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Rays notebook, 7/6

July 6, 2011 Comments off

Pickoffs becoming valuable weapon for Shields

MINNEAPOLIS — With two pickoffs in Tuesday night’s game, Rays right-hander James Shields increased his Major League-leading total to 10 on the year.

Shields is the first right-hander to record at least 10 pickoffs in a season since Jack McDowell had 13 for the White Sox in 1993. His 10 pickoffs also are the third-highest total for a right-hander since the stat was first recorded in 1974 — behind McDowell and leader Charlie Hough, who had 16 in ’88.

With nearly half a season remaining, Shields has an excellent chance to pass both McDowell and Hough.

“He works at it, he cares,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s so hard to get pitchers to understand that you could really help yourself — not only just by picking somebody off, [but also] by shortening leads — by causing the other team to do something different because you are good at it. I don’t think enough pitchers spend enough time doing it.”

Shields’ pickoffs came in big situations Wednesday as well, helping him minimize the damage done by the Twins’ offense. In the first, Shields picked Alexi Casilla off at second base, ending the inning and limiting Minnesota to just one run in the frame.

In the fourth, Shields picked Rene Tosoni off first base for the second out of the inning. He then struck out Jason Repko for what essentially amounted to a double play.

“It’s definitely high for me, I didn’t expect to have 10 pickoffs for the year,” Shields said. “But we’re doing a great job with getting the right plays in the right situations. … Pickoffs are always good as a pitcher. It saves you pitches, saves you maybe a couple runs.”

Hand contusion could sideline Damon vs. Yanks

MINNEAPOLIS — Fortunately for Johnny Damon, X-rays showed nothing was broken in his left hand after he was hit by Twins starter Francisco Liriano for the second time Wednesday.

Unfortunately for Damon and the Rays, he could still miss some time in the next series against the Yankees.

“I’m hoping to have a speedy recovery tonight so I can get back in the lineup,” Damon said after Wednesday’s game. “It got me pretty good — probably the worst I’ve gotten in my career, and I’ve taken one off the face before.”

After being hit by two pitches in his first two plate appearances, Damon left the series finale against the Twins with a contusion on his left hand.

Liriano hit Damon to lead off the game and hit him again to begin the third inning. Damon was hit on his left hand the second time, and it was noticeably swollen after the Rays’ 12-5 victory.

“It’s definitely a day-to-day thing,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday. “We’ll reevaluate tomorrow. But for right now, there’s a chance — more than likely not tomorrow, but maybe the day after that, or Saturday — that he’d be able to play.”

Damon remained in the game to run the bases in the third, and the veteran designated hitter said he tried to ice his hand and keep the swelling down to stay in the game. Damon was replaced before he was due up in the fourth, as Sam Fuld batted for Damon and walked.

Now, Damon is just hoping the injury only lasts a couple days and doesn’t keep him out until the All-Star break.

“I got lucky,” Damon said. “One inch either way, it could be really bad.”

Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach, who also was Damon’s teammate in 2005 with the Red Sox, said he expects Damon back in the lineup sooner rather than later.

“He’ll be in there [Thursday],” Shoppach said. “Come on, it’s Johnny Damon — 15 straight years, 140-plus games. It won’t be long, if it’s long at all.

“I watched this guy once run into the fence in Fenway, slit his eyelid, had to have stitches on his eyelid — played the next day.”

Foot issue contributing to Longoria’s struggles

MINNEAPOLIS — When third baseman Evan Longoria grounded out to third base in the first inning Tuesday night, he did not exactly fly down the line towards first base.

The reason for that was a nerve issue in his left foot, which has been an occasional problem for Longoria. Manager Joe Maddon said it was just something Longoria is going to have to fight through.

“It’s like a toothache — sometimes it just grabs you the wrong way and it might zing or burn for a moment,” Maddon said. “Then, all of a sudden, it goes back to normal. That’s what he’s got.

“It could hurt him and then go away. That’s pretty much what happened.”

Longoria has not put up his usual numbers all season, and he has especially struggled lately. In his previous seven games before Wednesday, when he went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs, Longoria batted just .115 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs.

While the foot issue may have been the cause for Longoria’s recent slump, Maddon pointed to the slugger’s early season oblique injury to explain his low numbers through the first half of the 2011 season.

“It began with the oblique … that was a month,” Maddon said. “By not playing for that first month, I think that really set him back. He’s been trying to play catch-up ever since.”

Maddon said he was not concerned with Longoria’s numbers, and the skipper believes that the bigger concern was his third baseman getting over the nerve issue in his left foot as quickly as possible.

