Rays Tales: Plenty of home runs, but little else

Photos by WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
Photos by WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Published May 15, 2016

The Rays, through the first six weeks of the season, have been playing power ball.

They are hitting more home runs than ever at this point of the season — 46 through Friday, 1.39 per game — and are on a pace for 226, which would smash their club record of 199 set in 2009.

That, you would think, would be a good thing.

But the homers have accounted for an unusually large — and unsustainable — percentage of the Rays' runs, nearly 60 percent, well above the league average of 37.3, as they overall rank near the bottom of the league in runs scored.

And that, as you can imagine, is not so good.

"We'll take all the home runs we can get," manager Kevin Cash said. "But the nights we're not able to find that, we've got to do it another way."

The Rays went into this season expecting to hit more home runs based on the players they added (such as Corey Dickerson, who has eight and is on pace for 39; and Steve Pearce, five and 25) and the benefit of experience and better health with some returnees (such as Steven Souza Jr., also eight and 39; and Curt Casali, four and 20).

What they didn't anticipate was the overall dearth of other forms of run production, on a pace through Friday for 572, which would be the fewest in their 19-season history.

"We wanted to add more of a power dimension to the club, and early on it looks like that is coming through," team VP Chaim Bloom said. "To this point we haven't scored as many runs as we'd like to by other means, but we're very optimistic that that part is going to turn around."

Could there be a connection? In hitting more home runs, the Rays have been striking out more, 321 times in 33 games, and are on pace to break that team record, too.

"We're built different," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "We have different guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and some guys hit the ball out of the ballpark and swing and miss a little bit more than guys we've had in the past. We still have to do a better job situationally."

Adding to the inequity of the total runs equation is that a large share of the team's homers, 31 of the first 46, have been solo shots. That's typically the case, based on game situations, but still higher than average, which seems somewhat random, thus theoretically improvable.

The best-case scenario for the Rays, obviously, is to improve their ability to score runs in other ways and keep going deep.

"We just need to get on track and keep the line moving a little bit better," Cash said, "whether it's home runs or hits."

Not that the power show hasn't had some benefits, besides sending more fans home with souvenirs.

"It's nice to know that if you're down runs late in a game, you've got plenty of guys that can change the game with one swing of the bat, which is different than we've had in the past," 3B Evan Longoria said.

"If we were down late in a game, we had to string together a few hits to get a run. Now we have guys that are driving the ball out of the ballpark. It's a good feeling. It's a comforting feeling. It would give any team a little more confidence going into the later innings."

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Short stops

• RHP Grant Balfour, being properly honored with a first pitch today to mark his retirement, provided the Rays with numerous highlights during his 2007-10 stint, headlined perhaps by his memorably heated confrontation with the White Sox's Orlando Cabrera at a critical moment in the 2008 ALDS opener and first Trop playoff game. Rage on, mate.

• Before RHP Matt Bush's reckless acts that led to his March 2012 DUI arrest in Port Charlotte, he had appeared headed for redemption from his previous troubles. Now that he has been given yet another chance, and is in the majors with the Rangers, here's hoping he doesn't veer again from the right track.

• OF/DH Jonny Gomes left Japan to come back to play in the states, obviously looking to get a major-league job. But if he doesn't get a better offer elsewhere, the Rays would be wise to find a place for him in the organization somehow, given his leadership ability, clubhouse presence and still occasionally powerful bat.

Rays rumblings

Still don't understand why the Rays DFA'd RHP Jhan Marinez, knowing they were likely to lose him (traded to Milwaukee for cash), when they could have optioned RHP Steve Geltz to Triple A and kept both. Those cash deals, by the way, are typically in the upper five to low six figures. … 3B Evan Longoria has been wearing yellow batting gloves on occasion, his attempt at fashion design "to accentuate" the sunburst on their uniforms. … LHP Matt Moore was No. 5 on ESPN's Jim Bowden's list of top starting pitcher in-season trade targets. … Team officials seem confident RHP prospect Brent Honey­well will need only a couple of weeks rest, and nothing worse, to deal with his right arm tenderness. … Baseball America's new mock draft still has the Rays taking Alabama prep LHP Braxton Garrett with the 13th pick on June 9. has them taking Georgia high school 3B Josh Lowe. … Funny ex-Rays moment in Chicago on Wednesday when now Padres RHP Fernando Rodney went to shoot his celebratory imaginary arrow and now Cubs INF Ben Zobrist playfully jumped to block it. … Best wishes to Suzanne Luecke, who leaves after 10 years atop the Rays' community relations department.

Got a minute? LHP Matt Moore

Best meal you can make? Breakfast burrito, with eggs, potatoes, green chile, bacon, a little bit of cheese. The key is in the roll of the burrito, and being able to toast it afterward.

Movies you quote the most from? Dumb & Dumber and Step Brothers.

Band or singer you'd like to be on stage with? Adele.

Dream vacation spot? Okinawa, Japan (where he lived from ages 6-11), I'd like to go back there. It'd be different being 6 foot as opposed to 4½ foot.

Celebrity crush? (Model) Brooklyn Decker.

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.