Rays Diary 5/16/11

Well, it’s about time for the first entry of the year.  Lots of new players on the roster this season with somewhat limited talent, but more willingness to learn, apparently.  Managing and coaching seems more coherent, convincing more batters to hit the ball where it’s pitched, not trying to hit every pitch for a homerun.  Joe Maddon finally did what my grandmother suggested and put videos of Casey Kotchman hitting well beside those in which he could not hit.  Along with correction of his tear duct problem and eliminating some acquired bad [batting] habits he has become a major League hitter again.  He’s already the best fielder at his position and quite a valuable acquisition.

Meanwhile, James Shields, the best “junk ball pitcher” in baseball has tweaked his mechanics, but more importantly, works his change-up and slow breaking stuff as well as his fastball by establishing his curve ball and slider first.  Last year, he kept trying to establish his mediocre fastball first with disastrous consequences.  This year, hopefully he will fashion his junk ball repertoire into a highly successful season.  Somehow Andrew Friedman seems to have reassembled a first class pitching staff, despite the mass defection of his relievers and the loss of Matt Garza.  To be honest, we thought he would, didn’t we?

I originally figured this team for 86 wins.  Despite better coaching, there is still some lack of hitting talent compared to the rest of the league.  Much of this can be made up by a superior pitching staff, defense and speed on the base paths.  The big question seems to be whether or not Joe and his coaches can correct some of their remaining weaknesses and even “steal” a few extra victories.  Joe Maddon has already shown rather masterful use of his young relief staff and held together the psyche of his club in the face of injuries to his star third baseman as well as his starting rotation.  Other matters, held over from years past, however, still need to be attended to.

Tonight, despite a stirring, come-from-behind victory, some of these lingering weaknesses were still painfully evident and unaddressed.  Repeatedly, infielders are poorly positioned.  Given the overpowering fastball of a David Price or even Wade Davis, why is the middle of the field always left open?  Most hitters are virtually unable to pull the ball against either of them and end up trying  to hit it “down the middle.”  Tonight this was compounded by the fact that Price threw nothing but fastballs in the first few innings.  Voila: the first two runs should be “credited” to the coaching staff.  The rest of the runs, as well as those in the past few starts by Wade Davis are all due to the same old mechanical trap that both “three quarter” pitchers fall into every once in a while. 

This trap is much more obvious in the case of Wade Davis than that of David Price.  When Davis drops his arm angle ever so slightly toward “sidearm,” he falls off to the first base side and usually gets hammered.  Price does the same thing, but does not lose his balance.  He can still throw over ninety five miles an hour, but not as accurately and his pitches do not move downward.  It is the downward movement which transforms both Price and Davis from the ranks of good pitchers to virtually “unhittable” pitchers.  In fact, Davis cannot use his shoulder, elbow and wrist in the proper sequence when dropping his arm angle.  As a result, he walks a few batters, than throws the inevitable lifeless fastball for extra bases without anyone telling him what he is doing wrong.  It is probably about time that someone, catcher or pitching coach pay attention to this issue.

All in all, the Rays are again the most exciting team in Major League Baseball and personally, I’ll settle for that!  Go Rays!

Allen Finkelstein, D.O., Rays Fan