If nothing else, not making the All-Star Game and struggling through the first half of the season could serve to help the long-term growth of the young Rays star.

“I’m sure it serves as motivation for him,” Maddon said. “I know he’s not been up to his standards, but he’s still a pretty good baseball player regardless. He still does some great things for us.”

Damon surprised by final out call Tuesday

MINNEAPOLIS — As he hit first base in the ninth inning Tuesday night, Johnny Damon was sure he was safe. In fact, he was already thinking about the fact that he had brought the Rays’ hottest hitter — Ben Zobrist — to the plate with the bases loaded.

Or so he thought.

Damon was shocked that he was called out, but what really surprised him was the way first-base umpire Gary Darling made the call — very matter-of-fact, with no emotion.

“The umpire walked off like it wasn’t even a close play, like I was going to get called out regardless,” Damon said. “Normally on a bang-bang play, you’ve got to try to sell it. When there was no emotion, I thought for sure he was calling me safe. [The Twins’ players] looked pretty stunned, too. The Twins were kind of laughing and saying they got one. And unfortunately for us, it happened to be in a key situation of the game.”

Rays manager Joe Maddon said before Wednesday’s game that he agreed Damon could have been safe.

Maddon also said he thought Darling had a good game Tuesday night as the first-base umpire.

“I thought he made a lot of good calls,” Maddon said. “So the last play of the game — that probably was the closest out of all the tough calls he had yesterday.”

As for the emotion — or lack of it — Maddon was not surprised by that, either.

“[Darling] was the same way on the other three [close] plays,” Maddon said. “If you look at the replays of the other three plays — very matter-of-fact safe, very matter-of-fact safe, very matter-of-fact out.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Rays notebook, 7/5

July 5, 2011 Comments off

Brignac out of lineup, awaits better matchups

MINNEAPOLIS — For the third straight game, shortstop Reid Brignac was out of the Rays lineup Tuesday against the Twins.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said it had to do with matchups, and that Brignac could sit out again Wednesday at Target Field.

“Baker, 0-for-7 with five strikeouts,” Maddon said, referring to Brignac’s numbers against Twins right-hander Scott Baker. “Left-hander yesterday, left-hander tomorrow, [Kyle] Lohse was almost a reverse guy for him, it was a bad matchup for him. The cards have been bad for him.”

Brignac has struggled at the plate this season, batting just .187 with 41 strikeouts and only three extra-base hits.

Over his last 12 games, Brignac has been hitting better, though, posting a .250 batting average with a .351 on-base percentage. He’s had eight hits, three runs scored, five walks and an RBI over that stretch.

After opening the season as a guy Maddon expected to play everyday, Brignac is likely to sit out more frequently in the second half when the matchups are not in his favor. But Maddon did say Brignac should see more time against the Yankees due to good matchups and past success in the Bronx.

“We’re trying to get him back on solid ground where he’s feeling good about his offense,” Maddon said. “I really want to put him in situations where I think he has a better chance to be successful.”

Damon among impressive all-time legends

MINNEAPOLIS — With every hit, Johnny Damon seems to pass a baseball legend on the career hits list.

After going 1-for-4 in Monday’s game, Damon entered Tuesday’s game just one hit shy of tying Nellie Fox for 68th on the career hit list. Over the weekend, Damon passed Lave Cross, Harry Heilmann and Ted Williams.

Looking at the all-time doubles leaders, the names Damon is on the verge of passing are even more impressive. Damon is one double away from tying Andre Dawson for 50th on the all-time list, two behind Roberto Alomar and three back of Tony Perez.

With four doubles, Damon would tie Babe Ruth at 506 doubles for 47th all-time.

Count Rays manager Joe Maddon among those impressed by Damon’s accomplishments.

“Since he’s been here, I’ve been more aware of the all the things he’s about to accomplish,” Maddon said. “As an adversary, I didn’t know all that stuff in the past. All the names that keep popping up are really pretty impressive.”

Even at age 37 and after 17 seasons, Damon has been one of the Rays’ best hitters this season, entering Tuesday’s game hitting .283 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs.

“He’s going to keep going, he’s got a couple more years left in him, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Maddon said. “He keeps himself in great shape. But I think the way he approaches the day permits it to happen also.”

Maddon: All-Star chance good for Farnsworth

MINNEAPOLIS — Rays manager Joe Maddon reiterated Tuesday that he still thinks closer Kyle Farnsworth has a good chance to be added to the American League All-Star roster.

