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News » Tampa Bay Rays Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Tampa Bay Rays Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Tampa Bay Rays Inside Pitch 2009-03-29
The Rays went to spring training with a pretty good idea of what they had, and they come out of it feeling pretty good about themselves and their chances to defend their American League championship.

With the addition of designated hitter Pat Burrell, the return to health of outfielders Carl Crawford (leg problems, wrist injury) and B.J Upton (surgery to repair torn labrum), and the anticipated natural improvement of third baseman Evan Longoria in his second season, they addressed their biggest need: improving the offense.

The bullpen also should be better with the additions of left-hander Brian Shouse and right-hander Joe Nelson but also because of the condition of closer Troy Percival, who has been in fine form following offseason back surgery.

The Rays' strengths last season were their starting pitching and their defense, and they expect to be as good or better in both of those areas, and with good reason.

Returning in the rotation, all healthy and in theory wiser, are right-hander James Shields, left-hander Scott Kazmir, right-hander Matt Garza and right-hander Andy Sonnanstine.

The Rays traded 14-game winner Edwin Jackson (for outfielder Matt Joyce) and sent down their top pitching prospect, left-hander David Price, for more development, leaving the fifth spot at the start of the season to Jason Hammel or Jeff Niemann, both right-handers.

Whether that costs them later in the season will be one of the more interesting issues.

The Rays appear to have made a good defense even better with the signing of Gabe Kapler to platoon in right field with Gabe Gross, giving the club speed and above average glovework at all three outfield spots.

The infield also is solid defensively, and manager Joe Maddon considers catcher Dioner Navarro worthy of Gold Glove consideration.

The intangibles might be almost as big of a factor. The Rays have to guard against two things that are new concepts to them -- playing with expectations and guarding against complacency.

The Rays will be tested early -- three of their first four series are against the Red Sox, Yankees and White Sox.

THE RAYS WILL CONTEND IF ...: The rotation stays healthy and pitches up to expectations until the team deems left-hander David Price worthy of promotion from the minors. Pat Burrell needs to make a smooth adjustment to the designated hitter role and the AL game. If outfielders Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton put their injuries behind them and both must get hot and stay hot. Closer Troy Percival has to take his strong spring into the regular season, and third baseman Evan Longoria needs to avoid having a sophomore slump.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: LF Carl Crawford heard a lot of the talk and read some of the articles about how he had a down year and is poised to do something about it. He changed his offseason routine to work with a trainer who specializes in hamstrings and stayed off the turf as much as possible.

ON THE DECLINE: The Rays signed Gabe Kapler to pair with Gabe Gross in a productive right field platoon, but Kapler, who came back in 2008 following a one-year retirement he spent as a minor league manager, has struggled mightily all spring and was hitting only .119. Gross isn't much of an impact player, either, so the Rays might find themselves in need of a full-time right fielder.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: March 29, 2009

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