3 TAMPA BAY RAYS

April 05, 2009

Sticking to ASchedule
Priming a rookie for a chance to succeed worked last year; it will happen againin '09

JOE MADDON hadone desire when he and his bride, Jaye, went to Europe for their honeymoon lastNovember: to find someone, anyone, wearing Rays gear. The Tampa Bay manager gothis wish in the Rome train station when he ran into a guy in a TB hat. "Wehad a great conversation," Maddon says. "He was probably in hismid-20s. That's the thing I'm liking: We're getting a younger crowd onboard."

True. TropicanaField is no longer just a place for retirees to stretch out and peacefully passthe time in air-conditioned comfort. For the first time in the Rays' 11-yearexistence, the Trop rocked on a consistent basis last season, as Tampa spent100 days—including the last 68 of the season—in first place. The Rays' firstpostseason berth was a testament to the virtue of patience: Five of their eightposition players and four of their five starting pitchers were regulars on the2007 team that lost 96 games. The biggest boost in '08 came from third basemanEvan Longoria, who started the year in Triple A but was called up in mid-Apriland became the anchor for the middle of the order. This year Maddon is hopingfor a similar contribution from another kid who will start the season on thefarm: David Price.

Price, the No. 1pick in the 2007 draft, has freakish physical gifts that are well-documented.Asked hypothetically to build the perfect starter, Rays pitching coach JimHickey concedes that his Frankenpitcher would bear a striking resemblance tothe 23-year-old Price: "I'd start with the same height [6'6"], sameweight [225], same handedness [lefty]. You want to pick a realistic velocity?You couldn't get much better than his upper 90s. And he's got a tremendousbreaking ball."

Price rolledthrough three levels of the minors last year, going 12--1 with a 2.30 ERA, andin 14 big league innings he had a 1.93 ERA. So why didn't he break camp as theRays' fifth starter? Price threw 123 2/3 innings in 2008, and Maddon and Hickeyare loath to work him much harder than that in '09. "The plan is for Davidto be one of our starters, probably for the majority of the season," saysMaddon. And when Maddon says he's going to resist the urge to treat Price likea new toy on Christmas morning, believe him. "I don't have thosetemptations," the manager says. "I always have my mind's eye on the bigpicture. I'm not of that ilk where I'm totally frothing."

There's also thematter of Price's repertoire. He did his damage last year with his fastball andslider. Over a full season, he's going to need another pitch, which is why he'sdeveloping a changeup. "David was extremely successful last year insituations that favored his success," says Hickey. "Hitters wereunfamiliar with him. It's going to be a different ball game when he's facingteams three, four or five times. Definitely the changeup is going to come intoeffect."

Price wasn't tooshabby as a two-pitch pitcher during the Rays' improbable postseason run,though, as he allowed just two hits and struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings.Tampa was ultimately taken down in the World Series in five games byPhiladelphia, with three of the four losses coming in games started by lefties.Solving southpaws was a problem all year; Tampa hit 21 points better againstrighties, and the Rays' .246 average against lefthanded pitching was next tolast in the AL. So in the off-season they off-loaded Rocco Baldelli, CliffFloyd, Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes, replacing them with free agents Pat Burrelland Gabe Kapler. Their homers and RBIs are a virtual wash (43 and 133 goingout, 41 and 124 coming in), but the new faces hit a combined .305 againstsouthpaws, compared with the .194 clip of the departed. The addition ofBurrell, a plodding leftfielder in Philadelphia who will settle into the lineupat DH, is especially key: Last year Tampa's designated hitters slugged a meager.428 and drove in just 78 runs (10th in the AL).

Maddon hopes thatbeing a more balanced team will pay off down the stretch, when he expects tohave a gently used Price at his disposal. "If you're going to have David'sinnings," he says, "would you rather have them in April orOctober?"

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

One thing, amongmany, that made the Rays' run to the World Series last October so unusual wasthe way manager Joe Maddon used his relief corps. With closer Troy Percivalunavailable due to injury, Maddon disregarded the rigid roles of recent decadesand deployed his bullpen as situations and skill sets warranted. For one monthGrant Balfour (left), J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler weren't long men or setup menor closers—just relievers, 1970s style, often deployed for more than oneinning. Five different pitchers closed out Tampa Bay's postseason wins, and theentire cast returns this season, bolstered by a healthy Percival, free-agentpickup Joe Nelson and perhaps rookie righthander Jeff Niemann. Maddon shouldembrace the depth at his disposal and reprise the strategy that won an ALpennant.

THE NUMBERS

LIE .274

Akinori Iwamura'steam-best batting average, which placed him 40th in the AL (minimum 502 plateappearances)—the lowest ranking of any player who led his team in hitting lastyear. Only the 1906 White Sox and the '83 Phillies had won a pennant without a.280 hitter. So how did the Rays win the AL? They had three players among thetop 20 in walks and were sixth in the league in OBP despite being 13th inbatting average.

The Lineup

WITH 2008STATISTICS
Manager Joe Maddon

FOURTH SEASONWITH RAYS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

B.J. UPTON CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 31 .273 9 67 44
CARL CRAWFORD LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 43 .273 8 57 25
EVAN LONGORIA 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 32 .272 27 85 7
CARLOS PEÑA 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 58 .247 31 102 1
PAT BURRELL [NEW ACQUISITION] DH
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 108 .250 33 86 0
GABE GROSS RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 234 .238 13 40 4
DIONER NAVARRO C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 210 .295 7 54 0
AKINORI IWAMURA 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 226 .274 6 48 8
JASON BARTLETT SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 214 .286 1 37 20
BENCH
BEN ZOBRIST OF-IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 207 .253 12 30 3
WILLY AYBAR IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 244 .253 10 33 2

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH James Shields 21 14 8 6.7 1.15 3.56
LH Scott Kazmir 53 12 8 9.8 1.27 3.49
RH Matt Garza 66 11 9 6.2 1.24 3.70
RH Andy Sonnanstine 96 13 9 5.8 1.29 4.38
RH Jason Hammel 176 4 4 5.1 1.51 4.60
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Troy Percival 69 2 28 7.5 1.23 4.53
RH Dan Wheeler 106 5 13 7.2 0.99 3.12
RH Grant Balfour 137 6 4 12.7 0.89 1.54

NEWACQUISITION
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI

March 3, 2008

Evan Longoria's laid-back SoCal mien won't allow himto get too worked up about the uninspired gibes that come from having a name sosimilar to a certain actress's—the chants of "EEEE-va! EEEE-va!"; theplaying of the Desperate Housewives theme song when he steps to the plate inopposing ballparks. All that Longoria will allow is that "it's kind of afunny coincidence, but it does get pretty old." Carl Crawford, Longoria'steammate, believes Longoria won't have to worry about the cracks much longer."He's going to make Evan Longoria the manliest name you can possibly thinkof," says Crawford, "once he shows what he can do on the baseballfield."
—BEN REITER

For free access to all Rays stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONFAB FIVE Price will be eased into the fifth starter's spot—not for lack of talent but to avoid a big jump in innings from '08. PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (BALFOUR) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)