With a number of pitchers unable to pitch in the All-Star Game who will need to be replaced on the AL squad — including Rays starter James Shields — Farnsworth is among those who could be named as a replacement.

Maddon has not heard anything yet about whether Farnsworth will be added to the roster, but said that does not mean it cannot still happen. He noted that he did not hear about Rafael Soriano being named until it happened.

“I have gotten no calls whatsoever,” Maddon said. “I have to believe that they have guys in mind.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Missed chances hurt Rays against Twins

July 4, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Early in Monday’s game, the Rays were hitting the ball hard, and it looked as though they would have their way with Twins lefty Brian Duensing.

But in the fifth, Duensing took control and cruised for his second career shutout. He shut down the Rays throughout the game but was especially impressive late in the Rays’ 7-0 loss to the Twins at Target Field.

“We had chances, and I really thought we were swinging the bats well early,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we got to about the fifth inning, I think it was, we stopped hitting anything well. But we had our moments.”

One of those moments came in the first inning.

Johnny Damon led off the game with a single, and Sean Rodriguez followed with another. After Evan Longoria flied out to left, B.J. Upton walked to load the bases with one out.

The Rays were in position to take an early lead, but Duensing got Justin Ruggiano to ground into an inning-ending double play instead.

An inning later, Casey Kotchman singled to lead off the inning, but Duensing quickly got two outs on another double-play ball from Kelly Shoppach.

The last of the Rays’ chances came in the fourth. Upton led off with a single but was called out as he attempted to steal second base. Replays showed that he may have beaten the tag.

“If that play had been called differently, it could’ve been a different moment for us right there,” Maddon said.

Kotchman followed with a single that would likely have scored Upton, and Shoppach then walked, setting up an opportunity for All-Star right fielder Matt Joyce to deliver a two-out RBI. Joyce hit the ball hard toward the hole on the right side, but Alexi Casilla made a diving stop at second base to save a run.

Had Joyce hit the ball a foot or two in either direction, it could have been the start of a rally.

“Yeah, absolutely, I think it might have got us going,” Joyce said. “Obviously, it would have put a run on the board. I don’t know if it would have scored two, but you know what? We hit a lot of balls hard today, [we] just hit them right at ’em.”

Whereas the Rays were unable to take advantage of their early opportunities, the Twins jumped on lefty David Price in the second.

With a runner on and one out in the second, Price gave up a single, a walk and a double to the bottom third of the Twins’ order, putting three runs on the board. In the fourth, he surrendered a solo home run to fellow All-Star Michael Cuddyer, a 443-foot blast into the second deck in left.

Price finished the afternoon with four runs allowed on five hits, six strikeouts and one walk. After Cuddyer’s home run, he settled in nicely, retiring nine in a row and 11 of the last 12 batters he faced.

“It’s disappointing,” Price said. “I got outpitched. … I felt like I threw the ball fine, [but] it’s not good enough. I gave up four runs in six innings.”

As did Price, Duensing looked much better in the second half of his outing than in the first.

After walking Elliot Johnson to lead off the fifth, Duensing retired 10 batters in a row and 15 of the last 16 Rays to come to the plate. Over the last five innings, the Rays had just two baserunners, one on Johnson’s walk and the other on an eighth-inning single by Rodriguez.

“It’s frustrating,” Joyce said. “It’s frustrating to keep going and keep grinding through it.

“For me it’s been a frustrating month. You hit hard balls right at people, and they don’t fall, and then your next at-bat, they make a perfect pitch or something, or you miss your pitch. It’s just one of those things. You really have to grind it out.”

While the Rays were struggling to even reach base late in the game, Twins third baseman Danny Valencia connected for a three-run blast off right-hander Adam Russell in the eighth, giving Duensing even more wiggle room when as he returned for the ninth.

Duensing, who beat the Rays in April at Tropicana Field, delivered his best outing of the season, giving up just six hits over nine shutout innings, walking four and recording seven. Against the Rays this season, hw is 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA, having allowed just two runs in 16 innings.

It was his second career shutout, with the other coming on Aug. 14, 2010, when he tossed a three-hitter against the A’s.

“I was real excited [with] how it turned out,” Duensing said. “It didn’t start as well as I wanted it to. But the defense made great plays behind me to keep me in it. And the next thing you know, the offense started scoring runs against David Price, who has pretty good stuff.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Zobrist’s eight RBIs propel Rays’ blowout

April 28, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Ben Zobrist’s good week only got better on Thursday afternoon.

