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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. Lightning, Rangers looking for more defense in Game 4

    Blog

    For a team that enters Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead, the Lightning and has put up six goals in back-to-back games, the Lightning spent a lot of time Friday morning talking about one major negative - the five goals it allowed Wednesday.

    "There's not a whole lot of times (when) you give up five goals you're going to win the game..." defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We have to make sure we can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night. We have to focus on our net and make sure we take care of that. We know our offensive skills. We know we have power up front that's going to score goals. We have to focus on our own net and make sure that we play well on that end."...

    "There's not a whole lot of times (when) you give up five goals you're going to win the game..." defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We have to make sure we can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night.
  2. Helio Castroneves undaunted by Indy 500 near-miss

    Auto racing

    Helio Castroneves hasn't tried to distance himself from the most heartbreaking second-place finish of his career. He keeps a clip of it on his phone.

    And a few days after finishing runner-up to Ryan Hunter-Reay at last year's Indianapolis 500, Castroneves decided to watch it, to see the four lead changes in the final five laps. His reaction wasn't anger or frustration; it was reluctant acceptance. After two and a half hours of racing, he missed his shot at history by 0.0600 seconds. All he could do was shrug....

  3. Alex Colome rebounds as Rays blank Athletics to open series (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have used plenty of different characters and formulas to get into sole possession of first place in the AL East.

    On Thursday night, they needed a bounce-back start from right-hander Alex Colome and more timely hits by slugger David DeJesus to earn a 3-0 win over Oakland. With their fourth shutout of the year, the Rays (23-19) broke a tie with the idle Yankees to sit alone atop the division — somewhere they haven't been since April 2014....

    Rays starter Alex Colome rebounds from a poor outing by staying ahead in the count, and the bullpen takes over for the final four innings.
  4. Rays' Smyly says rehab best choice for torn labrum

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Drew Smyly didn't seem pleased Thursday when he announced that he'll try eight weeks of rehab on his torn left labrum, with the hope of returning to the Rays' rotation in late July.

    But it beats the other possibilities, including the prospect of season-ending shoulder surgery.

    "It's better than missing a year and a half to two years," Smyly said. "I will take eight weeks to get better, get my shoulder right, get my body right and hopefully help this team down the stretch."...

    FILE - In this May 5, 2015, file photo, Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Drew Smyly delivers to the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston. Smyly will miss the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury. The Rays transferred Smyly to the 60-day disabled list Wednesday, May 13, and said Dr. Keith Meister will examine his torn labrum in Texas on Thursday. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) NY161
  5. Rays-Athletics Friday preview

    The Heater

    Rays vs. A's

    When/where: 7:10 tonight; Tropicana Field

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

    Tickets: $7-$200, available at Tropicana Field box office, Ticketmaster, raysbaseball.com, team Tampa store; $3 surcharge within 5 hours of game time.

    Probable pitchers

    rays: RH Chris Archer (4-4, 2.47)

    a's: LH Scott Kazmir (2-2, 3.08)...

  6. Drew Smyly won't have surgery, hopes to return in late July

    Blog

    ST. PETERSBURG - Rays LHP Drew Smyly will try to rehab his torn left labrum instead of undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, he announced today at Tropicana Field.

    "It's better than missing a year and a half to two years," Smyly said before tonight's game against Oakland. "I will take eight weeks to get better, get my shoulder right, get my body right and hopefully help this team down the stretch."  ...

    Drew Smyly will try to rehab his torn left labrum instead of undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, he announced today at Tropicana Field.
  7. For starters, Rays vs. A's

    Blog

    DEVELOPING: The Rays are back at Tropicana Field to start a seven-game homestand, which begins with tonight's matchup against Oakland.

    RHP Alex Colome (2-1, 6.05) will make his fifth start of the season. Oakland will start RHP Jesse Chavez (1-3, 2.63).

    Today's lineups:

    Rays

    Kevin Kiermaier CF

    Steven Souza Jr. RF

    Evan Longoria 3B

    James Loney 1B...

    Alex Colome (2-1, 6.05) will make his fifth start of the season. Oakland will start RHP Jesse Chavez (1-3, 2.63).
  8. Nikita Kucherov shows resiliency with Game 3 winner against Rangers

    Blog

    Before Nikita Kucherov was the hero of Wednesday night's 6-5 overtime win over the Rangers, the 21-year-old wing blamed himself for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final getting to overtime in the first place.

