When the 2012 baseball season started, hardly anyone knew who Jeff Keppinger was but after a very successful year with the Tampa Bay Rays, all of that has changed. Since being drafted in 2001 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Keppinger has spent the past decade with the New York Mets, the Kansas City Royals, the Cincinnati Reds, the Houston Astros, and San Francisco Giants – spending most of his time in the minors. In January 2012, the Rays signed Keppinger for a one-year, $1.525 million contract as a utility player. Due to several Rays’ players (Evan Longoria and Luke Scott) spending time on the disabled list, Keppinger became a reliable hitter on the roster. In 2012, Keppinger batted .325 and hit 40 RBIs (Sox sign Keppinger). When Longoria returned to the line-up, other Rays players would rotate their positions with Keppinger since he was always able to put the ball into play. Keppinger would be one of the reasons why the Rays were able to compete without Longoria.
After the season ended, there was talk that the Rays would go after Keppinger once again, even when Keppinger fell down his stairs at his home, breaking his fibula. But to the surprise of many, including me, there was also talk that other teams were seeking Keppinger. After the New York Yankees found out that their third baseman Alex Rodriquez would miss half the upcoming baseball season due to hip surgery, they contacted Keppinger’s agent since Keppinger had experience playing third base. This would drive up Keppinger’s price, decreasing the chance that the Rays would be able to retain him. Then on December 5, it was announced that the Chicago White Sox signed Keppinger to a three-year, $12 million deal (Jeff Keppinger to White Sox). The White Sox had lost third baseman Kevin Youkilis to free agency this off-season and needed someone to replace him.
I am disappointed that the Rays did not go after Keppinger since he was able to hit against left-handed pitchers and has been the second-toughest hitter to strike out over the past three seasons; meanwhile the Rays have had trouble with lefties
and have high strikeout rates. Keppinger also has a career batting average of .288 while the Rays’ team average is .240. The Rays currently do not have a DH and Keppinger could have filled that position for $4 million a year, not a bad deal since the Rays have wasted millions on hitters that have not worked out. The Rays also had trouble playing against the White Sox in 2012 and Keppinger’s offense will make it even harder for the Rays to beat the White Sox. I hope the Rays will be able to find a dependable hitter to replace Keppinger and wish Keppinger the best of luck with the White Sox.
The Tampa Bay Rays dropped another game to the Baltimore Orioles tonight, though I am not surprised. When I first saw the line-up, I was disappointed that Carlos Pena and Matt Joyce were not playing tonight. I understand that Orioles’ pitcher Brian Matusz is a lefty and Pena and Joyce are also lefties, but seriously I’m tired of the Rays creating a whole new line-up for lefty pitchers. A few weeks ago Pena and Joyce both had several hits off a lefty pitcher, so it is possible for them to hit against lefties. And even if they do not hit, I would rather see Pena at first instead of Jeff Keppinger and Joyce in left instead of Brandon Guyer.
It was probably one of the worst Rays’ games I have seen in a while, worse than the other games this past week. In the 1st inning, Ben Zobrist got a lead-off walk, but Sean Rodriquez hit into a double play. BJ Upton singed and stole second, but his threat ended when Keppinger struck out to end the inning. In the 2nd inning, Guyer hit a homerun, making it Rays 1-0. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Adam Jones was safe at first on an error by Rodriquez; Rodriquez threw the ball over Keppinger’s head (Pena would not have been able to catch that ball). Jones was then safe at second on a throwing error by pitcher Matt Moore, who threw the ball into right field into of 1st base. After walked Matt Wieters, Moore struck out the next two batters but allowed Steve Tolleson to double, scoring two runs (run #2 was scored on an error caused by Guyer; the ball managed to roll by him into the corner of left field). Baltimore now led the Rays 2-1, all of the Orioles’ runs being scored because of errors. The Rays ended up committing three errors in the 2nd inning; making it the first time the Rays have committed that many errors in an inning since becoming the Rays instead of the Devil Rays.
In the 3rd, Will Rhymes hit a leadoff double but the next three Rays failed to bring him in. This seemed to be the theme of the week, the Rays manage to get on base but fail to bring the base runners home. In the 5th, Elliot Johnson was called out after bunting off his foot… enough with the bunting. In the bottom of the 5th, what would have been an easy pop-up ended up as catcher’s interference (error #4), this makes Chris Gimenez’s third error of the year. Moore began to fall apart and loaded the bases; to the horror of Rays’ fans, Jones was up to bat. Jones managed to single to centerfield, scoring two runs. BJ Upton committed an error by dropping the ball but even if he did not make the error, there was no one covering second base, allowing Jones to run to second base. Wade Davis was called in and he managed to get the final two outs. Moore failed once again to last past the fifth inning.
In the 6th, the Rays managed to score two runs due to the teamwork of Keppinger, Guyer, Luke Scott, and Orioles’ third baseman Tolleson committing an error. The error allowed Keppinger and Guyer to move up one base, thus allowing them to score on Scott’s single. The Orioles now led by only one run. None of the teams put up threats in the next several innings, minus a home run by the Orioles; thus the Rays lost to the Orioles again.
