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Game Preview: Sunday (4/9) at Toronto

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RAYS (2-3) at Toronto (3-2)
1:07; SkyDome
RAYS TV/PAX; RAYS RADIO/1250 WHNZ AM

Toronto 8, RAYS 4

Pitching Matchup:

LH Scott Kazmir

RH Roy Halladay

Upcoming Games

Tomorrow-vs Baltimore, 7:15 (McClung)

Tuesday-vs Baltimore, 7:15 (Hendrickson)

Wednesday-vs Baltimore, 7:15 (Fossum)

1 Day to the Home Opener

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

RAYS (2-3) at Toronto (3-2)
1:07; SkyDome
RAYS TV/PAX; RAYS RADIO/1250 WHNZ AM

Toronto 8, RAYS 4:

Toronto-The Rays scored four runs early to take a large lead, but everyone watching Monday's game knew that that was not a safe total, and that theory held up as the Toronto Blue Jays reeled off eight unanswered runs to win Saturday's game and set up a deciding rubber match today. Doug Waechter got the start for the Rays, and he was relieved after a start in which he went 3.2 innings, giving up six hits and three runs, all earned, while walking and striking out two. To top it off, he also hit a batter. He was removed early due to an incredibly high 20 batters faced and 69 pitches. Then, the game just absolutely fell apart when it was turned over to the bullpen.

I'll say it once, and I'll say it again. You can win games with a piss poor bullpen, but you cannot win games with a piss poor rotation to complement a piss poor bullpen. Now, I am not one to hit the panic button after one turn of the rotation, but four of five starters not being able to go past four innings is extremely concerning. One or two? You write it off. But four? Come on, that is a joke, especially when Mark Hendrickson is the voice of reason. This team has a talented rotation, it has genuinely good pitchers. Seth McClung and Scott Kazmir are young pitchers brimming with talent. Casey Fossum is a solid veteran at the back end of the rotation that can contribute, and Doug Waechter can contribute one way or another, in the bullpen or rotation. So with such a good rotation, it is so frustrating to see them all flame out in their first start. I am not ready to panic yet, but make this clear. The bullpen is not very good, it is, in fact, one of, if not thee, worst in the league. But that reality can be neutralized by a steady supply of quality starts from the starters. If you have the bullpen's work minimized, say, to two or three innings, on average, our chances to win go way up. The bullpen may not be good, but it is sure as hell more likely to succeed with a smaller workload, and even a blind hog finds an acorn once in awhile. But the chances of that happening are much less when the 'pen has to work four, five, or six innings. I am confident that the rotation will rebound, but let's make on thing clear. If this continues to happen on a consistent basis, which, I do not think it will, then we will lose 100 games, almost surely more. Even an average of five innings is not good enough. Our starters need to go into the sixth and seventh innings.

After Waechter left, the Rays still had a one run lead, 4-3, however that would last just as long as a buffet table with David Wells in the room, as Jason Childers surrendered two runs, both earned, on a hit, which was a home run, and two walks in 1.1 innings. He also struck out two. He was succeeded by Travis Harper, who then gave away any lingering hopes of a win by giving up three runs, all earned, on five hits and one walk over two innings, while striking out two. The most decent and effective pitcher of the game was Julio's brother, Ruddy, who gave up only a hit and hit a batter in one shutout inning of work.

The lineup was not half-bad, however, as the team worked to make up for the loss of Jorge Cantu, on top of Julio Lugo's injury. Nick Green went 2 for 4 with a run scored and a walk, he was also picked off and caught stealing by Brian Tallet. Damon Hollins also went 2 for 4 with an RBI Double and a strikeout, while 2B Tomas Perez, making his first start as a Devil Ray in the absence of Cantu, went 1 for 3 with a walk, RBI, and strikeout. Aubrey Huff and Joey Gathright each picked up a hit each, with Huff scoring, while Jonny Gomes went hitless, but walked twice and scored a run. Ty Wigginton also went hitless, and he too scored his lone run on a walk, the only time he reached base in the ballgame. A crowd of 18,755 viewed the game in a closed SkyDome roof, as the temperature outside was 33 degrees and windy for much of the ballgame.

