THE GOOD: Jeff Niemann. After barely surviving a first inning in which he loaded the bases with only one out, he got out of it without allowing a run. He followed that up by facing only 2 over the minimum until he gave up a lead off home run in the 6th. Even the home run was a good sign. The Rays had just put a 6-spot on the board in the bottom of the 5th. A lot of pitchers would still try to be too fancy at that point. That is when a pitcher will start walking batters which leads to big innings. Not Niemann. He started going right after the batters in the 6th. Letting them put the ball in play. Funny, but that is one time when a home run does not bother us…How much bat speed and strength does BJ Upton have? He hit his 3-run HR without even getting his arms extended. The ball was up and in on him and he still hit a no-doubter…Great slide by Mike DiFelice to score the Rays’ third run on a single by Carl Crawford. DiFelice slid towards the infield-side of the plate to avoid the tag…Trever Miller came on with the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate in the 7th and got Rays killer, Aubrey Huff to strike out. Miller, Al Reyes and Troy Percival retired the final 7 batters of the game. So this is what a major league bullpen looks like.
THE BAD: JP Howell could not get an out (3 batters) and Dan Wheeler relieved him and ended up walking in a run…The Rays have been not-so-good on the basepaths early in the season. With the bases loaded and 1 out in the 5th, Carl Crawford roped a single scoring 2. For some reason Akinori Iwamura does not advance to third on the throw home. Ironic that his brain fart occurred on the same play that had Mike DiFelice making a great base running play. And it did not hurt the Rays as Aki would later score on BJ Upton’s home run, but still a surprising lack of aggressiveness on the base paths…Jason Bartlett made his second error of the season, only the second error all year for the Rays’ infielders.
THE TELLING: Like any tall pitcher, you will always know when Jeff Niemann is on when he is hitting spots LOW in the strike zone. All pitchers struggle keeping the ball down. But when your 6’9″ it is that much harder…JP Howell is now starting to be used as a short-inning guy. Might Jason Hammel move to the pen (once everybody is healthy) and become the long reliever, with Scott Dohmann being sent packing?…The Yankees had a night game in Boston that did not end until after midnight. They were lucky if they were in their hotel in Tampa by 7am.
DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA…
- The “Rays Index Live BLOG-A-BALOO of the week” will be tomorrow night and it will be held at the RAYSHEAD Facebook Group. So be sure to stop by and take part in the shenanigans as Edwin Jackson mows down the Yankees…or takes a dump on the mound reminding us that he is still Edwin Jackson. [RAYSHEAD Facebook Group]
- Her Rays is excited about yesterday’s win. She uses an exclamation point seven times. [Her Rays]
- Joe Maddon was very impressed with Jeff Niemann’s major league debut. Then again, Papa Joe thought the Titanic had a solid debut, so forgive us if we just go on our own observations. Yep. Niemann was impressive. [MLB]
“Jeff was very impressive today,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Being able to throw a strike with a breaking ball when you’re down in the count in the American League is huge…He had a good look about him,” Maddon said. “He was very confident going into the game.”
- Next up for the Rays is a 2-game set versus the Yankees at the Trop. [MLB]
- Tampa Bay Sports Blog is not impressed with what they have seen from the Rays so far even going so far as to say that the defense “is not improved, it’s possibly worse” and “swapping Brendan Harris for Jason Bartlett was a huge mistake.”…Yikes. Yes…Jason Bartlett has two errors. He had almost 30 in 2007. He is going to throw a ball away every once and a while. But what does not show up in box scores and doesn’t translate very well to TV is that Bartlett will field many, many, MANY more balls than Brendan Harris can. We saw on numerous occasions last year, ground balls that should have been routine, scoot into the outfield. We remember seeing Harris dive for balls after taking only one step. His range is AWFUL. And Akinori Iwamura has been nothing short of amazing at second base. He is turning double plays like he has played the position his entire life. And outside of catcher, second base is the hardest position to learn because half the time you have your back to the runners. It is much more than catch-and-throw. The defense is better. The Rays are 4th in the AL with a .728 Defensive Efficiency Rating after being last in 2007. [Tampa Bay Sports Blog]
- Oh, and look what we have here. Brittany Ghiroli praising the Rays infield defense. That’s why we love Ms. Ghiroli. She’s always got our backs. [MLB]
With the offense looking sluggish, particularly during a four-game losing skid last week, the dazzling infield play has helped steer the Rays toward greener pastures.