Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays Tales: Tampa Bay Rays midseason report

Trying to sum up the Rays' season to this point in a word isn't easy. Unsettled, as manager Joe Maddon suggested? Inconsistent? Disappointing? How about painful? A look back (all stats through Saturday):

First-half MVP

1. Fernando Rodney, rhp

There's always debate about how truly valuable a reliever can be when he works such a small percentage of the time. But there's little question how invaluable Rodney has been, especially considering that projected closer Kyle Farnsworth went on the DL just before opening day. Rodney saved the Rays from the disruption of a bullpen by committee by stepping into the void and stepping up, and he hasn't stopped. He has had a nearly perfect performance thus far, converting 24 of 25 saves with a silly 0.96 ERA.

2. David Price, lhp

In a season marred by overall inconsistency, Price is the next closest the Rays have had to a sure thing. In 17 starts he is 11-4 (sharing the AL lead in wins) with a stellar 2.82 ERA; has allowed more than three runs twice, and worked into the seventh inning 13 times. He has done so with little support vs. rugged competition, including the Yankees four times (plus the first-place Rangers and Nats) and having been matched up with aces CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey, Justin Verlander, Josh Beckett and Tim Hudson.

3. Evan Longoria, 3b

Longoria isn't listed as much for what he did before he got hurt — hitting .329 with four homers, 19 RBIs and a .994 on-base plus slugging percentage in 23 games — but to illustrate how significant his absence has been. Not only do the Rays sorely miss what he does with his bat and glove, the residual impact on the roster, with others forced into more prominent roles, has been obvious. With Longoria the Rays were 15-8. Without him they are 29-33.

Also considered: Ben Zobrist

Biggest disappointments 1. Luke Scott, dh

This was a difficult decision made from a long list of candidates, which says something about the season. Scott was brought in for a hefty $5 million (plus a $6 million 2013 option with a $1 million buyout) specifically to increase the Rays' power and overall production. Between struggles and injuries, he has done neither: .200 average; 11 homers (seven solo); a .657 OPS (79th of the 99 AL players with 225 plate appearances).

2. Jose Molina, c

The story line was the Rays were willing to do without much offense in return for a significant upgrade defensively at catcher and myriad benefits to their pitching staff. But Molina has thrown out only 9 of 29 runners (31 percent), made three errors and allowed three passed balls, and the pitchers have a lower ERA with other catchers than with him (3.72). Oh, and he is hitting .190.

3. Desmond Jennings, of

Maybe the Rays expected too much from him, as they did with Reid Brignac. Maybe Jennings wasn't ready for full-time duty after a hot-and-cold showing late last season. Maybe he has been limited more by the left knee sprain that sidelined him for nearly a month than has been said. But something hasn't been right. He is hitting .198 since coming back and .231 total, with a .649 OPS. And he has lacked aggressiveness in the field.

Also considered: INF Brignac, 1B Carlos Peña, INF Sean Rodriguez, OF B.J. Upton, LHP Matt Moore

Most pleasant surprises 1. Fernando Rodney, rhp

See above. For a guy signed off the discount shelf after two down seasons to step into such a prominent role as a closer and end up an All-Star is pretty hard to top.

2. Elliot Johnson, ss

Consider this: Many nights he is the most productive hitter in the lineup. That's pretty impressive for guy who had been a fringe utility player, though consistency still is an issue.

3. Jake McGee, lhp

Though Fernando Rodney has done the heavy lifting, McGee has quietly arrived as the dominant bullpen weapon the Rays expected. He has 33 of 38 scoreless appearances and a 1.86 ERA.

Also considered: INF Jeff Keppinger, RHP Wade Davis

If it weren't for bad luck …

Forget the Outback food stand. The trainers' room has had the longest lines at the Trop this season, and that goes beyond the 14 Rays who have been on the disabled list, including a record-tying 10 at one time. Some of the injuries have been routine, some less so. And a few have been a little odd:

• RHP Jeremy Hellickson was throwing in the Comerica Park bullpen during the Tigers' batting practice and was hit on the head by a fly ball.

• INF Will Rhymes was hit by a pitch on the right forearm, then headed to first base, where he scarily passed out from an adrenaline rush.

• INF Jeff Keppinger was watching from the Rays' dugout when a foul ball hit the netting on the front rail and broke his right big toe.

• Manager Joe Maddon was on the wrong end of an overzealous handshake and aggravated a college football injury to his right pinkie.

The medical docket

Players on the DL, listed by games missed, with team's record in their absence:

C Robinson Chirinos,* concussion 44-41

OF Sam Fuld,* wrist surgery 44-41

RP Kyle Farnsworth, elbow 41-36

3B Evan Longoria,* hamstring 29-33

OF Brandon Guyer,* shoulder 24-27

SP Jeff Niemann,* broken leg 22-27

C Jose Lobaton, shoulder 24-17

INF Jeff Keppinger, toe 14-15

OF Matt Joyce,* oblique 6-12

1B Brandon Allen, quad 11-13

OF Desmond Jennings, knee 11-10

DH Luke Scott, back 7-10

SP Jeremy Hellickson, shoulder 6-8

OF B.J. Upton, back 7-6

* - still on DL

Here's a thought …

After CF B.J. Upton, above top, came off the DL on April 20 and before 3B Evan Longoria was hurt April 30, they were in the starting lineup together eight times — and the Rays were 7-1.

Numbers game

69 Errors by the Rays; second in the majors, four fewer than all 2011.

41 Team-record hitless at-bats by DH Luke Scott

36 Rays batters hit by pitches, most in AL

17 Team-record hitless at-bats to start a career, by C Stephen Vogt

10 Players used in the cleanup spot

9 Games in which Rays scored 1 or 0 runs

8 Players used at 3B, combining for 21 errors

2 Games won by Brandon Allen in his first two plate appearances for Rays

Boys will be boys — and occasionally a wuss

Sometimes there is more to the game than playing it. The Rays had a bench-clearing tussle with the Red Sox. They shared target practice with the White Sox. And they exchanged interesting words with the Nationals after P Joel Peralta was turned in, and ejected, for excessive pine tar in his glove. Manager Joe Maddon said it was something of a cowardly move by the Nats, whose manager, Davey Johnson, called Maddon a "weird wuss."

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