Entering Thursday’s Game 1, Zobrist had 15 RBIs for the season, eight of which had come in the Rays’ previous three games. With four hits, including a three-run home run, Zobrist put up a club-record eight RBIs in the first game of a day-night twin bill as the Rays rolled to a 15-3 victory over the Twins.

Zobrist’s eight RBIs broke the previous club record of seven, set by Carlos Pena in 2007.

“I did not know that,” Zobrist said of the record. “Any time you have that many RBIs, it’s because your teammates are getting on base for you.

“That’s a team thing, RBIs are.”

In the first inning, Zobrist helped the Rays get out to an early lead with an RBI single. In the sixth, he followed a pair of one-out singles with a three-run blast to right field for his sixth home run of the season.

Zobrist later added a pair of two-run doubles, in the seventh and in the ninth. With his performance, Zobrist was the first player in the Majors with eight or more RBIs in a game since Adam Lind did it for the Blue Jays on Aug. 31, 2009.

In his last four games, Zobrist has three home runs, and five homers in his last 11 games.

“He just came up at the right spots and didn’t miss,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon.

“Ben’s just not missing. He’s getting his opportunities, the at-bats have been working, and he’s done a great job with it.”

Of course, Zobrist was far from the only Rays player swinging the bat well. While the temperatures remained chilly at Target Field, the Rays’ bats stayed hot in a second straight easy win over Minnesota.

The first five batters did not get hits like they did Wednesday night, but the Rays got on the board early with a two-run first inning, and they didn’t stop there.

“Everybody kept having good quality at-bats,” Zobrist said. “We can be a very dangerous team up and down the lineup.”

Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn fared even worse than lefty Francisco Liriano did in the series opener, which was the opposite of what the Twins needed to open Thursday’s day-night doubleheader.

Blackburn lasted 3 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs — five earned — on eight hits and four walks.

“I just couldn’t throw strikes,” Blackburn said. “Everything I was throwing was going in the dirt. It was just one of those days. It’s not very often I have to tell myself to the get the ball up.”

After the two-run first, Casey Kotchman belted a solo homer in the second. In the third, a walk, single and two Twins errors brought in two more runs for the Rays, and in the fourth, Blackburn surrendered two more runs on a walk, triple and two singles.

Just as they did in Wednesday’s 8-2 victory, the Rays kept hitting even after knocking the starter out of the game, scoring in six of the first seven innings.

“It was a pretty good day for us,” designated hitter Johnny Damon said. “Hopefully we can continue this.”

Damon extended his hit streak to 15 games with a second-inning single, also notching a triple, two walks, a stolen base and three runs scored. Matt Joyce went 3-for-4, with two walks, two runs scored and one RBI. B.J. Upton also went 3-for-4, walking twice, driving in a pair and scoring three runs.

Overshadowed a bit by the Rays’ 15-run outburst, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson delivered yet another quality performance by a Rays starter on the mound. Tossing 6 1/3 innings, Hellickson gave up three runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk.

Hellickson, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, which is about a 3 1/2-hour drive from Target Field, picked up his second straight win in front of about 100 friends and family members, improving his record to 2-2 with a 4.31 ERA.

As much as he was impressed by Zobrist, Maddon really liked what he saw from his rookie right-hander.

“It starts with Hellickson for me,” Maddon said. “Jeremy came out, we got some runs, and he held them in check and permitted us to keep batting on.”

Hellickson appeared to run out of gas in the seventh inning, which his manager attributed to all the sitting the right-hander had to do during the top halves of innings.

When asked about it, Hellickson didn’t have a problem with the long innings in the dugout.

“I’ll take those all day, every day,” Hellickson said. “I’ll sit in there as long as they want to stay out and hit.”

It was a true team effort for the Rays, as seven different players scored at least one run and every starter except for Sam Fuld and Kelly Shoppach hit safely at least once.

With the win, the Rays improved to 12-3 since April 10, the best record in baseball over that stretch. Maddon also improved to 417-417 for his career, the first time he’s been at the .500 mark since 16 games into his first season with the club in 2006.

Right now, Maddon is very happy with the way his team is playing.

“The energy’s there, the want to is there, and that’s all you can ever ask for as a manager,” he said. “I really like the way we’re going about our games right now. And I really believe it’s going to stay.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Rays beat 4/28

April 28, 2011 Comments off

Fuld, Damon pack punch at top of the order

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS — With Sam Fuld leading off and Johnny Damon batting second, the Rays have one of the most productive top-of-the-order duos they have had in years.Entering Thursday’s games, Fuld was batting .350, with a home run, eight RBIs, a .411 on-base percentage and a league-leading 10 stolen bases. Damon was hitting .260, with four home runs and 19 RBIs, which leads all No. 2 hitters in the Majors.

