Friday, February 29, 2008

Bottom 9 - Rays at Reds

Another of the Rays' highly respected young arms, Chris Mason, takes the mound for the final inning. Mason doesn't throw smoke like some of the other top pitchers in the system, but he's effective. Last year, Mason went 15-4 with a 2.57 ERA in Double A Montgomery.

Mason is rated only as the No. 10 prospect in the Rays system by Baseball America, but you have to think he'd be quite a bit higher in an organization without the quality and depth of the Rays. He worked himself into a bit of a jam by putting the first two runners on, but squeezed out of trouble and left runners on second and third when the final out was recorded on line out to right.

Rays win! Rays win! Rays win! Final score: 7-6. Thanks for joining the blog. Be sure to check back here tomorrow, when Roger Mooney will blog from the Rays' spring home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Top 9 - Rays at Reds

Ben Zobrist doesn't want extra innings. He leads off with an infield hit. Let's see if the Rays can do a little manufacturing.

Jeff Brantley sighting. He's sitting in the front row behind home plate with a binder on his lap. The former Red, among other teams, was working for ESPN last time we saw him. Maybe he's doing some research.

While I thought about Brantley, Justin Ruggiano hit a hot shot down the third base line, which the Reds' third sacker snagged and tossed to first to retire the batter. That was Ryan Freel making that fine play, but his effort was in vein when Eric Hinske "singled" home the go-ahead run, scoring Zobrist.

We put the word singled in quotes because that was very generous of the scorekeeper to call that a hit. Looked like an error by the second baseman from here. Nonetheless, the Rays take the lead and Houser stands to be the winner as we head to the bottom of the ninth with the Rays up 7-6.

Bottom 8 - Rays at Reds

Ooh, good matchup. Rays young pitching stud Jake McGee faces Jay Bruce and Bruce comes out ahead, planting a ball in front of Fernando Perez in CF. McGee, the N0. 15 overall prospect in baseball, is popping the glove, but he's not exactly blowing people away. He allowed the hit to Bruce, then walked the next two batters.

Drew Anderson smacked one of McGee's shin, driving in a run. Double Ouch. Even if McGee is struggling a little bit, remember the name. He'll be 21 on opening day, and he could be a major factor with the Rays as early as next season. Some say he might be the team's closer someday. Maddon gives him the hook after McGee walks in a run to bring the score to 6-4. Somewhere, the good people at Baseball America weep. McGee didn't get anybody out.

One bright spot coming from McGee's collapse? James Houser makes an appearance. Yes, that James Houser of Sarasota Sailors fame. It was back in 2003, when we saw Houser face Lakewood Ranch's Lastings Milledge on the outer fields at Ed Smith in the Sarasota Classic.

In front of a dozen or so scouts and a bunch of fans, Milledge won the first battle, hitting a long home run out near Tuttle. Milledge hit a few home runs that year, but this was an awe inspiring blast that drew gasps from the fans in attendance. Scouts almost in unison pulled out their cell phones and made calls to what I imagine in my mind were very important people. Maybe they were calling they mothers or maybe they were making reservations, but we pictured them calling their GMs directly and telling them they needed to draft Milledge.

Talk about a buzz. That was something else for a high school baseball game. It's a great memory to this day. And if Milledge and Houser ever live up to their big-time potential I will tell that story many more times, in greater depth with each passing year.

By the way, if you plan to attend the Sarasota Classic this year, American Heritage comes every year, and they are more loaded than ever this season. Eric Hosmer is probably the finest power hitting prospect in high school baseball. He hit a HR against Lakewood Ranch last year. Adrian Nieto, American Heritage's catcher, is also very highly regarded and will go early in the draft.
Where was I? Oh, Houser allowed two more of McGee's runners to score, and now we have a tie. So much for that comfortable lead.

Top 8 - Rays at Reds

Eric Hinske game to much adulation from the fans. One of the hecklers tells him to jack one, then someone asks who he came up with. They of course remember him for his short run with the Red Sox. If you want to be a somewhat middling player with a high Q Factor, play for the Yankees and Red Sox, and you will be famous forever. Hinske had his best years with the Blue Jays and even won a Rookie of the Year with them, but one of the Hinske fans in front of me asked who he came up with.

On the mound, Scott Sauerbeck struggled mightily, loading the bases and being helped by his catcher picking off a player at second base. That gave him his first out of the inning, but the bases were still jacked when Cannizaro came in and walked to force home the Rays' fourth run of the game. John Jaso, the Rays catcher of the future stepped to the plate. He hit a double play ball, but after recording the out, the shortstop's throw went high and into the dugout. Two more runs crossed. Sauerbeck is done and the Rays have a comfortable 6-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth.

Bottom 7 - Rays at Reds

Fans stayed to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" but upon its completion, many began filing to the exits. Clearly, they are not Chad Orvella fans. Oh, well. More Orvella for the rest of us. Catcher Alvin Colina steps to the plate for the Reds, hoping to starting his own Colina brothers catching faction in the major leagues. The Molina's currently have a monopoly. Andy Cannizaro is firmly in the Molina's camp, as he makes a nice place deep up the middle at second place to retire the less-than-fleet Colina at first. Former Ray Javier Valentin grounds out to send us to the eighth.

