04/21/2013 1:18 AM ET
Rays starters focus on quality and quantity of innings
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' greatest concern heading into the season was their starters' ability to make up for the innings lost in the offseason trade that sent James Shields to the Royals.
So far, so good.
Tampa Bay's starters picked up 99 1/3 innings over the club's first 16 games, ranking seventh in the Majors -- and third among teams with 16 or fewer games played. David Price leads the way with 23 innings over four starts, but Alex Cobb has actually had the most success pitching deep into games with 21 1/3 innings in three starts.
"We thought that he was able to do that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's pretty much been a nice pitch-efficient way of getting deep into the game also."
Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Roberto Hernandez are also averaging at least six innings per start so far. The only thing that's off track, it would seem, is the quality of those innings. The Rays' rotation's 4.17 ERA going into Saturday ranks 16th in the Majors, a far cry from their Major League-best 3.34 mark in 2012. But Maddon believes they're not far from making those longer outings better across the board.
"The starters have overall done a pretty nice job of getting into the game more deeply. I do believe the quality's really going to show up," Maddon said. "It just seems like we've been off just a little bit on the 'aggressive-ometer' regarding how we've been pitching a little bit. I'd just like to see us be a little bit more aggressive with our fastball and try to dictate more to the other side.
"Because our pitchers are really good. I keep talking about confidence from the hitting side of things. But I think as our pitchers gain more confidence also, you're going to see them start to dominate games like you've seen in the past."
Prospect Lee may be out for season with knee injury
ST. PETERSBURG -- Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, one of the Rays' top prospects, tore ligaments in his left knee during the first game of Triple-A Durham's doubleheader on Saturday and will likely be out for the rest of the season.
Lee, ranked as MLB.com's No. 56 overall prospect and No. 5 in the Rays organization, was involved in a collision at second base during the Durham Bulls' 10-4 win over the Norfolk Tides on Saturday afternoon. He left the game and was reportedly unable to put any weight on his left leg as he was taken off the field.
Before the injury, Lee was batting .422 with a 1.136 OPS, both of which led the team, in 15 games played. He has long been considered a potential Gold Glove-caliber shortstop at the Major League level.
Lee will travel to St. Petersburg and be examined by the Rays' doctors.
Maddon asks DJ Fresh to spin pregame set for Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- Just when you thought you'd seen everything inside the Rays' clubhouse...
Looking to loosen up his players and create a group of "25 cowboys out there" who aren't worried about making mistakes, Rays manager Joe Maddon invited DJ Fresh into the clubhouse Saturday afternoon to play some music and create a more relaxed vibe. DJ Fresh, whose real name is Doug Hensel, is a former Tampa Bay batboy and current in-house entertainer at Tropicana Field.
"It was Day Rave 1. I wanted to have our guys prep for tonight's game in another way," Maddon said. "I'm not that manager that really is into an extra hundred swings before every game every night. I think that can be counterproductive. I want our guys to chill out a little bit, go out there and play hard and not be afraid about making mistakes, ever.
"This is my way of getting the point across, come out here and do what you've been doing since February, getting ready for the season. Go out there and play it hard and leave it on the field and don't worry about anything else."
Maddon has long been a proponent of keeping the clubhouse atmosphere consistent from day to day, so that the players don't get too down on themselves or press too hard to make something positive happen. Saturday's guest appearance by DJ Fresh was motivated by the same desire, and it seemed to work. Several Rays players took pictures, bobbed their heads, danced and laughed at the new addition to the clubhouse.
"I think it's funny, but it's not surprising," Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings said. "At this point, nothing really surprises me."
Maddon added that DJ Fresh was just a "one-day gig" for now, but he has something different planned for Sunday morning. The Rays' seemingly annual roster overhaul requires them to introduce their newest players to Maddon's unique clubhouse culture, and Maddon said DJ Fresh was just another way to do that.
