ST. PETERSBURG -- The shoe is on the other foot.
For years it seems that most criticism directed at the Rays has been associated with the team's offense, while the pitching has been a celebrated group.
Even though it's early in the 2013 season, this one has had a different hue than in the past, as the Rays' bullpen has blown leads and the starting rotation -- save for Alex Cobb and Matt Moore -- has been inconsistent. Meanwhile, the offense has been thumping.
In the Rays' last 37 games (beginning April 17), they lead the Major Leagues in runs scored (208, 5.6 per game) and hold the American League's third-best record at 22-15. On Tuesday, they scored seven runs in a win over Miami.
"It definitely is a little bit of a change, and a welcome change for us on the offensive end," said Evan Longoria, who's hitting .320 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs. "I felt like we were always putting a ton of pressure on ourselves because our pitching was so good and has been so good for so long. And they're going to be good.
"Like [Rays manager] Joe [Maddon] says, these are the guys who were probably a top-5 group last year and we're pretty much running the same guys out there. They're going to figure out a way to be better. But it's good to know offensively that we're able to produce some runs and be able to help them."
Hitting coach Derek Shelton has often been the target of those looking to blame someone for the team's offensive woes. Not this season.
"I'm sure it takes a little bit of the pressure and the weight off him," Longoria said. "But I think we all understand how hard he works, [and] how well he's respected from the offensive guys in this clubhouse. … We understand how hard he works and how much pride he takes in his job. So it's good to see the results. And it's good to see us producing, not for him, but in his behalf."
Longoria noted that the offense has been "lucky overall" to have players get hot at different times.
"I mean [first baseman James] Loney was really hot for a long time," Longoria said. "Then Kelly [Johnson] kind of steps in and gets uber-hot after him and really, you see the trickle effect all the way down the lineup to feed off of what one guy is doing. And you don't want to get left behind."
Longoria had an interesting take when asked if this year's offense has been the one the Rays envisioned.
"We talked a lot in the spring about developing the offensive identity and what kind of team we're going to be," Longoria said. "I think the home run production is definitely more than I thought we would produce this early in the year.
"But as far as the way that we've scored runs, I think we've done what we've expected of ourselves as far as moving runners along and being able to get a runner on second with nobody out and score that guy, whether it's with a bunt and a sac fly, no matter how we do it. We've really put good at-bats together. And I think that was something that was definitely expected."
Early in the season when the bats weren't working, Maddon said that this year's team had the capability to have a "swarming" offense, which has since come to fruition.
"It is [swarming]," Longoria said. "Because you kind of get it from all angles because you can't predict all the angles in this lineup. Like I said, Kelly in the three hole [Monday], he's probably been as low as seven or eight [in the lineup]. Yunel's [Escobar] been one, nine, two, he's been all over. [Maddon has] figured out a way to fit the puzzle pieces together and kind of create that swarming offense."
When Longoria was asked whether this year's offense was the best he's been a part of with the Rays, he quickly pointed out that the team is not striking out as much as it has in the past.
"And in those situations where we need to move the ball, we have," Longoria said. "I think that gives you the ability to produce a lot more runs based off of the fact you're putting the ball in play. It's just been fun to watch and I hope we continue it."
Odorizzi optioned to Triple-A; Colome recalled
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jake Odorizzi was clearly disappointed with the news that he'd been optioned to Triple-A Durham on Tuesday night, sent back to the Minors after only two starts with the Rays. But with an overworked bullpen and plenty of other young pitchers waiting in Durham, the move made perfect sense for Tampa Bay.
Right-hander Alex Colome was recalled from Triple-A Durham and will be available in the Rays' bullpen for Wednesday night's game against Miami. The Rays will call up another pitcher, most likely Chris Archer, to start Saturday against the Indians. Odorizzi, a right-hander, had been scheduled to make the start in the rotation spot opened up by David Price's injury, but instead he'll head back to Durham.
