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Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer

Marc Topkin

Marc Topkin has covered baseball for the Times since 1987 — from the lengthy effort to secure a team, to the awarding of the Tampa Bay franchise in 1995, and through each of the Rays seasons starting in 1998. He has traveled throughout the United States with the team, as well as to Canada, Venezuela, Mexico and Japan, and has covered All-Star Games and the World Series, as well as Super Bowls and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Phone: (727) 893-8801


Blog: The Heater

Twitter: @TBTimes_Rays

  1. Rays DFA Balfour despite $7-million salary


      After veteran reliever Grant Balfour pitched poorly in Saturday's 9-0 loss to the Yankees, the Rays designated him for assignment, a procedural step to likely releasing him and eating the remainder of his $7-million salary.
         Brandon Gomes was called up and will take his place in the bullpen.
       "Tonight was embarrassing for me,'' Balfour said.
        Balfour, 37, said he was a bit surprised by the decision and that his arm feels good, but he acknowledged he doesn't "have the same fastball" and that some time off may help. He was 2-6 with a 4.91 ERA last season to start a two-year, $12 million deal and had a 6.23 ERA this season through six games.
       The Rays were down 4-0 when Balfour came in and made things considerably worse in the seventh, walking Alex Rodriguez to load the bases, then allowing a sac fly, hitting a batter and, after starting 0-2, giving up a grand slam to Chris Young, then two more walks before getting out of the inning.
       "You're one pitch away from getting out of a tough situation and you sort of think to yourself, wow, you could have struck the guy out there, had him 0-2, and you walk out of there thinking you did a good job tonight, you haven't given up a run all season, six outings,'' Balfour said.
       "Instead you have a terrible outing. You walk some guys, it wasn't a good outing. It's not really something I want to finish on. ... I always told myself I wanted to be the one to leave this game, not someone else. So we'll see, we'll see where it goes.''
       Balfour said his arm felt better than his radar gun readings looked, that he tough he should have been clocking 92-93 when it said 88-91. As a result, he acknowledged, "I've been shying away from using my fastball as much.''
       He had the same issues much of last season, but felt he finished strong, with his velocity up to 94, and it would carry over this season.
        He worked out much of the winter at the Trop and reported to camp in good shape, but then missed two plus weeks to go to Australia to attend to his father, who died in March.   
       Balfour, who was emotional in a room off the clubhouse after gettinf the news, thanked the Rays for the opportunity in his first stint.
       His return to the Rays was somewhat unexpected, as he was a free agent coming off a successful stint in Oakland, and had agreed to a deal in Baltimore that the Orioles then backed out of based on something that showed up in his physical, a decision that became somewhat controversial. The Rays had him examined and felt he was in good shape.
            "I would like to have been a lot better,'' he said.
         Balfour, 37, said e would take some time before deciding whether to pursue other opportunities if they arise.
      "We'll see what happens,'' he said. "Maybe a little bit of rest will be good for me. ... I'm not thinking too far ahead. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't.''...

  2. Rays-Yankees preview

    The Heater

    Rays vs. Yankees

    When/where: 1:10 today; Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tickets: $21-$300, available at Tropicana Field box office, Ticketmaster,, team Tampa store; $3 surcharge within five hours of game time

    Promotion: Evan Longoria rubber duck for kids 14 and under

    Probable pitchers Rays: RH Matt Andriese (0-0, 3.86) ...

    TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Michael Pineda #35 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait on February 27, 2015 at George M. Steinbrenner Stadium in Tampa,Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  3. Rays routed by Yankees, cut Grant Balfour (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — What started as a dazzling duel between Jake Odorizzi and the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka ended with an ugly 9-0 loss for the Rays and the dismissal of veteran reliever Grant Balfour.

    After Balfour's poor pitching played a key role in the Yankees' seven-run seventh inning, the Rays designated him for assignment, a procedural step to likely releasing him and eating the remainder of his $7 million salary. Brandon Gomes was called up and will take his place in the bullpen....

