The season isn't quite yet a month old, and that miniature toilet sitting in the helmet rack in the Rays' dugout seems rather appropriate because there already has been a lot the Rays would like to flush. Consider:
Oh, the pain
It was concerning when word got out in late January that RHP Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays' fourth starter, had arthroscopic elbow surgery and would be out until around June, and troublesome when news broke in March that RHP Alex Colome, their most advanced starting prospect, got caught using performance-enhancing drugs and was suspended for 50 games.
But then in the course of a week, things got really bad for the starting pitching staff:
No. 3 starter LHP Matt Moore walked off the mound in Kansas City on April 7 with pain in his left elbow that resulted in Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery that will sideline him for 12-15 months.
And five days later, No. 2 starter RHP Alex Cobb pitched seven strong innings with some tightness in his left side that turned out to be a strained oblique, which between rehab and building his arm back up will sideline him into at least late May and likely early June.
As a result, all three pitchers who competed during the spring for the No. 5 spot are now in the rotation: RHP Jake Odorizzi, who won it, along with LHPs Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos.
For every action …
The injured starters' absences, the performance of the replacements and a lack of an obviously major-league-ready prospect to step in has left the vaunted Rays rotation a bit tattered. Among the gory details: an American League-high 11 starts in the first 22 games in which a starter didn't go more than five innings, and a 3-10 record in games not started by David Price or Chris Archer.
The only thing consistent about the Rays' offense thus far has been inconsistency. The Rays scored 31 runs in their first six games, 16 total over the next 10, then 27 in two. They won three games when scoring a total of four runs, then lost back-to-back games when scoring seven and six. They went 9-7 vs. right-handed starters, 1-6 against lefties though Friday. They doubled in each of their first 23 games (for 45 total) but homered in only 13 (for 20 total).
Save these dates
Maybe the Rays will get better when they get healthier. Maybe they'll win the AL East and have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. But should they fall short of any of that, the rehash of missed opportunities will start with three games they have already let get away from them:two 12-inning losses at home and Friday's debacle that ended with Grant Balfour allowing a walkoff grand slam.
April hasn't been all bad for the Rays. Evan Longoria surpassed Carlos Peña as their all-time home run king and in doing so became the only franchise leader currently playing for that team. A look at the others:
Angels: Tim Salmon 299
A's: Mark McGwire 363
Astros: Jeff Bagwell 449
Blue Jays: Carlos Delgado 336
Braves: Hank Aaron 733
Brewers: Robin Yount 251
Cardinals: Stan Musial 475
Cubs: Sammy Sosa 545
D'backs: Luis Gonzalez 224
Dodgers: Duke Snider 389
Giants: Willie Mays 646
Indians: Jim Thome 337
Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr. 417
Marlins: Dan Uggla 154
Mets: Darryl Strawberry 252
Nats/Expos: Vlad Guerrero 234
Orioles: Cal Ripken 431
Padres: Nate Colbert 163
Phillies: Mike Schmidt 548
Pirates: Willie Stargell 475
RAYS: Evan Longoria 165
Rangers: Juan Gonzalez 372
Reds: Johnny Bench 389
Red Sox: Ted Williams 521
Rockies: Todd Helton 369
Royals: George Brett 317
Tigers: Al Kaline 399
Twins: Harmon Killebrew 559
White Sox: Frank Thomas 448
Yankees: Babe Ruth 659
Source: Times research, Rays
Where dreams come true
Between the pitching injuries and other issues, the Rays have already made 18 roster moves, including first-time callups for INF Vince Belnome (who didn't get in) and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser (who pitched twice), and the first extended action for OF Kevin Kiermaier (who made a cameo appearance at the end of 2013). Also, LHP Jeff Beliveau got summoned twice for one-day stints, in different cities on the same road trip.
• Got to wonder, the way things have been going, if the Rays won't soon consider expanding to an eight-man bullpen to add depth and flexibility (and maybe a second lefty). That would mean going to a three-man bench and either cutting loose OF Brandon Guyer (who rarely plays anyway) or sending down INF Logan Forsythe or, less likely, INF Sean Rodriguez.
• Given RHP Josh Lueke's (left) repeated failures in high-leverage situations at the big-league level, at what point does the Rays' patience evolve into stubbornness?
• Continued thoughts and prayers to Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer, who remains hospitalized and on a ventilator following April 16 heart surgery. There are few things more enjoyable at the Trop than listening to Zim tell old stories.
The Rays were fifth among the 122 major pro sports franchises (and second in Major League Baseball behind St. Louis) in Bloomberg Businessweek's latest ranking of "Smartest Spenders" based on player payroll per win over the past five years. … 3B Evan Longoria was saddened by the recent death of his dog Jango, a 9-year-old bull terrier, who couldn't survive surgery after getting sick from eating something in their yard. … Rays manager Joe Maddon suggested to MLB Network Radio that a solution to the pitcher/pine tar issue would be to not only make pine tar legal but put a pine tar rag on the back of the mound with the rosin bag. … Interesting to see ex-Rays CF B.J. Upton — struggling again with the Braves — trying glasses in Friday's game. … Former Rays minor-leaguer Leslie Anderson is playing for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, hitting .363 with four homers and 19 RBIs in 22 games.
Got a minute?
Best meal you can make?
I'm a big barbecue guy, big with fresh meats, so I'd go with steaks.
I've always been able to draw — I took a lot of art classes growing up — so I can sketch really well.
Game of Thrones.
Go-to karaoke song?
I'd probably have to go with a crowd-pleaser, maybe some Steve Perry from Journey.
Kate Beckinsale; I've always liked her.
For relief, press handle
The miniature toilet that mysteriously showed up in the Rays' home dugout last week — and is soon to appear on the road — was arranged by 3B Evan Longoria. It's an old idea from Rays sports psychologist/performance consultant Ken Ravizza, going back to his days with Longoria at Long Beach State.
Though the players don't want to talk much about it, the concept is pretty much what you'd think: It's imperative to be able to flush away each pitch.
"You can make that assumption," Longoria said. "It's just kind of a get-rid-of-it-tool, a fun way to just kind of say, 'That's in the past.' "
Ravizza has often used the toilet as a device with various teams, making the deep-thinking connection that his father was a plumber — as was Rays manager Joe Maddon's.
Ravizza used to have a stash of such toilets — which are battery-powered and do make a flushing sound — but he has had to resort to searching the Internet for them. He found this one, Longoria had the TB logo added, and the Rays have another way to deal with their latest mess.