Rays vs Yankees Quick Hits

What a way to open up the season for the Tampa Bay Rays, as they completed a three game sweep of the New York Yankees. While there are a number of pundits picking the Rays to win the American League East division, the Yankees were clearly the team to beat within the division heading into the season. Sweeping the Yankees exceeded most Rays fans expectations, and coupled with the Red Sox being swept, has allowed the Rays to open up a three game lead. Below are some of the things I picked up on over the weekend:

  • Jeremy Hellickson implemented his new little toy… A cutter. A cutter is a pitch that has very little lateral movement, but has “hard” side to side horizontal movement. When a righty throws it, it runs into the hands of a lefty hitter. Kyle Farnsworth implemented a cutter two seasons prior to joining the Rays, and it’s changed his career. In his case, and hopefully in Hellickson’s case, it neutralizes left handed hitters, which is one of the area’s Helly struggled with in 2011. Keep an eye on this pitch for him this season, as it isn’t a swing and miss pitch, but instead, a pitch that is great for fastball counts, and can induce a swing and poor contact. This will help him get out of trouble in tough “hitter’s counts” and lower his pitch counts.
  • Carlos Pena is a notorious slow starter, but this past weekend he really broke the mold. His career .758 OPS in March/April is his lowest OPS of any month of the season throughout his career. His Grand Slam off C.C. Sabathia was epic, as well as his walk off versus Mariano Rivera. In a game where momentum can be key, he got the Rays offense kick started early this season.
  • While the Rays offense pounded out 18 runs this weekend, it wasn’t as if they had some ridiculous numbers with runners in scoring position. The Rays excelled w/ RISP in 2010, and it killed them in 2011. In their first three games of 2012, the Rays were 8-30 w/RISP. ┬áThat works out to a .267 batting average, which isn’t that much higher than league average in those situations. This is a good thing. This wasn’t a smoke and mirrors weekend where they hit .500 with runners on base, but instead, they pounded out hits, took their walks, and had some well timed home runs.
  • Read Brignac made pretty solid contact at the plate this weekend, although none fell in for base hits. Keep an eye on this to see if he has made the necessary adjustments to improve upon last season’s dreadful year.
  • Sean Rodriguez had some very poor situational baseball moments over the weekend. It seemed he singlehandedly was trying to lose the opener. A failed safety squeeze, as well as striking out in the 9th inning with none out and the bases loaded were the glaring mistakes. Rodriguez needs to do the little things if he isn’t going to overwhelm offensively.
  • As I predicted, the “closer” role will be matchup oriented until Kyle Farnsworth comes back. Fernando Rodney will be a late inning, high leverage pitcher as long as he continues to throw strikes. J.P. Howell had a nice, quick inning in the opener. Joel Peralta scares me. He’s got a flat, 89-91mph fastball that MUST be well located, otherwise he will be in for a difficult season. Jake McGee still needs to develop a secondary pitch he can consistently throw for strikes. Until then, hitters can sit fastball against him. Burke Badenhop has made two appearances this season, and in each one, he threw exactly one pitch, getting groundballs in both situation.
  • Jeff Keppinger will be an asset against left handed pitchers this season. Look for the Rays to run a lot of “hit and runs” when he’s at bat. Guy makes a ton of contact, and can put the ball on the ground.
  • Jose Lobaton had some well struck balls this weekend, while Jose Molina didn’t.
  • The Rays bench lacks some offensive punch for late in games, particularly from the left side of the plate.
  • David Price walked too many leadoff hitters, but from the few curveballs I saw on television, I thought it looked better than last season.
  • Matt Joyce is a terror versus righty pitchers. And he’s a terror versus lefty pitchers. In each of those statements, “terror” has a different meaning. He, also, isn’t as good defensively in leftfield.
  • Desmond Jennings started off slowly, but I believe he’ll have a nice season.
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