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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087

Email: mbaker@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

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  1. Sebastien Bourdais among 'best of the rest' in St. Petersburg qualifying

    Auto racing

    ST. PETERSBURG — Sebastien Bourdais isn't sure what to make of the fact he was one of only two drivers outside of Team Penske to crack into Saturday's final round of qualifying for today's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

    "It's a bit of a Penske lockout," said Bourdais, a St. Petersburg resident. "We're kind of feeling like the best of the rest here, which in a way makes me feel good and bad. We're going to have to step it up and mix it up with these guys."...

    Racing in the family: Sebastian Wheldon, son of the late Dan Wheldon, watches along with family friend Rob DeMatti.
  2. New IndyCar aero kits present risks and rewards

    Auto racing

    ST. PETERSBURG — A track record that took IndyCar a decade to break lasted only 20 minutes Saturday.

    Will Power's record-breaking qualifying run Saturday probably won't be the only time the IndyCar series tops old speeds thanks to its new aero kits, which will make their formal debut in today's season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

    The 110-lap race will be the first real glimpse of how the new body work by manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet, so it's still unclear how the faster cars will affect strategies when the green flag drops....

    The new noses on the 2015 IndyCars are a quick way to differentiate the cars, at least in their configuration for the St. Petersburg race. At left, the Team Penske Chevrolet driven by Juan Montoya. At right, the Andretti Autosport Honda of Ryan Hunter-Reay.
  3. Pole-sitter Will Power leads Penske 1-2-3-4 in St. Petersburg qualifying

    Auto racing

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Team Penske driver Juan Montoya said he had one takeaway from Friday's first day of practice, when his team had the three quickest cars.

    "That we're not 1-2-3-4," Montoya said.

    They were Saturday.

    Defending race and series champion Will Power set a track record and Penske's cars swept the top four qualifying spots for today's season-opening IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg....

    Will Power celebrates another pole in St. Petersburg. “That just shows the work we did over the winter,” the Australian said. “It’s four good (Team Penske) drivers who will battle it out.”
  4. Montoya aims to start strong at Grand Prix

    Auto racing

    ST. PETERSBURG — Juan Pablo Montoya's return to open-wheel racing started slowly last year.

    The Team Penske driver qualified 18th and finished 15th in the 22-car field at last year's season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

    "I had so much stuff on my plate," said Montoya, who had spent the previous seven years in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series. "I was so overwhelmed with everything going on, figuring out what I needed to do."...

    After a slow start last season, Juan Pablo Montoya won at Pocono and ended the year with three consecutive top-five finishes to finish fourth in points. [Getty Images]
  5. For Ryan Hunter-Reay, racing is the American way

    Auto racing

    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Even growing up in the South, Ryan Hunter-Reay never wanted to race against Dale Earnhardt or Bill Elliott.

    He wanted to be the next Andretti or Unser or Rahal, a U.S. star in the melting pot of open-wheel racing.

    "It was always the Americans for me ..." Hunter-Reay said. "I think because it's such an international sport, you root for homegrown talent."

    And now, the homegrown talent is Hunter-Reay....

    Hunter-Reay celebrates the birth of his second child, described as “little baby RHR 2.0,” on social media earlier this month.
  6. RC Enerson races on fast learning curve to Indy Lights series

    Auto racing

    When racing forced New Port Richey's RC Enerson to miss half of his freshman year of high school, Enerson made what he considered an easy choice. He left Gulf High.

    When he realized that his body was holding him back from climbing racing's ladder toward the IndyCar series, he showed his dedication again. He lost 40 pounds.

    That drive will be on display this weekend in St. Petersburg, when the Tampa Bay native makes his debut in the Indy Lights series — IndyCar's equivalent of Triple-A baseball — at age 18....

    Improved fitness led to a breakout year for RC Enerson in USF2000. He went from two podium finishes in 2013 to five victories  including one in St. Petersburg. [Times files (2014)]
  7. Analytics help new Rays reliever Kevin Jepsen to career year

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Reliever Kevin Jepsen attributes the best season of his career to a change that sounds remarkably simple.

    He started entering games with a plan.

    "It's hard to succeed over the course of a season," Jepsen said, "if you're going out there and winging it."

    Yet that's what Jepsen did for most of his career, and is perhaps why he bounced between the majors and Triple A for most of his first six seasons....

    Kevin Jepsen posted career bests with a 2.63 ERA and 75 strikeouts with the Angels last year.
  8. Mock Draft Monday: Jameis Winston or....no one?

