THE GOOD: Scott Kazmir’s slider. A good Kazmir needs to have confidence to throw his slider. In 2007, he threw it 17% of the time. Last year, that number dropped to 11%. Last night? 20 out of 111 (18.0%)…Scott Kazmir’s fastball. We don’t remember Kazmir’s fastball having so much movement. We have always assumed that Kazmir, as a power-pitcher, only threw a 4-seam fastball (very straight, very fast). But several of those fastballs last night looked like 2-seamers (not as fast, more movement). Is this new to his arsenal?…9-1-2. If the 9-hitter truly is the second leadoff hitter, then the “top” of the Rays order went a combined 9-14, scored 4 times and drove in 2. Quick side note: How great would Aki be if he played 81 games at Fenway? He would be like Wade Boggs, peppering that wall all year and hit .350 with about 200 doubles…The Shrinking Hole In El Gato’s Bat. He struck out (again) in his first at bat and then finally made contact in the second. But it was the home run in the third that’s got us downright giddy. Last year, Pena got off to a slow start because he was pulling everything. Facing a tough lefty, he took Lester deep, to straight away center field. A very good sign indeed…The Mad Australian. Grant Balfour came in with the bases loaded and struck out Jed Lowrie. Then breezed through a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.This adds credence to one commenter’s point that Balfour just isn’t very good in the spring, but knows how to turn it on in April.
THE BAD: 111 pitches. Yes, it was nice to see Scott Kazmir work six innings. We will take it every time. But we don’t want to see too many more starts where he throws more than 110 pitches. 110 is considered by some to be the cutoff for when a start becomes very stressful on a pitcher’s arm. Of course, that varies based on the pitcher and circumstances, but let’s not risk it…JP Howell. He looked like classic JP on the 2 strikeouts, but hit a batter and looked very hittable on the 3 basehits, allowing one run to score, and leaving the bases loaded.
THE TELLING: Dan Wheeler was the designated 8th inning guy last year, but came on in the 7th last night, with JP Howell starting the 8th…Last year, the Rays started the season 0-7 at Fenway Park, not winning a game in Boston until September 9. Looks like that monkey doesn’t even know where the Rays’ back is any longer…The Rays weren’t terrible versus lefties last year (25-24), but it is still nice to blow past a tough one this early in the year. Of course, we think the Rays already proved themselves against Lester the Invincible last October…Willy Aybar will start at DH today.
SUNBURST PLAYER OF THE GAME: Scott Kazmir. Whenever the Rays beat down on the Sox at Fenway, there are going to be several candidates. Evan Longoria had a double and a home run, but he also grounded into two double-plays. Carlos Pena’s home run was huge and he had a great defensive play going over the railing at the Red Sox dugout, but he also struck out for the fourth straight at bat. Jason Bartlett and Aki Iwamura each did their job by getting on base 3 times. But even though it wasn’t vintage Kazmir, it was still better than we had seen in a while. And any pitcher that holds the Red Sox to 1 run in 6 innings for the win, is going to find their name here.
DEVIL DOGS WEBTOPIA…
- The Tampa Bay Rays top four minor league affiliates all have their season openers tonight. BJ Upton is expected to play for Charlotte tonight, for the first of three rehab games. He is expected to rejoin the Rays on Monday.
- In case you were wondering who in the bullpen is responsible for carrying the pink backpack filled with candy…Without any rookies, the task has been bestowed upon JP Howell, which apparently goes against the wishes of Troy Percival. And did you know that sushi does not fit in the pink backpack. We are curious as to what sushi JP has been eating. [MLB]
- Pat Burrell flew to Philadelphia Wednesday morning and was on hand for the Phillies’ World Series ring ceremony. [Tampa Tribune]
- Governor Charlie Crist will once again throw out the first pitch at the home opener…When looking for public funding for a new stadium, it is always a good idea to butter up the Governor. [MLB]
- IndyWeek.com previews the 2009 Durham Bulls. [Indy Week]