3 Up
RF Damon Hollins: 2-4, 2B, RBI
SS Nick Green: 2-4, RS, BB
RP Ruddy Lugo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R

3 Down
RP Travis Harper: 2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB
SP Doug Waechter: 3.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, hit batter
LF Carl Crawford: 0-5, 6 LOB

Rays Reads

-The Devil Rays anticipate a large crowd tomorrow for the home opener, which is a good thing. However that does have some drawbacks, and one of those drawbacks is crowd control. The Rays are recommending that all fans get to the game early tomorrow because the team-owned lots around Tropicana Field will fill up quickly. The lots, as you may remember, are available to park in free of charge this season, though as said before, there is a limited supply. The City of St. Petersburg will also offer an extension of its Downtown 'Looper' trolley service that will hit all major downtown parking garages and carry fans to the stadium. The trolley is free and will service The Pier and 1st Ave N, BayWalk, and will drop patrons off at the home plate entrance to Tropicana Field, at the corner of 4th Ave S and 16th St. A list of the regular 'Looper' trolley stops can be found  here (PDF file). The trolley service will operate from two hours prior to the first pitch (5:15) until one hour after the final out. The lots available for parking tomorrow are 6B, 7, 8, 9, (heh heh, seven ate nine) and the back portion of lots 2 and 3. To help illustrate this, I took a diagram of the Tropicana Field parking lots and circled the ones that fans will be allowed to park in for free. Here is that map.

Lots 11 and 14, which are not shown on this map, are also available for free parking. They are located under the interstate to the northwest of this diagram's boundaries. You can't miss them. Gates will open at 4:15 and parking lots at 3:45 for tailgating, so get there early to revel in the atmosphere!

Short Hops-The Rays have scored 27 runs through the season's first five games, while they have smashed seven home runs, including four on Friday night...2B Jorge Cantu's situation has not been updated upon, and his status for Sunday's game remains in doubt...Blue Jays outfielder Reed Johnson was hit by pitches three times Friday night from Rays starter Casey Fossum, who hit an AL high 18 last season.

Minor League Minute

AAA Durham: Game Rained Out

Bulls Up Next-Double Header at Norfolk, 1:15 ET(Shields, Switizer)

AA Montgomery W, 4-0:
2B Elliot Johnson: 1-3, RS, BB, CS
CF Jason Pridie: 1-4, 2 K
DH Wes Bankston: 2-4, RS
LF Michael Coleman: 1-3, 2 run HR, BB
1B Gaby Martinez: 2-3, RS, 2 2B, BB, K
SP Jim Magrane: 6 IP, W, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K, HB
RP Brian Henderson: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Biscuits Up Next-vs Tennessee, 3:05 ET (Flinn)

A+ Visalia L, 6-5 (7):
CF Fernando Perez: 0-4, RS, K
SS Reid Brignac: 1-3, K, E
RF Shaun Cumberland: 3-4, RS, RBI, K, E
C Josh Arhart: 1-4, 2 run HR, K
DH John Jaso: 1-3, 2B, K
1B Chris Nowak: 1-2, RS, 2B, BB
LF Patrick Breen: 1-3, RS, RBI
SP Jino Gonzalez: 6 IP, L, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, HB

L, 0-2 (7):
CF Fernando Perez: 0-3, K
SS Reid Brignac: 0-2, BB, K
RF Shaun Cumberland: 0-2, BB, K
1B Chris Nowak: 0-3
DH John Jaso: 0-2, BB, K
LF Francisco Leandro: 0-3, K
C Joey Reiman: 2-2, only two Visalia hits
SP Brandon Mann: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, WP

Oaks Up Next-at San Jose, 4:00 ET (Houser)

A- Southwest Michigan W, 2-1:
CF-RF Garrett Groce: 0-4, RBI, BB, K, GIDP
LF Chris Cunningham: 0-3, 2 K
CF John Matulia: 0-2, RS
C Matt Spring: 2-5, 2B, K
SP Wade Davis: 4+ IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K

M-Rays Up Next-vs Lansing, 3:35

Pitching Matchup:

LH Scott Kazmir

RH Roy Halladay

Breakdown

-The Rays look to win the road series north of the border today in the rubber match of a three game set against Toronto. The Rays close their six game, two city road trip with today's game before heading home for a seven game homestand, to be followed by a nine game road trip. To salvage the series and bounce back from yesterday's 8-4 loss, the Rays turn to lefty Scott Kazmir, who is looking to rebound from a poor opening day start against Baltimore on Monday in which he gave up six runs, all earned, on eight hits, including three home runs, while walking three and striking out four in four innings of work. His inability to put hitters away on the two strike counts was all too evident in the game, as all three home runs he gave up were on two strike counts. His bad start follows a spring in which he struggled from his March 13th start against the Indians in Winter Haven all through the rest of the spring in finishing 1-2 with a 9.24 ERA in five starts, while giving up four home runs and walking the same number of batters as he struck out, 12. This poor performance was mostly attributed to the traditional "working the kinks out" of spring training, as well as suggestions he was working on his repertoire. Now, I am not saying that isn't the case. His spring and opening day struggles may be completely unrelated, but it certainly is a worrisome stretch for Rays fans. It will be important for Kazmir to have a good day to convince his doubters, and himself, that he is, indeed the same power pitcher of 2005, in which he led the Rays' staff in innings pitched and set a new team record for single season strikeouts with 174. He has had success against Toronto in the past, as he has pitched to a 3.51 ERA in six starts (33.1 IP), striking out nearly three times his number of walks given up, while surrendering only one home run. That being said, he needs to be careful with these Blue Jay hitters who have had success against him in the past...