“Those two guys together is kind of fun to watch,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “I really think if we just keep these guys rested and well, in that regard, I think that you’re going to see a pretty good level of performance on a regular basis. I think that’s the key to both of them performing well is making sure that we don’t permit them to get tired.”

Fuld is batting at a .351 clip in the leadoff spot, which leads the American League. In the 15 games Fuld and Damon have batted at the top of the order, the Rays are 9-6, and the two have combined to score 38 of 68 runs scored by the Rays in those games.

Damon’s first-inning single Wednesday night extended his hitting streak to 14 games, which is the longest April streak in club history and the ninth longest streak overall. His second RBI Wednesday night was the Major League leading sixth game-winning RBI this season for Damon.

Damon singled in the second inning of Thursday’s Game 1 of the Rays’ doubleheader against the Twins to tack onto the streak.

“Sam has been very productive in his first at-bat of the game, doing something that permits us to score first,” Maddon said. “One of our goals is to score first, and they’re definitely helping us do that.”

Followers flock to Fuld’s new Twitter

MINNEAPOLIS — Forget the “Legend of Sam Fuld.” The Rays left fielder is now on Twitter.

Before heading to the ballpark Thursday for what promised to be an exceptionally long day, Fuld signed up for an account @SamFuld5 and posted his first tweet around 10 a.m. ET.

“I just figured, ‘Why not?'” Fuld said. “I got convinced by a couple guys here to do it. It’s like a whole new world for me, I’m trying to figure out the nuances of it.”

Rays lefty David Price was one of the main proponents in getting Fuld to join Twitter, and also in getting Fuld’s follower count up so quickly. Just as his popularity has soared over the past few weeks and his legend has grown on Twitter, fans responded quickly to follow Fuld.

“Generally speaking, everything that’s gone on has been really surprising, but great,” Fuld said. “I’ve been enjoying it. This whole thing has been a great ride so far. It’s been a month, but it’s felt like a lot more than that. It’s just been a whole lot of stuff going on, and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it.”

What does Fuld plan to use his account for? Will followers get periodic updates about where the left fielder had dinner after a game?

Fuld says he wants to do much more with it than that.

“Part of my reasoning behind it is to help raise money for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, that’s one of the big things behind it,” Fuld said. “I’m definitely going to use it as a platform to speak about that stuff.

“I figure I’ll put some interesting stuff on there, whatever interests me. It’s going to be more than just, ‘I went to Starbucks this morning.’ Hopefully it’ll be a little more than that.”

Cold conditions take Maddon down memory lane

MINNEAPOLIS — After his team’s 8-2 victory Wednesday night, Rays manager Joe Maddon said the weather at Target Field reminded him of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series.

“That one was a little bit wetter,” Maddon said. “But this one was, I think, a little bit colder at the end of the day, if that’s possible. I’m walking up and down the dugout, just talking to myself basically about how it does feel like that. I do remember that and I also was thinking about how our guys responded in a very positive way.”

With temperatures in the 30s and wind chill making it feel about 10 degrees colder than it was, the Rays were forced to break out all their winter gear to play the Twins. With snow falling for much of the game, the field was wet as well, though not as much as it would have been with rain.

But the conditions did not seem to affect the Rays.

“I was very pleased with how our guys went about their business,” Maddon said. “Tough circumstances, they know that there’s a day-nighter looming in their face … and they went after it the right way. My hat’s off to our team, I thought they did great.

“We played like it was 75 and sunny.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

At snowy Target Field, Rays roll past Twins

April 27, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — It was like a winter wonderland Wednesday at Target Field, complete with snow, Santa Claus and Christmas carols.

Baseball is not typically played in snow globe-like conditions and “Let It Snow” usually is not played over the loudspeaker. But none of that stopped the Rays from heating up at the plate and taking the series opener, 8-2, from the Twins.

After having Tuesday’s game postponed until Thursday due to inclement weather, it wasn’t much nicer Wednesday in the Twin Cities. The game time temperature was a chilly 40 degrees, with a 17-mph wind making it feel like it was closer to 30.

“It felt a lot warmer in the first inning,” Rays manager Joe Maddon quipped, referring to his team’s four-run outburst in the opening frame.

