A memorable 5-5 road trip, starting pitching woes and Desmond Jennings’ ascent. All are themes that have arisen with the Tampa Bay Rays of late.
They are two games into a six-game homestand against the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians, but memory of their 10-game trip against the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees is worth revisiting. Manager Joe Maddon had high praise for his team’s performance after the Rays rebounded from a 1-4 start against the White Sox and Red Sox.
Sun Sports color analyst Brian Anderson touched on those topics and more in a recent conversation.
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA:Maddon called the Rays’ recent 5-5 road trip one of the team’s best ever considering the circumstances — a slow start, a doubleheader in Boston, a 14-inning game in New York. What was your opinion of the trip?
ANDERSON: Fortunately, it ended up very, very well. The team did not play very well in Chicago, and you lose three out of four to that team. You move into Boston, lose the first game. Then you get rained out and would prefer to not play a doubleheader, and yet Boston insisted on doing just that. Then you show up the next day for a day-night (doubleheader) with the travel day, so it’s going to be a long, long day. And boy oh boy, did the guys pick it up from there. I mean, to have the sweep and win that first game 2-1, and you win the second game — now you’re feeling good getting into New York in the middle of the night and then take two out of three from the Yankees.
I certainly understood when Joe Maddon said what he said. It makes perfect sense, because you lose four of the first five. You’re facing some pretty extreme circumstances for the next five, and you win four out of five coming back home with a pretty good feeling. It was a tremendous road trip where you split. Most of the time, you don’t characterize them as very successful (when a team goes .500). But that one was.
FSF:Rays’ starters are struggling to go deep into games, and there’s worry that the bullpen is receiving too heavy of a workload. How can starters do better?
ANDERSON: Everything starts with the starting pitching. They set the tone. If your starting pitching is erratic, more than likely your team will be erratic. If they’re not able to get deep into games on a consistent basis, what you end up doing is burning out your bullpen and putting way too much pressure on your offense. If you do that long enough, you’re obviously not going to have the kind of year that you want to have. I know going into play the first game of this homestand (Tuesday against Baltimore), the bullpen had thrown around 37 innings more this year already than it did at the same point last year. You extrapolate that over the course of the season, and they’re throwing 150, 160, 170 innings more than they did last year.
If that were to be the case, this team is not going to do what it is set out to do. So it’s imperative that these starters find a way to get deeper. I think that’s two things: Erik Bedard continuing to progress like he has, Cesar Ramos continuing to build up pitches and pitch effectively — he should be able to get deeper, David Price doing his thing. This team actually has to get Chris Archer back on track because he’s not been able to get many innings his last three times out. Then you look for the reinforcements — You’ve got Alex Cobb coming back toward the end of May, Jeremy Hellickson maybe mid-to-late June. So you’ve got those guys coming into the fold. Hopefully that shores things up. But until then, some guys need to get deeper.
FSF:One of those players who must go deeper is right-hander Jake Odorizzi. He’s having problems when facing hitters the second time through the lineup. What’s his issue? Is it a mental block or a mechanical problem?
ANDERSON: I think some of it is mental, for sure, because I think there’s been a big enough deal made about it. It’s obviously got to be on Jake’s mind, and maybe you start to put a little too much pressure on yourself as you come around the order for the second time, whether that’s midway through the third inning or into the fourth inning. I know in talking with (Sun Sports play-by-play commentator) Dewayne (Staats), Dewayne surmised that maybe he just doesn’t have the stamina — that he’s just not able to last. I think it’s a little bit two-fold, where the ability to get through a lineup three times is maybe a challenge. And I think that the mental part of things has also reared its ugly head. What you hope for is an outing where Jake can go out free and easy and just let it rip and pitch like he did his first time out against Texas, where he went six shutout innings (on April 4). You see that he’s capable of it. To why it’s not happening now, I think there are a couple different factors in play.
FSF:In the bullpen, Joel Peralta has allowed runs in three of his past five appearances, including two in a loss to the Orioles on Tuesday. What must he do to improve?
ANDERSON: I think Joel has had that issue. Every year, you’re going to go through a tough stretch, whether it be a hitter or a pitcher. It’s just unfortunate that that’s happening right now to Peralta. But I know Joe has got a ton of faith in him, and so do I for that matter. I think the fan base does, his teammates do. When he comes into a game, you’re expecting good results, because that’s what he gives you almost each and every time. It’s just a rough patch. He’s smart, and he’s good enough. He’ll figure it out and make the adjustment. I think you’ll see him much better going forward.
FSF:Desmond Jennings had a good stretch recently and was named the American League Player of the Week on Monday. What do you credit to his success?
ANDERSON: I think it goes back to what Joe Maddon told him and Matt Joyce coming into the season. That was, "Stop worrying about your offensive production, your offensive output and just go play baseball. Go have fun. Run the bases. Play good defense. Have quality at-bats. Just enjoy the game as a whole." It’s almost as if that took some of the pressure off those two guys. Matt Joyce has gotten off to a good start. Desmond Jennings is playing lights-out right now, and really all facets of his game are clicking. He’s playing tremendous defense in center field. He’s running the bases well, picking up some stolen bases, he scores from second on a sacrifice fly (on April 28 vs. the White Sox), (he’s) having really good at-bats, he’s using the right side of the field. Just right now, there’s not a whole lot to complain about when you look at what Desmond has been able to accomplish out there.