Greetings from Kissimmee, FL where the Astros host the Rays today. This park has enjoyed a very nice facelift in recent years – this coming from someone who has been coming to games here for nearly twenty years. As you know, I grew up an Astros fan living in Spring, TX so I always enjoy seeing these two teams square off. I was at two of the three games these teams played in Houston last year and am hoping to make the trip out to Houston again this season but for today, I’ll settle for action here just thirty minutes away from my house.
The starting pitchers for the game are Bud Norris and Wade Davis. Davis is coming off a rough start against the Twins and it does not get any easier today as the wind is blowing out quite strongly to right field and the Astros have their regular lineup in today. I am interested in seeing how Rodriguez handles Norris today given that Rodriguez has just a .225/.277/.371 slash line against righties which includes a 0.18 walk to strikeout ratio while he is at 0.35 against lefties. In my mind, that skill is the final plateau for Rodriguez in jumping into the role of a full-time player for this club.
Update 1:05: Wind blowing out at 18mph to right field today so there might be a shot or two today with Norris and Davis on the mound. There is a very noticeable contingent of Rays fans here today supporting the team – too bad the local paper doesn’t bother to cover the club in season but once a month. There were no tickets available online for this game today but there are enough seats available here on this gorgeous 79 degree day.
Update 1:30: In the top half of the first, the Rays stole three bases on J.R. Towles as Elliot Johnson stole second and then he and Damon successfully completed a double steal while Sean Rodriguez struck out swinging. The Rays left both guys on as Rodriguez and Kotchman both struck out swinging.
Davis gave up two unearned runs in the first on two hits and an (incorrectly called) error. The Astros were not terribly fooled by anything outside of Michael Bourn’s lazy fly ball to start the inning off as even the outs by Wallace, Lee, and Hall were hard hit balls. Norris looks much better for the Astros as he has four strikeouts already including three swinging strikeouts in a row of Rodriguez, Kotchman, and Brignac.
Favorite shirt of the day is a close race so far. Some guy is sporting a Cubs shirts circa 2003 of, “We Got Wood,” while another guy has a Bushwood Country Club shirt on.
Update 1:50: The wind is already strong, but Rays bats are adding to it as five of the first nine hitters have struck out so far against Norris as only Johnson, Lobaton, and Joyce have made good contact. Johnson has now reached base safely twice with hard hits the other way and swiped his third steal of this game making him a perfect 11 for 11 this spring.
Rodriguez finally made contact after a Joyce strikeout and nearly hit a three run homer but his double brought both runners home to tie the game. It is weird to watch an Astros home game and hear most of the crowd applaud the Rays but Astros’ MLB beat writer Brian McTaggart tells me it has been the norm here all spring. The game is tied up 2-2 despite the Rays striking out six times in their first 11 at bats.
Update 2:15: Brignac opens the fourth with a towering ground-rule double that was aided by the wind out to right field as it appeared to be a routine fly for Michael Bourn when it left the bat. Jose Lobaton has had two very good at bats hitting hard liners to right field both times as it appears he may have to open the season as the second catcher as Jaso is still a bit sore from his unfortunate foul tip. The Rays opened this frame with back to back to back hits and a couple of sacrifices to plate two more runs but the most amusing thing so far has been the fierce game of moundball going on here in front of the press box between some Rays fans that are drinking a considerable amount of Corona tallboys.
After cruising through the first three innings, Norris really labored in the fourth allowing the three hits, the sacrifice bunt, the sacrifice groundout, and a walk to Damon but another swinging strikeout by Joyce stranded two more runners as the Rays lead 4-2 heading into the bottom of the fourth. Davis has settled down nicely after early struggles to shut down the Astros with rather ease these last two innings.
Update 2:45: I spoke too soon with Davis – he opens the fifth up allowing a single to Bourn and walking Clint Barmes before inducing Jason Michaels into an excuse-me swing groundball that resulted in a 6-4-3 double play. An update to my favorite shirt competition — someone is rocking a Beefy King shirt here. If you’re not from Orlando, you don’t know Beefy King is an culinary icon in Orlando that has been around for 50 years and is famous for its roast beef sandwiches and its tater tots.
Update 3:00: As I am reading a great article about Sam Fuld, he hits a line drive home run to right-center field that got up into the jetstream here today driving in Jose Lobaton. The Rays are emptying the bench now and bringing the minor leaguers who made the trip and putting Felipe Lopez in the game to play first base. All starters but Lobaton and Davis have been removed from the game and Damon leaves today without a hit….as he earned a walk in all four plate appearances today. Davis works six full innings and looked very good after a rough first inning and leaves the game allowing just five hits and one walk while striking out four batters.
Update 3:45: Just got back from the clubhouse….Kyle Farnsworth threw one pitch and in the act of fielding the pitch, his spike clipped the exact same spot on his knee he irritated the other day. He checked out fine with trainers and said he would like to throw two innings tomorrow if Maddon will let him. Elliot Johnson was happy to hear that he has the new club record for steals in Spring but would prefer to set regular season records with the Rays. Johnson said the staff has given him a green light to run whenever he sees the opportunity and feels he has done the best he can in the things he can control in order to make the 25 man roster. Davis was happy with his outing outside of the home run to Towles and said he felt better physically, likes where his delivery is, and was happy with the change-ups he incorporated today in what is his final long outing of the spring as he prepares to take the ball on April 3rd against the Orioles.
Rays win 11-3!