"Whatever it takes these guys to relax and permit their natural abilities to come out, I will happily do," Maddon said. "I want to see 25 cowboys out there. I just want to see 25 guys out there never worried about making a mistake, period. Never worried about making a mistake. I still think guys that are getting used to being here don't quite believe that yet, because I'm sure they have not heard that refrain in the past.
"When it comes to physical mistakes, I'll take as many as you need to make. It's the mental mistakes that beat you. You're going to make more mental mistakes by being tentative. I don't want us to be tentative. I don't want us to be worried about making mistakes. I want us to go out there, play it as hard as we can for nine innings ... and I go home, and I sleep well. When I see that, I go home, and I sleep well regardless of the outcome of the game."
Longoria racking up homers after series of singles
ST. PETERSBURG -- Evan Longoria waited until April 15 to hit his first home run of the year, but he hasn't held back much since then.
After Friday night's monster two-run shot to left field, Longoria has homered in four of the Rays' past five games. His first 11 hits of the season were singles, the longest streak of his career without an extra-base hit, but all of his last five hits have gone for extra bases -- the four homers and a double in Baltimore on Wednesday.
"I'd like to mix in a few multi-hit games or better at-bats in between [the home runs]," Longoria said Friday night, smiling. "I've run into a few lately, and it's good to finally get the slugging percentage up and start driving the ball."
Indeed, Longoria leads the Rays with a .509 slugging percentage entering Saturday night's game against the A's. He's also sporting a .364 on-base percentage, and he's one of only four Major League players to get on base in every one of his team's games this season. Rays manager Joe Maddon attributed Longoria's recent power surge to his overall approach and the fact that he's simply not missing his pitch to drive.
"I just think power hitters generally get into that moment where they'll get into a streak where they don't miss their pitch," Maddon said. "Watching from over here, his bat speed is incredible. It's incredible. You can see the difference between guys with bat speed and guys with uber bat speed. It's just different. And he's got that uber bat speed. It's just a matter of him squaring it up a little bit. And when he does, it makes a different sound.
"It's got the different sound and the great spin, and the ball just goes. But when guys are really that good, they'll go through that streak where they don't miss their pitch. That's pretty much what it comes down to."
• Maddon loaded his lineup with right-handers against A's righty Jarrod Parker on Saturday, most notably batting Ryan Roberts second, using Shelley Duncan at DH and sitting lefty hitter Kelly Johnson. Matt Joyce and James Loney were the only left-handed hitters in the starting lineup, along with switch-hitter Ben Zobrist, and Maddon attributed that to the team's "intel" that Parker is mostly split-neutral.
Maddon wasn't kidding, either. Just look at Parker's batting lines against right-handed hitters: .264/.328/.375 (.702 OPS), and lefty hitters: .255/.325/.374 (.698 OPS).
• Maddon reiterated Saturday that Luke Scott (strained right calf) will run again Sunday after doing so Friday and easing his workload Saturday. After Scott's workout with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield on Sunday, the Rays should be able to make a decision about when to start his rehab assignment.
• The Rays had a busy Saturday morning in the Tampa Bay community. Outfielder Sam Fuld took part in a question-and-answer session at Diabetes Family Day, hosted by the All Children's Hospital Endocrinology and Diabetes Department and the Tampa Bay JDRF Center.
Loney and his wife, Nadia, recorded a PSA for the Guardian ad Litem program, which protects the rights and advocates for the best interests of abused or neglected children involved in a court proceedings. And Longoria met hundreds of children from the Belmont Heights and Cross Bayou Little Leagues as part of Red Bull's "Tampa's Got Wings" program that raised $80,000 for the two leagues.
• Desmond Jennings turned an unassisted, inning-ending double play in the third inning Saturday night, snagging Coco Crisp's flyout to center field and then running over first base on his way back to the dugout. Eric Sogard had been at first base but was running on contact, giving Jennings as long as he needed to jog into the infield.
Jennings became the first Rays outfielder to ever turn an unassisted double play and the first Major League center fielder to complete an unassisted double play at first base since Pittsburgh's Andy Van Slyke did it on on July 7, 1992.