Rays Diary:  6/13/12


Today I witnessed the Rays embarrassment at the hands of the Mets.  It was certainly not what I would term “unexpected.”  What could be considered a “no hitter” at the hands of a remarkable knuckleballer who has been baffling even good hitters is really not a surprise against the worst hitting team in baseball.  The real embarrassment occurred yesterday against a minor league quality pitcher with an 80 mph fastball.  That was not only frustrating, but it showed the lack of skill in most of our hitters.  It does not  show an obvious lack of talent, and that is the most embarrassing and the most frustrating aspect of the team’s incompetence at the bat.


After watching player after player belting the ball foul, pulling hittable pitch after hittable pitch 350 feet long and 350 feet wide, it has to occur to someone that every hitter on the team makes the same mistake!  Actually, it’s the same mistake they continued to make against the knuckleballer today!  Meanwhile, as the vacuous Derek Shelton tells Ben Zobrist to utilize his hands more in his swing, Ben hits two homeruns and a single, forgetting that the homeruns were on inside pitches where you must use your hands to hit the ball because you must bring your arms in close to the body.  If you don’t use your hands, you can’t hit the ball at all!  The problem is that ever since Ben had his breakout year, pitchers usually try to pitch him outside where the overuse of his hands almost always results in a harmless pulled ground ball or a double play as he routinely rolls one hand “over the top” of the other.  God forbid Mr. Shelton should watch Mr. Zobrist on tape or he might even notice this, since Ben has been doing it for 2 and1/2 years!  When Ben hits the ball “where it’s pitched,” his average  always seems to “mysteriously” rise toward the magic .300 mark.


My suggestion is not to fire Mr. Shelton, but to hire him a Little League assistant coach to help players with the fundamentals.  Meanwhile, Mr. Shelton can instruct players in the esoteric mumbo jumbo techniques of NASCAR and how to look graceful while striking out.  The Little League coach might explain to players that one cannot hit the ball to the opposite field simply by wishing to do so, apparently the method of choice by so many Rays batters.  It seems that someone forgot to tell them about “rotating” the body and shoulders slightly away from the ball while keeping the head still and the eye on the ball, the way Longoria and Upton sometimes do when they succeed in hitting to the opposite field.  In fact, by absurdly widening his stance, BJ has almost reduced his backward sway to almost nothing, allowing him to finally keep his eye on the ball.  Now if he would move off of the plate by an inch or two, he could actually hit those inside strikes that he argues about with the umpire, most of which, BJ really are strikes.


Meanwhile, the most absurd part of tonight’s game was the auction of a hitting lesson with Carlos Pena.  Am I supposed to pay to get a lesson from Carlos or to give a lesson to Carlos?  Seriously, despite enormous power and a quite obviously high IQ, Carlos Pena has the fundamentally worst set up and execution of a swing that I have ever seen in more than sixty years of watching and even playing baseball!  The fact that he can hit major league pitching at all is a tribute to his enormous grace and talent as an athlete.  Other than that, he seems to have never been coached in hitting in his entire life!


To start with, last month, against the Yankees, with multiple men on base, in the ninth inning, Carlos struck out looking the first night on five straight balls, all slightly outside.  Granted, the umpire had forgotten to bring his seeing eye dog with him to the park, but Carlos knew that the third called strike would be slightly off the plate and that it would be called a strike.  He still didn’t swing, because standing “eight feet” off of the plate, he couldn’t reach the ball anyway!  For the exact same reason he struck out with men on base in the ninth inning in the next game as well!


The reason Mr. Pena stands so far from the plate is because he is more obsessed with extending his arms than any professional baseball player who has ever played the game!  He  even swings at pitches over his head just so he can keep his arms extended.  Watch the films Shelton!  Carlos whiffs at inside pitches, even over the inside of the plate because he refuses to drop his left elbow “into the slot.”  It’s the only way a left handed hitter can hit an inside pitch!  It’s the only way one can get ones hands “inside.”  It’s, it’s called... “anatomy and physiology.”  It’s the way the human body is built and its not a bad thing to pay attention to.  Maybe that way, Carlos won’t have to lean in toward the plate with his head and shoulder each time before he swings which might save a few “minutes” in the interminable time it takes him to get his bat going.


Last but not least is David Price.  One of the most gifted “three quarter” overhand pitchers that I have ever seen, Mr. Price  nevertheless, in an effort to throw at a higher speed, sometimes tends to drop down slightly toward sidearm.  As a result his pitches move from side to side, but start to lose their depth.  With fingers more on the side of the ball rather than on top, the ball does not drop.  No matter how hard the ball is thrown, by the fifth or sixth inning, the batters  manage to track the path of the ball and they start to “square up” to the pitch.  It’s also more evident when throwing “from the stretch” with men on base.  It’s what happened tonight.  Please watch the “films.”


Al Finkelstein  6/13/12