Player of the Game:
- Part of the Rays’ Bullpen: Wade Davis came in the 5th inning with two on, one out. He walked one Oriole, but was able to get two outs without giving up a run. In the 7th, Davis got all three batters to ground out. If Moore does not improve by the All-Star break, I would not be surprised to see Davis as a starting pitcher again. In the 7th, Burke Badenhop walked one, struck out three to end the inning. Badenhop’s last pitch was just amazing. The Bullpen worked several innings and did not give up any runs. JP Howell pitched the 8th inning, striking out the first batter but gave up a homerun in the 8th inning to make it 5-3. The homerun really did not effect the outcome of the game.
What I Liked:
- Bullpen: Reasons listed earlier
What I Didn’t’ Like:
- Lack of Aggressive Swinging: The Rays swung at balls out of the strike zone, but did not swing at fastballs done the middle (Rhymes and Keppinger for example). In majority of the strike outs tonight, the Rays did not swing on strike three. Several times, the Rays were about to swing, but held back for some reason. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing for Rays to hit balls out of the strike zone; Orioles’ Robert Adino managed to hit a double off a ball that was out of the strike zone. Rays are going to have to start being aggressive at the plate if they want to make it to the World Series.
- Bunting: There were two bunting attempts today, which resulted in two outs. I had no problem with bunting until this year because the bunt seems to be used in the wrong situations. As Brian Anderson said, why would Rhymes bunt at a ball “up and off the plate?” I’m for Carlos Pena bunting against the shift and Desmond Jennings bunting and beating the throw to first, but lately the Rays have looked awkward at the bunt.
- The five errors committed in today’s game were just plain awful and resulting in the Orioles winning the game. Rays have been known for pitching and defense, but today the Rays did not have either.
- Matt Moore’s Short Outing: Moore has the talent and I know he will be a great pitcher, but at the moment he is having trouble getting strike three. He drives his pitch count up high in the beginning of the game, resulting in him getting pulled in the 5th inning several times this season. It is becoming a burden on the bullpen who is forced to work four-five innings whenever Moore pitches.
Predictions: Rays will get out of this slump, but to do that these things need to happen:
- Matt Moore needs to last more than 5 innings. As soon as he does, he will have the confidence to be the Moore of last year. His problem is getting the final third strike due to command issues. If he fails to fix his problem by the All-Star break, I wonder what if the Rays will make a roster move.
- Aggressive Hitting: Rays are going to have to score at least four runs every game if they want to remain competitive. Walking is great, but walking does not score runs, hitting does. Scoring three runs may beat the Seattle Mariners, but not the Orioles, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, etc. Swinging at balls but not at strikes is baffling.
- Better Defense: The defense this season has just been awful. Tonight the Rays made five errors, that has not happened since 2001.
I believe the Rays are capable of winning without Evan Longoria; I mean they have done it before, they can do it again. Though I can’t wait to see Desmond Jennings and Longoria back.
Jeremy Hellickson turned 25 today, but his birthday was not on his mind when the final game of the Rays-Yankee Series started at 1:40 today. The American League Rookie of the Year only allowed 3 hits and almost threw a complete game, until Fernando Rodney was called in to get the final out. The Tampa Bay Rays were out in front, beginning in the first inning when Matt Joyce hit a triple, scoring Evan Longoria who had doubled earlier. In the third inning, Homecoming King Carlos Pena hit homerun number two, making the score 2-0. Then in the fifth inning, Carlos Pena supposedly hit another homerun, but it was ruled Fan Interference after a fan reached out over the rail to catch the ball. The homerun was then changed to a ground rule double. Umpire Joe West did not review instant replay of the hit, though replays show he made the correct choice.
The New York Yankees finally had some action in the fourth inning when Alex Rodriquez walked to first then ran to third when Mark Teixeira doubled. The threat ended after Desmond Jennings made a spectacular catch, robbing Raul Ibanez of an extra base hit.
Yankees had another threat in the sixth inning when Rodriquez doubled then stole third, but Hellickson struck Swisher out to end the threat. In the bottom of the sixth, Jeff Keppinger hit a homerun, making it 3-0. In the ninth inning, Hellickson was able to get the first two outs, but after walking Swisher on pitch #118, Rodney was called in get the final out. The Rays beat the Yankees 3-0, thus sweeping the Yankees in the opening series.
Player of the Game: Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson was on his A-game today. Hellickson walked four, struck out four, and was one out from throwing a complete game. He kept his cool throughout the game, though he did display a smile after Jennings caught Ibanez’s ball in the 4th inning.
What I Liked:
1) Jeremy Hellickson throwing like an Ace: After Shields’ miserable outing in Game 1 and Price showing some shakiness in several innings in Game 2, it was wonderful watching Hellickson throw strikes through all nine innings.
2) Carlos Pena and Jeff Keppinger hitting homeruns: Glad to see that the Rays are showing power in the line-up.
3) Rays’ Defense: Today the Rays did not make any errors and all of them looked sharp, a great improvement after several players looked sloppy playing defense in the previous two games.
What I Didn’t Like:
1) Fan Interference: For the second time in two games, a fan has caught a ball in right field, making the possible homerun a double due to the fans interfering. Fans need to stop reaching over the rail!
2) Luke Scott exiting the game with tight hamstring: It is reported he will miss 3-4 days. It is important he returns since he is the DH and had 3 RBIs in Game 2.
3) Joe West: Joe West is an evil umpire who hates the Rays. Today he decided that he did not need to review the reply of Carlos Pena’s possible homerun. Luckily his call ended up being right, but with his history with the Rays, it is no surprise that he refused to review the replay. I’m glad he won’t be around for the Rays-Tigers game.