  1. Alex Rios-15 ABs, .800 OPS
  2. Vernon Wells-13 ABs, 1.13 OPS
  3. John McDonald-8 ABs, .875 OPS
  4. Aaron Hill-8 ABs, .819 OPS
Overall, I trust Kazmir to right the ship and get back on track. I am on record as saying I think he will have a bit of a sophomore slump, but I don't think it will be too evident and I think that Kazmir is able to compete, in the end, with Seth McClung, for the title of best pitcher in the rotation. McClung himself was helped by a late season start in SkyDome last year, let's hope Kaz can get the same boost.

-The Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, know that they will have no issues with their staff ace when he takes the hill every five days, and that ace is righty Roy Halladay. Consistently one of the best pitchers in baseball, Halladay won the 2003 American League Cy Young Award in going 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA, with a K:BB of over 6:1. He was on track to win the Cy Young again last year, pitching to a 2.41 ERA and 6:1 K:BB ratio before his season ended in Texas just days before the All-Star break when Texas hitter Kevin Mench lined a ball off of his shin which caused a broken leg. But Halladay came to play  this year, and showed it in his season opening start, when he gave up just two earned runs on five hits and no walks in 7.2 innings against the Minnesota Twins on April 4th. He also struck out four batters. That follows a spring in which he gave up just four earned runs in 19 innings of work, "slipping" to a K:BB of slightly more than 3:1. He has had the same level of success in his career against the Rays as Kazmir has had with Toronto, as Halladay is 4-3 with a 3.67 ERA in 15 games, 12 starts, against the Rays all-time. The Rays have batted .283 against him, while he has put up a 1.32 WHIP and a K:BB of slightly less than 3:1. The scary thing about Halladay is that while he has been in the AL East for so long and many Rays have seen him over 16 times, none of them has a good rapport with him. In fact, no one with five or more ABs against him has an OPS over .706. Now that is scary, when you have a pitcher who faces hitters time and time again and still keeps getting them out. That is scary, there is little you can do to stop that. We'll see if the Rays hitters are up to the task.

The Bottom Line

-The bottom line is...How do we stop the terrifying monster that is Roy Halladay? There is just no statistical area in which he shows a glaring weakness, no Rays hitters have a good track record against him, and he is pitching at SkyDome, where he has a 3.41 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and dominant K:BB all-time. Halladay is a monster. You can throw Sabathia, Buherle, Zito, Colon, any other AL starter you want at me, sans Johan Santana, none of them hold a candle to Halladay. He is just so impressive, watching him from many years of Rays baseball, that I am firmly convinced that he is the best pitcher in the American League, if not all of baseball, rivaled only by Santana. Even Clemens, when he was with the Yankees, we could figure out. Hell, we gave up 2/3 of his losses in 2001. But Halladay is just a different class. There is no way getting around him. And the scary thing about Halladay that isn't scary about Santana? He is in our division. So he will, in an average year, take the mound three or four times against us. My advice for the Rays is to think big. Playing small ball against Halladay just isn't going to work. Do not expect the big inning with him, just mash the ball with as much power as you have. Screw trying for several hits in a row, with a walk peppered in. It is just not going to happen against this guy. Guys like Gathright and Crawford are going to have to create scoring opportunities through speed. Stealing that extra base, legging out that base hit and taking one extra base. Every out against Halladay needs to be a productive one, you can't afford to give him free outs. The Rays will need to try for some power, and in lieu of that, using sacrifice hits and stolen bases to move the runners along. They need to create opportunities, because Halladay sure as hell is not going to hand them to the hitters. And this goes without saying, but Kazmir needs a good start. If he doesn't earn a quality start today, and doesn't eat up more than four or five innings, we are toast. I will say it right now, if we have to turn to our bullpen in the fourth or fifth inning, we will lose. There will be no six run comeback. We will lose. This isn't Scott Downs we're facing. The Rays need to get a little extra effort today from everyone to win this game.

Upcoming Games

Tomorrow-vs Baltimore, 7:15 (McClung)

Tuesday-vs Baltimore, 7:15 (Hendrickson)

Wednesday-vs Baltimore, 7:15 (Fossum)

1 Day to the Home Opener

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

-Information from DevilRays.com, ESPN, Yahoo Sports, and MiLB.com was used in this report.