    Rays rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. leaps at the wall as a drive by the Yankees’ Brian McCann bounces high off the railing and back onto the field, going for a two-run triple off Jake Odorizzi in the sixth inning that breaks a scoreless tie.
  4. Rays rookie Ryan Brett playing with one kidney

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Friday's callup was a significant accomplishment for INF Ryan Brett.

    He isn't very big, measuring barely 5 feet 9. He grew up in the Seattle area, far from a baseball hotbed.

    And he has only one kidney.

    Brett, 23, had his left kidney removed in November 2012, after repeated episodes of pain while playing in the minors led to the discovery of a significant blockage in his ureter, the tube from the kidney to the bladder. (Due to a complication, he also had to have hernia surgery two months later.)...

    Ryan Brett had a kidney removed in November 2012.
  5. Youngsters needed, playing well for Rays

    The Heater

    The 25-man squad that took the field against the Yankees on Saturday included a majors-most nine rookies, the first time the Rays have had that many before Sept. 1. That includes four who made, or will make, their major-league debuts.

    "We are always going to need to rely upon young players, and especially with the injuries we've had we are relying on even younger and less-experienced players," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "With that lack of experience comes questions but also some upside. Many of these players are getting an opportunity before they may have expected it. Hopefully they'll contribute and be better for it in terms of their futures."...

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Kevin Jepsen #40 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a photo on photo day at Charlotte Sports Park on February 27, 2015 in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
  6. For starters, Rays vs. Yankees


    UPDATE, 5:00: DH/OF John Jaso's left wrist has been slow to heal, and it appears it could be into mid-May before he rejoins the lineup. Jaso said a recent X-ray confirmed there was no break, but there is bone bruising and he remains unable to even pick up a bat with his left hand much less swing it.

    LHP Drew Smyly (shoulder tendinitis) will pitch in a Double-A game at Jacksonville on Sunday, scheduled for 4-5 innings and 70 pitches, and depending how he feels Monday/Tuesday, the Rays will decide whether he needs another rehab start or can join the rotation at the end of next week....

  7. Evan Longoria hopeful to be in lineup Friday


    Rays 3B Evan Longoria hopes to be in the lineup Friday but won't know for sure until he sees how his bruised left hip feels after the flight home and a night's sleep.

    "I'm gonna do my best to play,'' Longoria said after the game in Toronto. "Gut feeling right now is I would play. There's nothing structurally wrong. So unless I wake up and I can't walk tomorrow morning I'll be in there.''...

  8. Rays: April powers; Souza's long distance

    The Heater

    April powers

    Wednesday night was historic, according to Elias, the only time in major-league history four rookies hit home runs in an April game — Mikie Mahtook and Steven Souza Jr. for the Rays, Dalton Pompey and Devon Travis for the Jays. Had Tim Beckham not been robbed of a homer on a spectacular leaping catch by LF Kevin Pillar, it would have been the first time in big-league history that five rookies went deep....

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Nathan Karns #51 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a photo on photo day at Charlotte Sports Park on February 27, 2015 in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
  9. Rays beat Jays, Cash ejected in chippy game

    The Heater

    TORONTO — Chris Archer got his chance to throw 100-plus pitches and did well with it Thursday, striking out 11 in another dominant outing as the Rays beat the Jays 4-2 to head home with a winning record through 10 games.

    But two pitches Archer threw that hit Toronto batters had more eventful repercussions.

    First, as Blue Jays reliever Marco Estrada retaliated in the top of the eighth by intentionally drilling Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who was forced to leave with a bruised left hip that puts his status for tonight's game — and his streak of 252 straight — in question....

    Rays starter Chris Archer strikes out 11, hits two Blue Jays hitters and is warned about being vocal in the dugout.
  10. Cash ejected in Rays' victory over Blue Jays

    The Heater

    TORONTO — A hit batter call against Rays RHP Steve Geltz led to Kevin Cash's first ejection as manager Thursday, but he said it was more to do with the replay review process as his lost his fifth straight challenge.

    "It was probably frustrations over just the entire replay system,'' Cash said. "I'm confused by it a little bit.''

    Cash challenged the initial call, that Geltz's eighth-inning pitch hit Josh Donaldson's hand, which replay officials in New York reviewed and confirmed....

    TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 16: Manager Kevin Cash #16 of the Tampa Bay Rays is ejected by home plate umpire Laz Diaz #63 in the first inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 16, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) 538577555
  11. For starters, Rays at Jays, on Archer day


    UPDATE, 3:43: The Rays signed C J.P. Arencibia to a minor-league deal and expect him to soon join Triple-A Durham. Arencibia, previously with the Blue Jays and Rangers, was in spring training with the Orioles but was released last week.

    UPDATE, 3:35: With Toronto RHP Aaron Sanchez on the mound, David DeJesus is back atop the Rays lineup at DH.

    Rays lineup:...

    Chris Archer is coming off a dominant start on Saturday in Miami, where he allowed only two baserunners over seven innings.
  12. Rays to retire radio call sign of slain Tarpon Springs officer


    The Rays announced they will retire the radio call sign of slain Tarpon Springs police officer Charles Kondek in a ceremony prior to Sunday's game at Tropicana Field.

    Kondek was killed in the line of duty on December 21, 2014.

    His 285  call sign will be added to the leftfield wall that includes those of three St. Petersburg police officers who were killed in 2011: Thomas Baitinger, Jeffrey Yaslowitz and David Crawford.

    Kondek's wife, Teresa, and children, Holly, Andrew, Charlie, Brandon and Aleena will attend the ceremony along with members of the Tarpon Springs pollice, led by chief Robert Kochen.

    "On behalf of the Tarpon Springs Police Department and the Kondek family, we greatly appreciate the Rays organization for honoring and remembering officer Charles Kondek by having his name displayed inside Tropicana Field," Kochen said in a statement. "We cannot express how much this means to Officer Kondek's family, the Police Department, and our community. Once again, thank you to the Rays organization."...

    Officer Charles Kondek was killed in the line of duty on December 21, 2014.
  13. Erasmo Ramirez, Rays routed by Blue Jays (with video)

    The Heater

    TORONTO — The primary reason the Rays are above .500 has been the tremendous work of their injury-depleted pitching staff.

    Now if they could just erase Erasmo.

    The Rays knew it was a gamble starting erratic Erasmo Ramirez on Wednesday, and it failed miserably in a 12-7 loss to the Blue Jays that snapped their four-game win streak.

    Ramirez was really no better than in his first outing for the Rays on Friday, allowing nine runs (seven earned) on eight hits and three walks over 31/3 innings, though his ERA actually went down, from 31.50 to a not-quite-tidy 23.63....

    Blue Jays leftfielder Kevin Pillar leaps high over the 
10-foot fence to take a home run away from Rays rookie Tim Beckham during the seventh inning.
  14. Rays: Souza achieves rare triple feat

    The Heater

    Elite company

    OF Steven Souza Jr. joined a select group as the fourth Rays player to have a home run, a bunt base hit and a stolen base in the same game. The first three — and, no, you wouldn't guess them — were OF Alex Sanchez (2005), SS Jason Bartlett (2009) and INF Elliot Johnson (2012).

    Hey, rooks

    With RHP Jose Dominguez replacing RHP Kirby Yates in the bullpen, the Rays are carrying a majors-most eight rookies on their roster: RHP Matt Andriese, INF Tim Beckham, Dominguez, 1B Allan Dykstra, RHP Steve Geltz, RHP Nathan Karns, OF Mikie Mahtook and OF Steven Souza Jr. Dominguez, who has prior big-league time with the Dodgers, will be the 11th player to make their Rays debut thus far....

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Pitcher Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait at Charlotte Sports Park during photo day on February 26, 2014 in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
  15. Rays' Chris Archer hoping to get pitch count up

    The Heater

    TORONTO — RHP Chris Archer takes the mound tonight against the Blue Jays hoping to pitch as well as he did Saturday in seven dominant innings against the Marlins.

    And to pitch more.

    While RHP Jake Odorizzi has been allowed to throw 94 and 103 pitches in his starts, and rookie RHP Nathan Karns 95 and 106, Archer has been on something of a short leash at 85 and 84....

    Chris Archer, the Rays’ opening day starter, has yet to eclipse 90 pitches in either of his two starts this season.