Top 7 - Rays at Reds

We mentioned John Rodriguez's Cardinal ties earlier, and we weren't the only ones thinking that. Rodriguez was standing on deck prior to the inning when a fan started yelling "Johnnie Rodriguez, baby, Cardinals. Rocket." Rodriguez turned to acknowledge the guy, to the fan's great amusement.

It's not exactly a raucous atmosphere here at Ed Smith, so we can pick up on these sorts of things. It's heckler heaven, if you are inclined to that sort of thing. Game update: The Rays went down in order, but still lead 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh. Time to stretch.

Bottom 6 - Rays at Reds

Sonnanstine gets only one inning. Hmm. But on the bright side we do get a look at Grant Balfour, who joined the Rays late last year and showed signs he will help the team out of the pin. He came up in the Twins organization, and it seems like the Rays and Twins are on a player-share program like we did one year in Little League. On another note, Reds "super-ute" Ryan Freel is kind of an established player to just now be getting his first AB.

What's this? Already some chatter between the Reds dugout and the home plate ump. That has to be a record. Maybe it's something left over from last year, you know, from when the games actually counted.

You might want to pick up Paul Janish for your fantasy team, because I just saw where Reds SS Alex Gonzales has a broken knee and will be reevaluated in three weeks. A broken knee sounds like more than a three-week thing, but I guess there are degrees of severity.

Top 6 - Rays at Reds

Evan Longoria draws a walk, which might be a better sign than his double in the first. The Rays love his eye and his pitch selection for such a young hitter. Some young guys might be swinging at everything to try to impress management but he kept his bat on his shoulder the whole at bat, waiting for a pitch that never came. So he took his base ... then nearly got picked off first. His a rookie, this kid. Friedman doesn't look too upset. We'll let you know if he reaches for his cell phone and makes an angry trade offer.

Bottom 5 - Rays at Reds

Andy Sonnanstine, who we'll go out on a limb and dub a favorite for one of those two rotation spots, takes the mound for the Rays. Jay Bruce makes his first appearance, as he comes in to pinch hit in the inning and grounds out to first. People know this guy. He had a nice applause when his name was announced. Sonnanstine works the quickest inning of the day. He was anxious to see the grounds crew perform their post-fifth YMCA routine.

Top 5 - Rays at Reds

Columbia's Fernando Perez grounds out. We're pulling for that guy because we like speedy outfielders, who went to college in the Ivy Leagues. We are entering the "who is that guy?" stage of the game, but Willy Aybar just took another at bat. He missed some camp with visa issues, so he might need the extra work. If this Longoria guy doesn't work out, Willy Aybar might well be you opening day third baseman, Rays fans. He's 0-for-3, after making the final out of the inning.

Bottom 4 - Rays at Reds

This just in from sources close to the situation, Jeff Niemann will in fact start Sunday at McKechnie Field against the Pirates. If you want to see a very large man throw a baseball, get to "The Mac" box office today. Tickets are going fast.

Hammel wanted no part of Griffey, walking him to lead off the inning. Joe Maddon won't be liking that after his team just gave him a lead. Now Griffey takes his leave for pinch runner Chris Dickerson. The Reds appear keen to run on Hammel and Riggans as Dickerson tried to steal second but moved up on a ground ball, then stole third. He came around to score on a ground ball out. In the interim, Joey Votto, who isn't a prospect for his speed, stole second.

It's the first game of spring training for goodness sakes, but Hammel isn't doing himself any favors. The Reds score once to draw within one as an army of Reds make their way to the clubhouse.

Top 4 - Rays at Reds

Edinon Volquez sailed through his first five outs, then hit Jonny Gomes high and tight, bringing Longoria to the place. These two might have faced each other in the minors at some point last year. Evan Longoria, ladies and gents, doubles home Gomes with a hard drive off the wall in left center. That ball might have gone out on a warmer day and without a breeze. Dunn just turned and ran when he saw it was sailing over his head.

Now Volquez is rattled. He walked Bartlett with Shawn Riggans on deck, prompting a visit to the mound. Riggans singles Longoria home, and the Rays have their first lead of the spring. All of this has gone down with two outs.

Dusty Baker has seen enough. New pitcher Justin Leher doesn't help matters for the Reds, balking home Bartlett. John (The Rocket) Rodriguez goes down to end the rally. Some might remember him from his days with the Cardinals. He can hit it a ton, but he strikes out a lot, too.

Bottom 3 - Rays at Reds

Reds SS prospect Paul Janish (pronounced Yanish) doubles to right to lead of the inning. Some might remember Janish from his time with Rice when he won a national championship. One of his teammates back then was Rays pitching prospect Jeff Niemann. I'll have to check but I believe Niemann is throwing this weekend.

Janish advances to third on a long fly ball to center, but Upton gets a nice chance to show off his arm. Easy, B.J., it's the first game of spring training. The Rays don't need you throwing at your shoulder. Save that cannon for when in it counts. Though it is nice to know it's there when you need it.

