.  But his struggles with righties means that the Rays will have only 1/2 of a right fielder-not ideal.

Right fielders in waiting (for how long is to be determined) might be Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, Fernando Perez, and Desmond Jennings, but it is difficult to determine whether or not any are ready to be with the big club.  Jennings, Ruggiano, and Perez may be better suited for CF, which limits thier contributions to RF to a simple “fill in” status from time to time. 

Joyce was a big part of last year’s Edwin Jackson trade, a trade that Maddon has consistently said may work in the Rays favor despite Jackson’s double digit wins and All-Star appearance in 2009 and Joyce’s almost season-long stint at Durham.  Will this be the year that Joyce shows his own All-Star potential and takes the right field spot by force? 

If Rodriguez could take over 2B and Joyce was the every day RF (or at least could platoon with Kapler) then that might give Maddon the option of using Zobrist as that super-sub again-something that certainly worked in the past.  Perfect scenario?  Maybe, maybe not.  It would seem that Zobrist would prefer to have his position staked out beforehand so he could maintain his focus throughout the long season. 

This might be the most contentious position battle as we near spring training.  However, the emergence of either Joyce or Rodriguez will clear everything up quickly.

 

5th starter

The Rays seem to have gotten their money’s worth (we hope) in the Scott Kazmir deal.  Adding the highly touted Sean Rodriguez and the potential of lefty Alex Torres and infielder Matt Sweeney (the biggest Sweeney) has put the Rays in a great position for the future.

However, after moving Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in the Kelly Shoppach trade (he was the player to be named later) the Rays find themselves potentially a little thin in big league ready starters.

Sure, the rotation looks fine at the top with James “Big Game” Shields and Matt “Just As Big Of A Game” Garza.  Spots 3 and 4 should be fine with David Price and Jeff Nieman, especially if both build on their 2009 performances.

But where do the Rays go from there?

At the moment the 5th spot is manned by Wade Davis, but he was hardly consistent in his 6 starts last season in spite of his 2-2 record and 3.72 ERA.  While he struck out an impressive 36 in 36 1/3 innings, he also had games where he simply blew up. 

If Davis does win the 5th spot, who do the Rays turn to should somebody or, God forbid, two somebodys get injured?  In the wings stand Jeremy Hellickson (he might be ready sooner than we think-hopefully) and-<gulp>-Andy Sonnanstine.  Not exactly a scenario that inspires great confidence.

The likelihood of the Rays adding a 5th starter via free agency seem small, though veterans such as Vicente Padilla and Joel Pineiro might be interesting (both would likely expect more than the Rays could afford).

At the moment it seems that Joe Maddon’s squad will be content with the arms they have and head into Spring Training hoping for two things: 1) that those aforementioned arms remain healthy; and 2) that one of the guys in camp really stands out to claim the 5th spot.

The Bell Has Rung…Kaz Got His Wings

The Rays lost tonight.

And I’m not talking about the game with Detroit.

The on again/off again romance between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Scott Kazmir has reached its fitting end. 

Scott Kazmir is now an Angel.

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Took Long Enough

It’s been a long road, but somehow a deal got done.

The trade started back in July when the Rays were out scouting the Angels’ farm system for prospects.  At the time the rumor was that Kaz was on the block and a trade to the Angels was imminent.

Both teams denied the reports and the rumors quickly died–well before the July 31st trade deadline.

Nothing was said for weeks.  Then reports started to leak this afternoon from the LA Times that a deal was done and Kazmir was an Angel.  Coming over in the trade were lefty Alexander Torres and 3B Matt Sweeney.

Alas, the trade was NOT done.  It fell through because the Rays wanted one more player.

Cue ominous music:

Duh-duh-duhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I reported that, thankfully, the Rays were going to hang on to their 25-year-old lefty and that that was a good thing.  They were fighting for the playoffs, after all.

No news was good news.

Until there was news.

After the Rays loss to Detroit this evening, news came out that Kaz had, indeed, been traded.

We were shocked!

The Rays apparently got what they wanted in Torres, Sweeney, and a player to be named.

The fans lost a favorite player, and More Cowbell lost the ability to wear a certain pitcher’s t-shirt.

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Clubhouse Fallout

Kaz was not only a fan favorite, but also a teammate fave.  He seemed to click very well with youngster David Price.

That could have been a bad thing, considering that Price, upon being called up this year, immediately took on some of Kaz’s traits:

          Throw lots of fastballs, work slowly, and get pulled before the 6th inning.

Regardless, you have to imagine that such a positive guy as Kaz being gone will negatively affect the Rays clubhouse and make players search for what is the next step. 

