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Game Preview: Friday (4/7) at Toronto

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RAYS (1-2) at Toronto (2-1)
7:07; SkyDome
RAYS TV/PAX; RAYS RADIO/1250 WHNZ AM

RAYS 2, Baltimore 0

Pitching Matchup:

LH Casey Fossum

LH Scott Downs

Lineup

I'm finally here and actually posting the lineups for today's game. First off, the Rays...

RAYS
LF Carl Crawford
2B Jorge Cantu
RF Jonny Gomes
DH Aubrey Huff
3B Ty Wigginton
1B Travis Lee
C Toby Hall
SS Nick Green
CF Damon Hollins

Toronto
LF Reed Johnson
RF Alex Rios
CF Vernon Wells
3B Troy Glaus
1B Lyle Overbay
DH Shea Hillenbrand
C Bengie Molina
2B Aaron Hill
SS John McDonald

Upcoming Games

Tomorrow-at Toronto, 1:07 (Waechter)

Sunday-at Toronto, 1:07 (Kazmir)

Monday-vs Baltimore, 7:15 (McClung)

Lateness

I apologize for the lateness of this feature, I was going to do this last night, but unfortunately, I fell asleep at a rather early hour, so I had to do it when I came home today. Nevertheless, I will not sacrifice content to produce a quality piece, and that is why I didn't half-ass it to get it in on time.

3 Days to the Home Opener

GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

RAYS (1-2) at Toronto (2-1)
7:07; SkyDome
RAYS TV/PAX; RAYS RADIO/1250 WHNZ AM

RAYS 2, Baltimore 0

Baltimore-Mark Hendrickson pitched a masterful complete game shutout, his second straight dating back to last season, to make up for a void of bats to salvage the final game of the Rays' season opening series in Baltimore. Hendrickson went the whole nine yards, giving up but three hits and zero runs in the complete game shutout, walking just one and striking out five in a prescription that is just what was in order for the Rays. The complete game could not have come at a better time, with the bullpen all used up from the season's first two games, and allows the guys down in the 'pen to reel from Wednesday's loss, but more importantly, rest up for the trip north of the border. The best part about the game was that Hendrickson threw just 106 pitches in the effort, less than 12 pitches per inning, and very favorable when compared to Seth McClung's 95 pitches in one-third the innings, and Scott Kazmir's 104 pitches in four innings. If I wanted to be nitpicky, I could say that he left 22 balls in play, that is 22 batters out of 31 that made contact, while 13 of those 22 lifted into the outfield fly balls, a continuation of a disturbing pattern of leaving hittable balls out of the plate, suggesting that this game was mostly luck. However I'm not going to discuss that anymore, considering Hendrickson did indeed have a good outing, gave a lot to this team when it was down, and looked generally good in terms of his control and movement of his pitches. Here's to you, Lurch, for your great outing that saved our asses so we can finally get out of Baltimore.

The drawback to Thursday's game was that the bats fell completely fat. The Rays, as a team, recorded five hits, with no Ray getting more than one in a day pretty well dominated by Kris Benson. In fact, the Rays left 15 runners on base, five by Travis Lee and also struck out five times in the game. And one of the runs came home on a sacrifice. So not a real impressive day for our hitters, especially when compared to the first two games of the series, in which 12 runs crossed the plate. But this day belongs to Lurch, and, once again, he dominated, putting to rest a lot of fans who thought he shouldn't even be in the rotation, for now. As a few side notes for the game, the announced crowd of 13,194 at Camden Yards was the lowest in park history, nearly 3,000 lower than last night's game, which was the previous recordholder of the dubious distinction. Also, 2B Tomas Perez, acquired in a slew of roster moves yesterday, made his debut by pinch-running for Aubrey Huff in the 8th inning.

3 Up

As a result of our poor offense and dominant day by Lurch, I am going to take the unprecedented step (and I know that it's big, seeing as though I've run this feature for two days) of giving Hendrickson all six points, three for first place, two for second, and one for third, because the offense was so bad and because Lurch deserves it.

