Lingering questions from last night
There are a number of lingering questions from last night's crushing loss. Here are a few, with some answers from the clubhouse:
Why was David Price throwing cutters rather than fastballs to Jake Fox, a .214 hitter who spent most of the season in the minors, during the key seventh-inning sequence when the Rays lost their 2-1 lead?
Price was pretty much done, having thrown 111 pitches with Fox coming up, and Maddon said that Fox was Price's last hitter either way. He said he didn't want to bring in a righty reliever anyway because the O's could have switched to lefty Chris Davis, a better hitter. Fox is known as a good fastball hitter, but he's Jake Fox. Price has a great fastball, and he's David Price. You'd think he would use in there and try to blow Fox away or at least to set him up. Pitching coach Jim Hickey went out to set strategy, but its not clear yet why Price and catcher John Jaso stayed away from the straight heat - only the last of the five pitches he threw topped 90 mph according to the mlb.com. Maddon said the matchup: "I like him (Price) a lot of Fox right there. ... I though David was still throwing the ball pretty well. I felt good about it actually.'' Price threw two cutters for balls, then missed on a slide to fall behind 3-0. He came back with a cutter for strike one, then threw it for the fourth time in the at-bat and Fox laced it to left-center to score the tying run. “It was a little bit more middle than I wanted,’’ Price said. “He put a pretty good swing on it.”
Why was J.P. Howell, a lefty, pitching to Matt Wieters, the Orioles switch-hitting catcher who was hitting much better (.342) against lefties then righties (.233), with two on and two out in the eighth?
There are other switch-hitters the Rays make a point of turning around, but this decision seems to have come from the research and stats side. “We do a lot of work prior to each series to try and figure out what we like and what we don’t like, and I liked it,” Maddon said. “I liked it, but it did not work out.” Howell had gotten Wieters out the two previous times he'd faced him in his career, and expected Wieters to hook his change-up foul. Maddon said he also favored the matchup because Howell usually keeps the ball down. "The ball was up,'' Maddon said. "Part of the reason you like J.P. there is because he normally is pretty much a ground ball pitcher and against a switch-hitter like that I like the idea that he possibly can put the ball on the ground against the guy. That's part of the allure of J.P. vs. a righthanded hitter, with power too.''
Was Howell distracted by making five throws to first base (where Adam Jones was pinch-running for Vlad Guerrero, who had singled) during Wieters' at-bat, including three in a row before the home run pitch?
Maddon said, "possibly a little bit ... you'd have to ask him.'' Howell said he was not at all distracted, that he can focus on both things, though he pointed out that some of the throws over were called from the bench and some were his decision: “No chance. I just messed up, straight up. I just missed my spot. I can do both. You look at first then throw.”
Why with two outs in the 9th was Jose Lobaton (who was hitting .087) the Rays pinch-hitter, especially after the O's switched from lefty Troy Patton to righty Jim Johnson?
Still trying to figure this one out. Maddon said he set it up for Lobaton to hit thinking O's manager Buck Showalter would make the move but not sure, and liked it since Lobaton was a switch-hitter. He had lefty Sam Fuld on-deck to hit next Sean Rodriguez, and could have just burned Lobaton there and hit Fuld to try to get something going, but said he wanted to save Fuld, who is their best pinch-hitter, to use with a man on base, and then flip to the top of the batting order. Maddon also made a reference to "burning a whole bunch of players'' if he changed plans, but the Rays are carrying 32, and he still had Kelly Shoppach to catch, plus Fuld, Brandon Guyer, Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac, Justin Ruggiano and Russ Canzler on the bench. The Rays had made a commitment to use Lobaton more and find out if he is worthy of a key role in 2012, but that was a spot last night that needed the best move for 2011.