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4/25: Boston (15-9) at RAYS (11-11)

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Boston at RAYS

7:10; FSN Florida
RAYS RADIO/1250 AM

Pitching Matchup:

IP ERA + K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 OPS WHIP G/F P/IP
BOS RH T. Wakefield 189.0 4.76 100 5.24 3.05 1.72 1.05 .753 1.35 0.92 15.24
RAYS RH M. Garza 83.0 3.69 118 7.27 3.47 2.09 0.87 .784 1.54 1.27 17.52
All Statistics from 2007 Season

RH Tim Wakefield, Boston-Of all the Ray-killing pitchers that we've seen come through Tropicana Field over the years, I don't think anyone has managed the surpass Tim Wakefield's track record of pure ownage. Tonight, Wakefield will most likely throw his 200th career inning against the Rays, and through the first 196.1, he has been absolutely dominant in St. Petersburg. For some reason, whenever he faces the Rays, his control gets better, his hanging knucklers go past hitters for strikes, and the Sox seem to achieve victory. Of course, part of this has to do with more than half of his innings against the Rays coming within the confines of a dome, but still. Wakefield, like most knucklers, is naturally a better pitcher in domes, where the neutral environment allows him more control over his knuckleball. Opponents have hit just .224/.312/.366 off of Wakefield in domes, and he has a 2.41 ERA in 101 innings of work at the Trop.

You've got to give Wakefield a lot of credit, actually. For a guy who throws his fastball in the mid-70s, he has managed quite a bit of success over his career. He's long since removed from the days of decent strikeout rates, and the natural control problems that occur with knucklers have been arising more often these last couple years. But Wakefield has managed to remain successful, albeit unpredictable, over the course of his career. Most of his outs in recent years have come by way of the flyball, so the standard risks in dealing there apply. If you can get ahold of a knuckler Wakefield has allowed to get away, you can hit it about 440 feet. Quite simply, he deals in so much risk that inconsistency is to be expected.

But on balance, Wakefield has been a constant for the Red Sox when it is all tallied up. Day to day that may not be true, but for the last 13 seasons he has been a steady hand when it's all said and done for Boston. He may not be the guy you want to start Game 7, given his unpredictable nature, but more often than not he will give you a chance to win. And more often than not, that has been all the Red Sox have needed from their back-end starters.

RH Matt Garza, RAYS-Hopefully Matt Garza's return to the mound will be more successful for the Rays than his curtain call in the home opener two and a half weeks ago. On April 8th home against Seattle, Garza experienced terrible control problems and gave up a ton of baserunners in an eventual 6-5 loss. He pitched just 2.2 innings of work before being retired due to "radial nerve irritation" in his arm. He spent the better part of the last three weeks "rehabbing" on the DL, and one rehab start in A+ Vero Beach later, and he's all ready to go! Or so the story goes.

In all seriousness, Garza worries me. I don't know much about the "radial nerve irritation" that Garza has been experiencing, but it sure doesn't sound like something that can be all better after two weeks of rest and rehabilitation. It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I know more about the matter than the team doctors and club officials, I'm just worried. Couple the injury with Garza's apparent unwillingness to be forthright about previous discomfort, and I'm not getting a good vibe about the whole thing. I don't think the Rays would let him go out to the mound with his arm dangling from a thread, obviously, but that does nothing to lessen my anxiety. Hopefully the team exercised just the right amount of caution here, and my concerns are for naught, but a healthy Garza still brings a whole different host of problems.

The first? His control. We saw absolutely none of it in his first two starts of the season, and once again in his rehab start on Sunday for A+ Vero Beach. In fact, I would nominate that he hasn't pitched well in any meaningful game this season. He showed flashes of nastiness in his first start of the year on April 2nd in Baltimore, but he ultimately ended up surrendering five runs in 5.1 innings in an eventual loss. He's given up homers and baserunners galore, and those deficiencies aren't without precedent. He gave up a ton of hits for Minnesota last year as well.

In the end, it's only two starts. Two starts can delude anyone into misjudging a pitcher; see Jackson, Edwin. But in what should be Garza's first full major league season, we are seeing some potential trouble spots. He will have his hands full right off the bat with one of baseball's premier offensive teams welcoming him back, and I can't think of a bigger confidence-builder going forward than a healthy and successful start against those Boston Red Sox this evening.

Starting Lineups:

Boston
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
LF Manny Ramírez
3B Kevin Youkilis
RF J.D. Drew
1B Sean Casey
SS Julio Lugo
C Kevin Cash
RAYS
2B Akinori Iwamura
LF Carl Crawford
CF B.J. Upton
DH Jonny Gomes
3B Evan Longoria
1B Eric Hinske
C Dioner Navarro
RF Gabe Gross
SS Jason Bartlett

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