3 Down
1B Travis Lee: 1-4, K, 5 LOB, GIDP
RF Russell Branyan: 0-4, 2 Ks, 1 LOB
2B Jorge Cantu: 0-3, 2 LOB

Rays Reads

-In one of the most active transaction move days in team history, the Rays made a slew of roster changes highlighted by the placing of Julio Lugo on the DL and the release of struggling and injured reliever Jesus Colome. Lugo injured his oblique by fouling a pitch off in Monday's season opener, and was DL'd retroactive to April 4th, which means he will be eligible to come off of the Disabled List on April 19th. Also, the Rays transferred Luis Ordaz, the utility infielder who replaced Lugo at short on Monday, and later in the game himself aggravated an injury suffered in Saturday's exhibition game, was transferred from the 15 to the 60 Day DL, indicating the severity of his injury. He went under the knife of Rays surgeon, Dr. Koco Eaton, today in St. Pete.

But don't stop there, why not make more moves? Colome was released after throwing four pitches in Wednesday's game, getting injured, and the Rays decided it was time to split rather than put up with the hassle of yet another injury for Colome in what would be his fourth DL trip in the last three seasons. Colome was brought over to St. Pete from the West Coast in July of 2000 in a deal that sent Rays veteran pitcher Jim Mecir to the Oakland Athletics. Colome pitched to a 4.73 ERA in parts of six seasons with the Rays, with a lifetime ERA of 4.7 and a K:BB nowhere close to 2, a poor home run rate and a 1.53 WHIP. He did have his bright years, pitching to a 3.33 ERA in 30 games in 2001, a 4.5 ERA in 2004, and a 4.57 ERA last year, but was often inconsistent and could not locate his electric fastball. One of the longest-tenured Ray pitchers, this move could have a similar intention to the one last year of demoting the popular Lance Carter, essentially, to get the 'pen off of their ass and realize that heads will roll if the situation does not improve. Originally, I did not like the decision, but thinking back to his many years of inconsistency and the likelihood of the scenario I presented, I have had a reversal of thought and like the move. He probably did not want to be here, judging by comments last season, and we should honor that request. As a long-time Ray, I will always be fond of the positives in Colome's tenure, and I hope he can catch on and do well somewhere else, but I think that this move is for the better.

The move I don't like is Colome's replacement, which will be Scott Dunn, who was claimed off of waivers from Anaheim, Wednesday. He has consistently been a journeyman AAA pitcher, putting up decent stats, but has only pitched in a few big league games. And believe me, there is a reason for that. I'd much rather see us get the dazzling Steve Andrade, who has less experience at the higher levels, but great peripherals and some great stuff. Even if we have to keep him on the big league roster, I would rather us get Andrade, but Maddon's familiarity with Dunn probably reigned surpreme in this move. Let's just hope it pays off. The Rays also plucked former Blue Jays and Phillies middle infielder Tomas Perez from the free agent bin after he was cut by Philadelphia on the 2nd. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Expos in 1991, Perez, 33, played four years with Toronto in the mid-90s before spending the last six years with the Phillies. Now, personally, I don't like this move. Perez has never been a regular, and has one season with an OPS over .711, and that was in a 135 AB 2001 season. I'd rather have him on the roster than Ordaz, but that is like saying you'd rather have a free dinner at Bern's than getting kicked in the crotch. With a lifetime OPS of .651, this just seems like another deadweight added to the roster, and we have enough of those, thank you very much. I mean, if it is going to come down to it, I'd rather the Rays call up Fernando Cortez or Brent Butler from Durham. But I can't do anything about it, so let's hope the move pays off.

And last, but not least was a little minor trading that went on, minor leagues, that is. The Rays shipped off Jose De La Cruz to the Seattle organization for RHP Marcos Carvajal. De La Cruz has been with the Rays since being drafted in 2003, pitching to ERAs of 1.33 and 1.1 in 2003 and '04, respectively. In Princeton in '03, De La Cruz had a 1.26 WHIP, but did even better the next year with the Hudson Valley Renegades, posting a .95 WHIP, 9.2 K/9 ratio, and 3.8 K:BB ratio. Last season he tailed off a little in 50 games with Southwest Michigan, pitching to a 3.94 ERA, striking out nearly two times as many walked batters, while allowing a .618 opponents' OPS. He also had 19 saves.