    Blog

    I've looked all across the Internet to try to find a reputable mock draft by a respected writer that has the Bucs picking someone other than Jameis Winston with the No. 1 overall pick.

    I've got nothing.

    Things could change of course, there's still 38 days until the NFL draft. Winston hasn't even had his pro day yet. But, to state the obvious, the pundits are sure Winston is the guy....

    Jameis Winston hasn't even had his pro day yet. But, to state the obvious, the pundits are sure Winston is the guy for the Bucs.
  9. Rays' Steven Souza Jr. okay after awkward catch

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays had a scare Friday when an awkward dive by RF Steven Souza Jr. could have lengthened their growing injury list.

    The club's top prospect had a precautionary MRI exam after leaving the 11-5 loss to the Blue Jays with right forearm tightness. The exam showed no damage, the Rays said, and Souza was not expected to miss significant action.

    "We're being cautious with it, and we're having him checked out," manager Kevin Cash said....

    Rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. checks his right arm after a catch as Brandon Guyer checks on him.
  10. Rays: A Make-A-Wish fan visits

    The Heater

    Make a wish

    The Rays welcomed 16-year-old fan Jonathan Cook as a special guest Friday. He had a locker in the clubhouse, took batting practice and threw the ceremonial first pitch. Cook, who was born in Tampa but lives in Virginia, is in remission from cancer and joined the Rays through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "It's crazy to be out on this field," Cook said. "It was really fun to be around all these guys."...

  11. MRI shows no issues for Rays' Steven Souza Jr.

    Blog

    ...

  12. Rick Kriseman wins Grand Prix of St. Petersburg's mayoral go-carts challenge

    Auto racing

    PALMETTO – When Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn spun out and ended up in the grass during Thursday's mayoral go-carts challenge, he thought he knew the reason why: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman must have sabotaged his brakes.

    "That's the only way that he could win," Buckhorn said, joking.

    Kriseman beat the field — including Shirley Groover Bryant (Palmetto), Samuel Henderson (Gulfport) and Woody Brown (Largo) — in the first mayoral challenge at Andersen RacePark. IndyCar Series drivers Graham Rahal, Luca Filippi and Gabby Chaves also raced Thursday in a publicity stop for next weekend's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg....

    Rick Kriseman beat the field - including Shirley Groover Bryant (Palmetto), Samuel Henderson (Gulfport) and Woody Brown (Largo) - in the first mayoral challenge at Andersen RacePark. [MATT BAKER | Times]
  13. Mock Draft Monday: Jameis Winston unanimous at No. 1

    Blog

    For the first time in the illustrious history of Mock Draft Monday, the Bucs’ selection with the No. 1 overall pick is unanimous: Jameis Winston.

    The last holdout (among the mock drafts I survey weekly) was SI’s Chris Burke. He had the Bucs picking Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in his first four versions but switched this week.

    Our updated (and unscientific) reader poll remains close, although Winston continues to chip away at Mariota’s lead. With almost 4,000 votes, Mariota has 44.6 percent of the vote, with Winston at 42 percent. You can cast your own vote here....

    Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston at last month's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
  14. Lightning-Canadiens preview, 7:30 Monday, Amalie Arena

    Lightning Strikes

    Tonight

    Lightning vs. Canadiens

    When/where: 7:30, Amalie Arena

    TV/radio: Sun Sports; 970-AM

    Key stats: Montreal leads the Lightning by two points in the Atlantic Division. … The Lightning has fared well against the Canadiens, giving them two of their 19 regulation losses. … Lightning G Ben Bishop has stopped 55 of 58 Montreal shots this season. … Montreal G Carey Price continues to dominate and had 35 saves in Saturday's 3-1 win over the Islanders. … The Canadiens have lost five of their past seven games, including Tuesday's 1-0 overtime loss to Tampa Bay. … Montreal LW Max Pacioretty added to his team lead with his 34th goal of the season Saturday....

  15. Lightning loses to Jets

    Sports

    TAMPA — Wing Nikita Kucherov's costly, perhaps controversial, major penalty sparked the power play that led to the Lightning's 2-1 loss to Winnipeg on Saturday night.

    But the roots for Tampa Bay's third loss in its past 18 home games lay much deeper than Kucherov's hit on Jets defenseman Toby Enstrom.

    "We kept shooting ourselves in the foot," coach Jon Cooper said. "Eventually, if you keep doing that, you're not going to be able to walk anymore."...

    Nikita Kucherov, left, scores the Lightning’s goal, but his major penalty was costly.