    Kucherov said he was in good position but failed to properly defend Dan Boyle, who poked a rebound past Ben Bishop to tie the game at 5 with 1:56 left in regulation.

    "It was my mistake," Kucherov said. "I didn't see the puck. I should have probably boxed him out, but I didn't. I've got to learn from it."...

    Nikita Kucherov, right, celebrates his game-winning goal with defenseman Nikita Nesterov.
  9. Lightning's Boyle, wife welcome son on off day (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning C Brian Boyle said nothing prepared him for what he witnessed Tuesday: the birth of his first child, Declan Gabriel.

    "I've never been that scared and happy at the same time," Boyle said Wednesday.

    It was a whirlwind for Boyle, 30, who flew back from New York after Monday night's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final to be there for wife Lauren's 11 a.m. C-section. Mom and baby are doing well, he said....

    Lightning center Brian Boyle and his wife, Lauren, introduce their son, Declan Gabriel, born Tuesday morning in the bay area.
  10. Marty St. Louis not worried about fan reception tonight

    Blog

    Former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis said he doesn't know what kind of reaction he'll get from fans at Amalie Arena tonight when he comes out for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final as a member of the Rangers.

    And he's not worried about it, either.

    "It's always special, you know, coming here, obviously with my time here," St. Louis said after Wednesday's morning skate. "But right now my focus is not so much my time here. It's really, how do we get past these guys? This building is going to be loud. They feed off those fans. We need a good start and to keep pushing."...

    Martin St. Louis, right, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist react after the Lightning's Tyler Johnson scored a shorthanded goal following a St. Louis turnover early in Game 2.
  11. Kaelin Clay will have competition at returner

    Blog

    When the Bucs drafted Utah's Kaelin Clay in the sixth round, general manager Jason Licht said the team's returner job would be Clay's to lose.

    Special teams coordinator Kevin O'Dea sounded as if that proclamation could be a little premature.

    "First of all, we're not going to hand it to Clay," O'Dea said. "We've got other guys that are undrafted that look pretty special to me, as well."...

  12. Safety Swearinger happy to join Bucs

    Bucs

    TAMPA — New Bucs S D.J. Swearinger said he was surprised to be waived by the Texans last week, but the former second-round draft pick is excited about a fresh start in Tampa Bay.

    "So far, it's been great," Swearinger, 23, said Monday, speaking to reporters for the first time since the team claimed him off waivers. "I think it's a plus for me, getting a new start in a new city with new coaches and new players around me. Just starting over again, that's a big key for me and something I'm looking forward to."...

    D.J. Swearinger, covering Trent Richardson, was surprised when the Texans waived him last week. He fills a need for the Bucs.
  13. Bucs sign rookie safety Derrick Wells

    Blog

    The Bucs have signed rookie safety Derrick Wells, the team announced Monday afternoon.

    The 6-foot, 201-pound Wells played 47 college games at Minnesota, where he had 139 tackles and four interceptions. He's originally from Lehigh, Fla. and participated in the Bucs' rookie minicamp earlier this month....

  14. Hardy Nickerson talks Bruce Carter, Danny Lansanah

    Blog

    Linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson said a few times Monday that the Bucs don’t have a depth chart yet. But the biggest improvement in his unit since last year is the overall strength of the linebacker corps.

    “I think our depth this year is much better than it was last year…” Nickerson said after Monday’s workouts. “Where there could be some falloff from the fourth spot to the ninth spot (last year), now we’re pretty tight all the way through. It’s going to be exciting to watch the guys compete and see how this thing shakes out.”...

  15. Breaking down Lightning-Rangers matchups

    Lightning Strikes

    The Lightning had success against the Rangers during the regular season, sweeping the three meetings. But those matchups all came in two weeks before Christmas. "Everything changes after that," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. Here's how the teams match up heading into the Eastern Conference final, which begins today.

    Goaltending

    Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: The 33-year-old Swede is another world-class challenge for the Lightning's offense. His 1.60 goals-against average is second best in the playoffs, and so is his .944 save percentage. "It's just a matter of getting in front of him, creating second, third opportunities, making the game a little bit tougher for him," C Tyler Johnson said....

    Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers skates with the puck against Cedric Paquette of the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden on December 1, 2014 in New York City. )