Carvajal, 21, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the LA Dodgers in 2000, and spent his first four minor league seasons there before moving on to Colorado. He pitched to a 2.10 ERA in 82 games with a K:BB a shade off of 2:1, giving up just three home runs in those four years while pitching to a 1.21 WHIP and 9.02 K/9 ratio. He spent last season in the major leagues with the Rockies, pitching in 39 games to a 5.09 ERA, but remember, this is Colorado. He struck out twice as many batters as he walked and pitched to a 1.38 WHIP. For the Rays, I think we win this deal, and it has the potential not to be close. Carvajal has great peripherals in the minors other than the K:BB, which was still better than De La Cruz's, pitched to a lower ERA, already has pitched in the majors, decently I may add, and is still younger. De La Cruz will turn 23 in September. Great job by the Baseball Ops guys, I think this is a great move for the Rays, and caps off a day of otherwise questionable moves.

-Elijah Dukes was voted by manager Joe Maddon and the Baseball Ops staff to be the 2006 Al Lopez award winner for 2006, honoring the best spring training performance by a rookie each spring season; Dukes, in Triple A Durham, will have his mother accept the award on his behalf at a Tropicana Field ceremony prior to the Home Opener. Dukes batted .400 in 14 games and 20 at bats to win the award.

Minor League Minute

Durham W, 8-0:
SP Jason Hammel: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K
RP Chad Orvella: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K
CF Darnell McDonald: 3-5, HR, 3 RBI
SS B.J Upton: 2-5, 2B, RS, SB
RF Delmon Young: 2-5, RBI
LF Elijah Dukes: 2-4, RS, BB

Next Game-at Norfolk, 7:05 (Jackson)

Montgomery L 11-6:
SP Andy Sonnanstine: 4 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR
2B Elliot Johnson: 3-5, RS, 2B, CS, PO
CF Jason Pridie: 1-3, 2 RS, 2 BB, GIDP
3B Wes Bankston: 2-5, 2 RS, 2-run HR, 2B, 3 RBI, 3 K, 2 E
1B Gaby Martinez: 3-4, solo HR, E
LF Aneudi Cuevas: 2-4, 2 K, E

Next Game-vs Tennessee, 8:05 (Peguero)

Visalia L, 6-5:
SP Derek Feldkamp: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K
RP Chris Mason: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB
CF Fernando Perez: 0-4, RS, BB, K, CS, HBP
SS Reid Brignac: 2-4, RS, BB, 2B, HBP, SB
RF Shaun Cumberland: 1-6, RS, 4 K
DH John Jaso: 2-4, RS, 2B, 2 RBI, SF
1B Chris Nowak: 3-3, 2B, RS, RBI, 2 BB
LF Patrick Breen: 1-3, RBI, 2 BB

Up Next-at San Jose, 10:05

Southwest Michigan L 9-3:
CF John Matulia: 0-3, 2 BB
RF Garrett Groce: 0-2, 2 RBI, BB, SF
DH Matt Spring: 1-4, RS, K

Up Next-at Lansing, 8:05

Pitching Matchup:

LH Casey Fossum

LH Scott Downs

Breakdown

-Admittidly, following up the performance of Mark Hendrickson last night will be a tough act, but hopefully Casey Fossum can find it to be a task that he can fulfill as the Rays get their passports in order as they move north of the border to start a three game set against the Toronto Blue Jays to wrap up the road trip. Fossum goes to the mound trying to follow up a 2005 season in which he was the Rays' second best starter after being acquired from Arizona in the Jose Cruz trade before the season. Fossum went 8-12 with a 4.92 ERA, striking out over double the number of batters that he walked. He also gave up 21 home runs and hit a league high 18 batters. In the spring, he pitched unimpressively, going 2-2 in five starts with a 7.16 ERA and a K:BB of 1.4:1, while hitting a batter and giving up three home runs. What's more, Fossum has not had success against Toronto in the past, going 1-2 with a 5.6 ERA against the Jays in the last three years with the Rays, Arizona, and Boston. During that span, he walked slightly more than two times his number of walked batters, while giving up five home runs. Considering his AL East past, a few Jays hitters have a history against him, and here are the best ones...

