TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
INSIDE PITCH 4/20
The offense has been better than expected and the starting pitching has been inconsistent, as expected.
But what the Devil Rays don't yet know is what kind of relief they are going to get.
Veteran right-hander Al Reyes has been a steadying influence, not just with his six scoreless innings and 5-for-5 performance in saves, but in also providing an example for the young relievers.
And rookie right-hander Brian Stokes has evolved into the closest thing the Rays seem to have to a dependable setup man. But manager Joe Maddon said he would try to limit his use of Stokes, who pitched in eight of the first 14 games and was on pace for a whopping 93 appearances.
"We've had 'Stokesy' up way too often and that's my fault," Maddon said. "I don't want to get him up so much that we abuse him to the point he can't lift his arm up in August."
It's the middle innings that have caused the most trouble. Right-handers Shawn Camp and Ruddy Lugo seem to have pitched their way out of handling key situations, and right-hander Jae Kuk Ryu wasn't impressive in his chance Monday. That leaves right-handed journeyman Gary Glover as the most experienced option.
Rookie right-hander Juan Salas, however, may soon emerge, as he seems to be throwing the best of the bunch.
--Rookie OF Elijah Dukes said the problems that led to a 2-for-24 slump were the result of trying to do too much at the plate. "There was a little bit of a mudslide going on with me," he said. He seemed to break out of it Wednesday with two hits and a walk. --Demoted 2B Jorge Cantu has been the subject of inquiry by the Rockies and several other teams, but nothing appears imminent.
--RHP Edwin Jackson is eager to return to the mound Friday, given a poor outing Saturday in which he admittedly did not pitch aggressively enough, lasting just three innings while walking five. "I was ready the next day," he said. "With games like that it always seems to take longer for your next start to come, for you to show it's not going to be like that all the time."
--Interim 1B/OF coach Dave Martinez's stint filling in for George Hendrick is scheduled to end next week, but Martinez said he has enjoyed the gig and would be interested in a full-time coaching position. "I think I'd really like to do it, now that I've got involved and got a taste of it," said Martinez, who retired as a player in 2001. "It's been a learning experience. I'm glad I was able to help out as much as I can. It's easier when you have guys that really want to work and are eager to learn. That made my transition a lot easier."
--The Rays are hoping 3B Akinori Iwamura is healthy enough to return to the lineup Friday. Iwamura seemed to be the player most severely stricken by a virus that was working its way through the team. INFs B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist and C Dioner Navarro were also sick Wednesday.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Wins in nine road games this season, one more than the Rays had in their final 36 last season, from July 1 on.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every day that guy pitches it's like Friday the 13th." -- Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli, going into Friday's game against Johan Santana, which the Rays won.
3B Akinori Iwamura (illness) was scratched from the lineup on April 18. The Rays hope he can return April 20.
INF/DH Greg Norton (surgery on torn medial meniscus in right knee) is expected to be out until May. He opened the season on the disabled list.
RHP Shinji Mori (torn labrum) is rehabbing without surgery and might be ready by midseason.
RHP Doug Waechter (shoulder surgery) is rehabbing and is expected to be game-ready by June.
All Star ballots released: Up next for the Devil Rays:
All Star ballots released:Vote for all of your favorite Devil Rays for the 2007 All Star Game to be held in San Francisco. Scott Kazmir was the only Tampa Bay representative at last year's Midsummer Classic in Pittsburgh.
Up next for the Devil Rays:The Devil Rays will host the Cleveland Indians in a three game series that starts tonight at 7:10. Edwin Jackson, who won the competition for the 5th starter job during Spring Training, will take the mound for Tampa Bay in the series opener . Jackson (0-2 8.31 ERA) looks to rebound from a rough outing against the Minnesota Twins last weekend. Indians ace C.C. Sabathia, who has 6-1 career record against the Devil Rays, will start for the Indians. Sabathia (3-0 2.44 ERA) has won his first 3 decisions of the 2007 season.
On Monday, the Devil Rays will welcome Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees to town. Rodriguez, who is currently leading all of Major League Baseball with 10 homeruns, belted his second walk off homerun of the season yesterday against the Indians. Tonight, the Yankees will begin their first series of the season with their arch nemesis, the Boston Red Sox.
My Take- Reyes is undoubtedly the best solution to close out games for Tampa Bay in the 9th inning. Reyes is 5/5 in save chances on the season, but he still has not been officially named as the Devil Rays' closer. Maddon may not have to say it, but expect Reyes to be in the game whenever Tampa Bay is in a save situation.
Incumbent second baseman Jorge Cantu has done nothing to help his cause of demanding for a trade with his performance in Durham. Through 14 games, Cantu is hitting only .226 with 6 RBIS. The Rockies are currently interested in him, but I don't see that as a realistic possibility because of his poor defense. I think Cantu is better suited to play in the American League where he can be a designated hitter.
Tyler Hissey contributed to this story.