Janish scores the first run on a sac fly from Norris Hopper. Jason Hammell started this inning on the mound, by the way. That's all the Reds could muster as Griffey watched the last out from on deck. He'll lead off next inning, unless he calls it a very early day. That would be allowed. He's Ken Griffey Jr., after all.

Top 3 - Rays at Reds

Edinson Volquez enters the game to pitch for the Reds. That name might not sound familiar, but he's the guy the Reds traded Josh Hamilton for. Volquez is a hard-throwing and highly touted arm from the Rangers organization. He must be pretty good if the Reds were willing to deal Hamilton for him. But it also has something to do with having Dunn, Griffey and up-and-coming Jay Bruce already in the plans. Volquez cruised through a 1-2-3 inning, striking out Pena to end it. Alas, Crawford dreams of a perfect spring were dashed when he grounded out to first base.

Bottom 2 - Rays at Reds

If you like highly touted young talent, these are the team for you. Baseball American says they have the best two farm systems in terms of talent. The Rays are No. 1 and the Reds No. 2. Reds top prospect Jay Bruce is not in the lineup today. He's a toolsy center fielder and former first-round pick, who you will be hearing plenty about this year and the future. While Bruce didn't make an appearance Joey Votto, a promising power-hitting first baseman is playing for the Reds. He might be a year away, but a good camp could change that.

The Rays, of course, sent Evan Longoria, the No. 2 prospect in baseball, out to third base. He, too, is trying to earn a spot in the opening day lineup. The Rays, by the way, sent a pretty good group on the trip, CC, Aki, Bartlett, Longoria, Upton, Gomes and Pena all here and in the game. Jackson allows a single to Adam Dunn, but has little trouble retiring the rest of the Reds side in the second as we head to the third in a scoreless tie.

Top 2 - Rays at Reds

Kinda wish I hadn't eaten in the press room. There is a Skyline Chili stand here, and boy is that taking my back to my college days at the University of Dayton. You can't throw a rock without it hitting a Skyline Chili in the Cincinnati area, but they are a fairly regional franchise and you don't see that logo around here very much. The chili is an acquired taste (kind of sweet and not at all thick) but it's part of the Southwest Ohio experience, and during spring training you can have it in Southwest Florida.

Homer Bailey settled in that inning and retired the side. Bailey is very similar to the Rays Matt Garza. He's a big, hard throwing right hander with great stuff and big-time prospect status. But like Garza, Bailey has been erratic with his stuff and still needs to refine a few things about his game before he can be an upper-echelon pitcher. Bailey, too, was involved in trade talk this summer, but the difference was the Reds held him, while Garza was sent south.

Bottom 1 - Rays at Reds

Hey, just spotted a McKechnie Field beer man, cheating on the boys in Bradenton. Not sure of the guy's name (he's not The WASSUUUPPP guy) but he's been hawking beers at McKechnie for years. Maybe the Reds made him a better offer. Rays VP Andrew Friedman is sitting in a chair in front of me and the fans just walk right by him down the main isle. Wonder if Brian Cashman could be so lucky as to have such peace while watching a game. Edwin Jackson picks up where he left off last season, throwing a perfect first, thanks to a nice place by Carlos Pena at first.

Top 1st - Rays at Reds

The second pitch of the game, and we already have a close call line drive into the stands on the third base side. Spring training is a double-edged sword that way. Closer to the players and the field, means close to the hot shots. The ushers quickly checked on the section and the man looks to have caught a piece of the ball, but he waived off medical help. A similar thing might happen later in the game and it's certain to go down many times over the course of the month.

Carl Crawford singled to left in his first "official" at bat of the spring. Fantasy baseball freaks, take note. He might hit 1.000 this season. And since he stole third in double theft with Carlos Pena, 100 SBs doesn't seem out of the question. No one does that anymore. Anyway, Reds pitcher escaped a bases-loaded one-out jam, as the Rays squander an opportunity.

Rays-Reds: Let's set the lineups

Welcome to Ed Smith Stadium, not quite the jewel of the Grapefruit League, but it is where the Tampa Bay Rays will play the lidlifter of their exhibition season. This is Doug Kaid, staff writer for the Bradenton Herald, and I'll be your blogger for today's game.

Here’s the lineups for the Rays, and remember, the Reds agreed to use a designated hitter today.

2B Akinori Iwamura
LF Carl Crawford
1B Carlos Pena
CF B.J. Upton
DH Willy Aybar
RF Jonny Gomes
3B Evan Longoria
SS Jason Bartlett
C Shawn Riggans
P Edwin Jackson

For the homestanding Reds …
CF Norris Hopper
3B Jeff Keppinger
RF Ken Griffey, Jr.
LF Adam Dunn
1B Joey Votto
2B Adam Green
C Paul Bako
SS Paul Janish
DH Javier Valentin
P Homer Bailey

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

The Rays, who took batting practice at Al Lang Field this morning, will arrive shortly.
The Reds just finish their BP.

It’s a little cool and a little breezy, but the sun is shinning and Stevie Wonder is playing over the stadium speakers.

Looks like it will be a great day for baseball.