It should also cause them to question the front office’s faith in their ability to win this wild card spot.

Keep in mind that Kazmir was starting to come around.  He had been solid in his last 8 starts, going 4-2 with a 4.41 ERA.  He had thrown 6+ innings in 7 of those 8 starts and dominated Wednesday night with 10 Ks.

He was starting to look like the guy who set franchise records for wins, innings, strikeouts, starts, and quality starts. 

And, despite his good-faith contract signing for much less money than he could have gotten on the free agent market recently, the Rays STILL shipped him off for prospects in what can only be seen as a cost-cutting move.

A cost-cutting move during a playoff run!?

Idiots.

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Potential Fan Reaction

I think that Rays fans are going to be mixed on this one.

On one side will be the fans who remember the last 2+ years during which our once golden child struggled to get out of the 5th inning.  The kid who set the bar for all future starters for this frahchise.

They’ll remember the guy who was the DEAL OF THE CENTURY when we stole him from the New York Mets for who WAS our franchise record holder in wins etc, Victor Zambrano.

That was a Chuck Lamar deal…one of the few things he did right while with the Tampa Bay franchise.

They’ll remember him as the Icarus of the team who fell much too quickly and disappointed us much too strongly.

Remember when he was the fixture of the rotation?

Remember when EVERYBODY saw him as the team’s ace, the only 2-time pitcher All Star in franchise history.

He was supposed to be one of the greats.

The fall was quick and hard.

Those fans are going to be excited about this 21 year old pitcher and his 21 year old counterpart 3B and what they will bring to the Rays 1-2 years down the road.

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The other side will remember a kid with blonde hair and a cherub face who was ready to help a terrible team get better.  A kid who went out every 5th day from, seemingly, the beginning and threw gems. 

A kid who just won–Period. 

He was a kid who made us forget we rooted for one of the worst teams of all time.  He gave us hope when we had none.

Those fans are going to miss him.  They’ll miss the “Kaz” and “Kid K” nicknames and wonder if this deal is going to be something we rue as much as the Mets did when they dealt him in the first place.

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Personal Memory

What I’ll remember most of the kid was one game during the “Devil Rays” days when his teammates decided to have fun with him one night.

It was miraculous that the cameras caught it, but one night Kaz’s teammates (I believe it was Jonny Gomes) decided to make Kid K look stupid.

They blew up a Dubble Bubble bubble and pinched it off.

Then they placed it on his head.

Scott went most of the game with that bubble on his head.  His teammates fell out every time he came up to shoot the sh– with them.

Of course, this kid had no idea why he was so funny all of a sudden.

He smiled and waved at the cameras everytime he saw the red light come on.  He thought he was suddenly some kind of celebrity, though he had no idea why.

After a few innings he took his hat off.  And the camera caught him going nuts over the fact that he had been on tv all night long with a HUGE bubble gum bubble on his head.

I’ll always remember that one.  It was one of the funniest moments I’ve ever had watching a baseball game.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

The Rays acquired two very young, but very talented, players from the Angels farm system.  Both guys played primarily at Class-A the last year or so, but recently were promoted to Class-AA.

Alex Torres was named the organization’s pitcher of the month for July for putting up stellar numbers.  He was just moved to Class-AA Arkansas.

Matthew Sweeney missed the entire 2008 season with an ankle injury and two months of the 2009 campaign.  He still impressed enough for the Rays to get him, but his power numbers this season (9 hrs) are not impressive at all.

As fans, we’ll just have to wait and see just who got fleeced in this deal.  I don’t see this as a win/win situation.  I see this as a “somebody beat somebody else” situation. 

I don’t know if the Rays got the best of this deal, but I doubt it very much.

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Final Thoughts

I don’t want to be too negative here.  The deal is done.  Kaz is no longer a Ray.  We have to deal with losing our franchise’s best starting pitcher ever.

What makes me more upset than anything is simply the timing. 

According to reports, Kaz could have been moved around the trade deadline. 

Know who we could have gotten?

Mr. Cliff Lee

You know.  Mr. 5-0 sub-1.00 ERA for the Phillies, Cliff Lee.

Instead we’re getting two guys (and a player to be named) who have yet to reach AAA. 

These moves do not win you Executive of the Year, Andrew Friedman.  These moves make you a joke.

Not only does the timing of this move stink because of what we COULD have had, but it makes the Rays look like they are giving up on the post season.

It is as if the Rays are showing the team–and their fans–that they don’t think making it to October is plausible, so moving a surging pitcher now is not that big of a deal.  Might as well get what we can for him, right?

Moving Kaz is not the bad move. 