Tampa Bay gave Odorizzi, its No. 3-ranked prospect, a six-run lead in his start on Monday against the Marlins, but he promptly gave up six runs before getting chased in the fifth inning without retiring a batter.
"I'm disappointed. I was hoping to get some more innings, especially after that last outing," Odorizzi said. "I really wanted to get back out there. I was ready to get back out there today, but obviously it's not possible. It's just part of it."
Pitching coach Jim Hickey told Odorizzi a few things he can work on after his second stint in the big leagues, manager Joe Maddon said, but equally important in the Rays' decision was their need for a fresh arm in the bullpen.
"If I would've gotten the win [Monday], it wouldn't have really mattered," Odorizzi said. "So it wasn't a reflection of outings or anything. It's just, they need somebody and I'm the lucky guy, I guess."
Maddon pointed to setup man Joel Peralta, who's pitched four days in a row, and closer Fernando Rodney, who's worked three of the last four days. There's also Jake McGee, who warmed up on Tuesday despite Maddon's plan to sit him, and Kyle Farnsworth, who was up and down at least twice.
Colome, 24, was 4-5 with a 2.60 ERA in 10 starts for the Bulls. He struck out 61 in 55 1/3 innings while walking 22.
"There's been a lot of craziness among the bullpen, and so we needed to square that up a little bit, too," Maddon said.
Archer would appear to be the most likely candidate to take Price's spot come Saturday. He last pitched on Sunday for Durham, where he's 5-3 with a 3.96 ERA in 10 starts this season.
After monster performance, Johnson back in three hole
ST. PETERSBURG -- Kelly Johnson hit third in the lineup for a second consecutive day Tuesday after hitting in the third spot for the first time in nearly two years on Monday.
Johnson went 4-for-5 with two three-run homers, six RBIs, and a stolen base Monday, becoming only the fifth player since 1949 to hit a pair of three-run homers (or more) and steal a base in the same game.
Johnson, who went 2-for-5 with an RBI double in Tuesday's 7-6 win over Miami, now ranks fourth in the American League with a .571 slugging percentage.
Evan Longoria said he hasn't been surprised about Johnson's bat -- he leads the team in home runs with 10 -- but Longoria noted that Johnson is more than just a productive hitter.
"I played against Kelly for a half a year in Toronto, and I had seen him play in the past on TV, and I know he's a talented guy, and he does a lot of things well," said Longoria, citing Johnson's alert steal of third base in Monday's game. "Even last night, him stealing third in that situation, that was a smart baseball play. That's kind of what he brings to this team, not only his ability to hit the ball, but just a total character baseball player. Being able to play multiple positions. Obviously something [Rays manager] Joe Maddon likes and he's taken to all of that really well."
Rays Foundation donates to 17 nonprofit organizations
ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- The Rays Baseball Foundation, the official charity of the Rays, awarded a total of $100,000 to 17 local nonprofit organizations through the Community Fund Grant Program on Tuesday.
"The Rays Baseball Foundation is proud to recognize and support these community organizations and their valuable work," said Matt Silverman, team president. "Each year, we see evidence of how our partnerships with nonprofit organizations help strengthen our community and we look forward to extending that impact with our new partners."
The Rays Community Fund Grant Program provides assistance to local nonprofits in the Tampa Bay region. Grants worth up to $10,000 are awarded to help support and enhance current programs offered by community-based nonprofit organizations. To date, the Community Grant Fund Program has awarded more than 130 grants to local charities totaling $672,500. The Rays will award a second round of grants from the 2013 Community Fund Grant in September. Applications for those grants will be available on raysbaseball.com/community beginning June 1.
The Rays Baseball Foundation is committed to supporting youth and education programs throughout the Tampa Bay community. Key contributors to the Foundation include Rays owners, players, sponsors and fans. Since 2008, the Foundation has proudly invested close to $3 million in youth and education programs in the region through grants, programs and scholarships.