  1. Bengie Molina-12 ABs, .917 OPS
  2. Gregg Zaun-8 ABs, 1.000 OPS
  3. John McDonald-6 ABs, 1.125 OPS
  4. Shea Hillenbrand-6 ABs, .929 OPS
  5. Lyle Overbay-6 ABs, .833 OPS
  6. Aaron Hill-5 ABs, 1.267 OPS
Let's just hope that Fossum is able to hold these successful blue birds to little success today, as we don't want to get off to another bad start in this series.

-The Blue Jays, meanwhile, counter with a lefty of their own, sending back of the rotation starter Scott Downs to the mound. Now, this is a true Canada-lover. Excepting 18 starts with the Cubs in 2000, he has spent his entire major league career with Canadian teams, with the former Montreal Expos from 2000-2004, and last year with Toronto. He split time last year between the bullpen and the rotations, finishing 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA in 26 games, 13 starts, striking out over two times as many batters as he walked, but giving up 12 home runs. Against the Rays, he has started once and relieved twice, pitching to a 4.66 ERA and walking exactly one-third as many batters as he struck out. He has also given up a home run in 10.2 IP. No Rays really have enough ABs to justify listing their history against Downs, though in six at bats, Carl Crawford had an OPS of exactly 1. So little experience? I'll give the edge to Downs there, but perhaps we can give Downs some bad experiences today.

The Bottom Line

-The Bottom Line is...let's get off to a good start. I don't particularly want to start this series in the hole like we did the Orioles series. It is imperative for Fossum to go quality start-length innings in this one, because we don't want to stress our bullpen one day after they got rest. Further, the travel day probably gave back some of that rest time. It will be interesting to see how the Rays adapt to a pitcher, Downs, that they have not seen a lot of, and it will be more interesting to see if we can actually squeeze a decent few innings out of the bullpen. Let's go get a win and get this series off to a good start!

Lineup

I'm finally here and actually posting the lineups for today's game. First off, the Rays...

RAYS
LF Carl Crawford
2B Jorge Cantu
RF Jonny Gomes
DH Aubrey Huff
3B Ty Wigginton
1B Travis Lee
C Toby Hall
SS Nick Green
CF Damon Hollins

-Eh, I could live without this lineup. Crawford, as ranted by Jim Wisinski many times in this space last season, does not have the necessary patience to get aboard in ways other than hits, and thus does not mesh well with the top spot. Then again, the absence of Lugo really is more important then I thought it would be, so I guess Maddon has no choice, he has no other speedy players to put in the top spot other than Nick Green, and...well...nevermind. Thus that means Cantu jumps up a spot. The three and four spots are fine, although we are in trouble if we keep Ty Wigginton in the No. 5 hole much longer. Lee, Hall, Green, and Hollins, again, injury made this combo necessary, but you'd like to see Green, Hall, and Lee lower in the order. But I suppose Maddon is doing the best he can against a lefty.

Toronto
LF Reed Johnson
RF Alex Rios
CF Vernon Wells
3B Troy Glaus
1B Lyle Overbay
DH Shea Hillenbrand
C Bengie Molina
2B Aaron Hill
SS John McDonald

-McDonald is in as the lefty-killer, but the No. 3-6 in this order are much improved from last year and gives the middle of the lineup some punch that it lacked last year in routinely putting Eric Hinske in the middle of the order. Molina will be working more with Zaun on the DL, Hill is strictly in there for defense, but I like Alex Rios in the No. 2 hole. He doesn't have the prestige of the middle of the order guys, but can add some pop at the top. Johnson, meh, give or take.

Upcoming Games

Tomorrow-at Toronto, 1:07 (Waechter)

Sunday-at Toronto, 1:07 (Kazmir)

Monday-vs Baltimore, 7:15 (McClung)

Lateness

I apologize for the lateness of this feature, I was going to do this last night, but unfortunately, I fell asleep at a rather early hour, so I had to do it when I came home today. Nevertheless, I will not sacrifice content to produce a quality piece, and that is why I didn't half-ass it to get it in on time.

3 Days to the Home Opener

GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-Information from ESPN, The Baseball Cube, and DevilRays.com