Moving Kaz NOW is what makes this stupid.

I’ll admit, my confidence in this team’s committment to winning this year is now shaken.  I bet I speak for lots of fans when I say that.

Regardless, I wish Kazmir luck in California.  He’ll certaily help out that Angels rotation.  Maybe he’ll even get his elusive World Series ring.

I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.

But, no doubt, he–and we–would have enjoyed it alot more if he could have earned that ring playing for the team that annointed him a Golden Child.

We called him “Kaz.” 

And he’ll be missed.

Nieman Was Dealin’; Rays Were Stealin’

This game was OVER.

Until it wasn’t.

Two nights in a row Bobby Jenks let the Rays have hope.  That is one night too many.  This team is built for the comeback, and boy did they.

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First, the Lineup

What was Joe Maddon thinking? 

(I KNOW it’s an old picture, but it fits don’t you think?) 

The Rays’ skipper put out a lineup that was missing two of its biggest hitters and filled in with bench players who do not get a whole lot of at bats.

And it worked!

To be honest, the Rays had mustered only 1 run on 4 hits up until the 9th inning.  And those Rays he put into the game were able to go only 1/9, the lone hit being a single. 

But Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar, and Gabe Kapler (LOVE that guy!) were able to help the defense and Jeff Nieman keep the game close until regulars Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Gabe Gross entered the game in the 9th.

In the 9th, all hell broke loose for the Rays–in a good way. 

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The Fateful 9th Inning

Bobby Jenks entered tonight’s game in the 9th in much the same way he entered last night’s game: he had a 1-run lead, but he was starting the inning fresh and clean.

The Rays entered the 9th inning in the same way too–LOOKING TO WIN THE BALL GAME.

He immediately gave up a rocket to Jason Bartlett

Nice, we have some speed on board.

Jenks then “plunked” Evan Longoria (it grazed his jersey and ended up hitting the umpire with more force than Evan).

Ok, now we’ve got a guy in scoring position.

Ben Zobrist, who was looking to extend his 10-game hitting streak, did just that with a rocket up the middle. 

But since it was a liner Bartlett had to stop to make sure it went through.  He could not get doubled off in the 9th.  So he didn’t score, but

Bags are loaded with Pat “the Bat” Burrell up. 

The fans were busy booing their closer when Burrell walked to force in the game tying run.

A dramatic moment that was lost on nobody sitting on my couch (um, me). 

Carlos Pena entered the game to hit for Willy Aybar and launched what looked like a patented high fly grand slam to left.  Instead, it turned into a sac fly double play (Burrell drew the throw as Longo scored). 

WE HAVE THE LEAD!

CC walked and promptly stole second to put runners at 2nd and 3rd.

That was when Jenks had had enough and ended the inning on a weak Gross groundball.

But the damage was done.

In typical Rays style!

Rays up 3-2.  Good times!

HappyDog.jpg image by sxy2385

JP Howell would enter in the bottom of the 9th to close things out.  He’s not officially the closer, but he has appeared in that capacity 4 of the last 5 games.  What else do we call him?

Our closer entered the game and did what he does best: SHUT.  THEM.  DOWN. 

The White Sox managed only a weak grounder up the middle and that was that.  Howell struck out 2 of the 3 batters he retired, all the while making sure pinch hitter Dwayne Wise wasn’t going to try to steal second. 

The fans booed.

Let ’em.

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Nieman the Dealin’ Demon

How’s that for a nickname? 

Jeff Nieman was amazing tonight.  He went 8 STRONG innings, walking NONE, giving up only 2 runs on 8 hits.  He threw only 100 pitches in this outing and earned his team-leading 9th win. 

This guy is making Andrew Friedman look like a genius for unloading Jason Hammel instead during spring training. 

The tall Texan intimidated batters, blowing them away with his 94+ mph fastball.  They couldn’t catch up to it.

Then he baffled the Sox hitters with his ankle-breaking curve.  Hitters could not figure him out.

Especially Alexei Ramirez and Scott Podsednik, who both struck out twice against the Rays’ 6’10” hurler.

This was an outing that helps guys like Nieman get out of the shadow of the other Rays super-rookie (David Price) and garner some attention for himself for Rookie of the Year honors.

He was that good.

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The Rays entered the game 15-19 against left handed pitching. 

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with their lineup being dominated by Sox Clayton Richard.

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with the dominant Bobby Jenks entering the 9th with a 1-run lead (and boy oh boy was he booed tonight–not too classy Sox fans).

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with two of their best players gettiing most of the night off.

But the Rays DID win. 

It was their best steal of the season.