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5/27: TEX (26-27) at RAYS (31-20)

Texas at RAYS

7:10; FSN Florida

Pitching Matchup:

TEX RH V. Padilla 67.2 3.33 123 5.85 3.19 1.83 1.20 .778 1.42 1.12 16.49
RAYS RH A. Sonnanst. 63.2 5.09 81 5.09 1.70 3.00 1.13 .793 1.32 1.18 14.48

RH Vicente Padilla, Texas-Former Phillie Vicente Padilla takes to the hill for Texas this evening as the Rangers try to even up the series. Padilla has been the odd pitcher that seems to defy all common logic this season. Granted, though he has made just 11 starts, Padilla's 3.54 ERA in seven road starts is actually greater than his even 3.00 ERA in four starts at hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark. In fact, he's holding hitters to a .255/.325/.373 line at home, while that line jumps to .280/.350/.479 on the road. Given his performance, his road ERA should be a lot higher than just 3.54.

The Rangers have mostly struck out in the past with their high-profile free agent signings of starting pitchers (Chan Ho Park, of course, sticks out as the most egregious), and Padilla and fellow big-ticket signee Kevin Millwood appear to be trending in that direction. Padilla put up a 5.76 ERA in 23 starts for the Rangers last season, being victimized by the home run ball especially in his home ballpark. With the unabated string of failed big investments, one wonders if the whole philosophy of the Ranger organization needs to change with regards to developing pitchers.

It might serve Texas well to go the route of the Colorado Rockies, who have recently placed an emphasis in scouting and development on groundball pitchers with low walk rates. It would seem to me that when your starters are pitching half of their games in such a home run-friendly ballpark, continuing to squander big bucks on free agent pitchers in the hopes that their pretty numbers elsewhere will translate into success in Arlington is a poor strategy. The home ballpark pretty much limits the type of team you can build in Arlington, so it would seem to me that the Rangers might want to look at a more cohesive organizational strategy for developing pitchers. At the very least, it might save them some money.

In the immediate though, Padilla is really just a mediocre starting pitcher. He has about average strikeout and walk rates that are generally on-par with his career numbers, and his 1.20 HR/9 is an exact duplicate of his rate last year. Since he actually has a higher flyball rate this year than he did in 2007, you can actually expect that the HR/9 number might tick up a little.

In looking over his numbers though, Padilla does appear to have changed his approach slightly. He is throwing his fastball and slider a lot more, mainly at the expense of his curveball. His FB% is up to 80.4% from 73.1% a year ago, and his slider is up 2.8% to 8.4%. At the same time, he is throwing his curveball just 5.3% of the time, as compared to 14.6% in 2007. Whether these slight changes in pitch emphasis bode anything for Padilla's potential for sustained success, only time will tell. The Rays can take solace in the fact that they will have a lefty-heavy lineup going out on the field tonight, though. Lefties have victimized Padilla to the tune of .286/.384/.487 so far this year.

RH Andy Sonnanstine, RAYS-The endless flame war Andy Sonnanstine debate has another chapter written tonight as Sonny takes to the hill against the American League's second-ranked offensive ballclub. The Rangers come into this evening hitting .277/.350/.448 collectively, a .798 OPS that trails only Boston in the American League. The question is whether Sonnanstine can tame the Rangers' bats and overcome his poor outing last week in Oakland.

Overall, Sonnanstine has a 6.12 ERA over his last four starts. That number includes Sonny's 8 IP, 1 run effort in St. Louis on the 16th. Suffice it to say, that number is unacceptable, and he needs to develop some consistency if he wants to remain entrenched in the starting rotation. The Rays can no longer afford to give away starts if they expect to contend. Though his walk rate has taken a slight dive down to 1.70, it has been accompanied by his strikeout rate, which has gone on a steeper plunge down from 6.68 a year ago. That is the root of his steep K/BB decline, down from 3.73 last year to an even three so far in 2008.

Still, Sonnanstine has improved with regards to pitching to contact. He is giving up fewer home run balls this year, and he has gotten his head above water with regards to G:F ratio. These are positive developments. Still, opponents are slugging .476 off of Sonny, a number that is unacceptable and that needs to come down. He is going to have to approach success by pitching to contact, and while doing this involves getting hammered occasionally, the frequency has been far too high in 2008.

I am a Sonnanstine supporter. I have made that known in the past, and more often than not I will stick up for him. But it is time for Sonny to take a leap towards greater consistency. He doesn't have the stuff to constantly strike out and dominate guys, but if he can fully adjust to pitching to contact in the major leagues, he is very much a useful part of the rotation.

Starting Lineups:

2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
CF Josh Hamilton
DH Milton Bradley
RF David Murphy
LF Brandon Boggs
1B Frank Catalanotto
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
3B Ramón Vázquez
2B Akinori Iwamura
LF Carl Crawford
CF B.J. Upton
1B Carlos Peña
3B Evan Longoria
DH Cliff Floyd
C Dioner Navarro
RF Eric Hinske
SS Jason Bartlett

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