Leading off the game, left fielder Sam Fuld crushed a 2-2 fastball deep to right field, barely missing a home run, for an easy double. Designated hitter Johnny Damon followed with a single to center field, plating Fuld and putting the Rays up 1-0 just nine pitches into the game.

That one-two punch of Fuld and Damon at the top of the order has been sparking the Rays lately as they’ve become one of the hottest teams in baseball, and they did it again against lefty Francisco Liriano and the Twins.

Damon was followed by a B.J. Upton double, and they both scored one batter later on Ben Zobrist’s two-run triple. Zobrist then scored on a Sean Rodriguez single. Five batters into the game, Tampa Bay had five hits and four runs on the board, with no outs.

“The bats were hot even though we weren’t yet,” Zobrist said. “It looked like it was tough for both pitchers to kind of get everything going the first inning, fortunately we capitalized on it.”

After Liriano appeared to settle in over the next two innings, he struggled again in the fourth, giving up a leadoff single and walking a pair before being lifted from the game. Liriano finished with seven runs allowed on six hits over three-plus innings, with four walks and four strikeouts.

“I was just leaving the ball up in the zone,” Liriano said of his slow start. “It was a cold night, so it wasn’t fun to pitch. I just couldn’t get comfortable and was making mistakes.”

Liriano’s replacement, right-hander Eric Hacker, did not fair much better, walking in a pair of runs with the bases loaded and giving up a sacrifice fly to center field to Zobrist, which made it 7-1.

Zobrist finished 1-for-4 on the night with three RBIs and a run scored.

Davis struggled in the third and seventh, but was otherwise in command throughout. Scattering seven hits and three walks over 6 2/3 innings, Davis gave up one run in the third on a Jason Kubel single, which scored Matt Tolbert, and another in the seventh on Alexi Casilla’s sacrifice fly.

“He was throwing strikes,” said Twins center fielder Denard Span of Davis. “We fell behind in the early innings and he threw the ball over the plate. In conditions like this, that’s all you want your pitcher to do, just to throw strikes and let the hitters get out.”

The early lead helped Davis out, too. With a four-run cushion before he stepped on the mound, Davis was able to pitch to contact while looking to jam hitters inside.

Davis also was one of the few players on the night not wearing much extra clothing to stay warm. A native of Lake Wales, Fla., pitching in snow was a first for Davis, but he stuck with the short sleeves because that’s what he’s used to wearing.

“I’ve seen snow, never pitched in it before,” Davis said. “I tried it before, and I just don’t feel comfortable with [long sleeves].

“You’ve just got to grind it out.”

Maddon, along with most players, were dressed with just the opposite mindset of Davis. They wore as much clothing as possible, including special hats with ear flaps to keep warm.

Many in attendance embraced the wintry weather.

At least one fan dressed as Santa was sighted in the stands, which was even more appropriate when “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” was heard at one point between innings. Another group, shown both on the television broadcast and the video board at the ballpark, was seen shirtless and enjoying ice cream.

“I loved it, I thought that was appropriate, well-done, well thought out,” Maddon said of the Christmas carols played throughout the game. “My compliments. And also to the fans of the Minnesota Twins. To show up en masse like that, under these circumstances, I really thought that was kind of unbelievable. It indicates what a great fan base they have here.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Rays beat, 4/27

April 27, 2011 Comments off

Shields honored to be AL Player of the Week

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not every day that you throw complete games in consecutive starts, so Rays starter James Shields had an idea he’d be considered for the American League Player of the Week Award.

Still, it was a big honor and a bit of a surprise when Shields heard the news.

“It’s exciting,” Shields said. “There’s a lot of good players that had good weeks, so it’s definitely an honor. To be able to be the player of the week for last week is pretty nice.

“I would imagine with two complete games in one week, I definitely thought I was going to be up there. I didn’t know if I was going to win, I’m not too familiar with what everyone is doing around the league. I saw some of the numbers that some other players put up and it was pretty impressive, so I’m honored to have it.”

Shields was just the third Rays pitcher to throw consecutive complete-game wins, joining Rolando Arrojo in 1998 and Albie Lopez in 2000. With left fielder Sam Fuld being a co-winner last week, the Rays have back-to-back winners for the second time, dating back to Scott Kazmir and Carl Crawford in May 2006.

The rest of Tampa Bay’s rotation has been impressive as well, having thrown seven or more innings in 11 of its last 12 games. During that span, the starters have accumulated a 2.46 ERA.

“Over the last few years, I think our starting rotation has done a great job of feeding off each other,” Shields said. “The way [David] Price has been throwing and Wade [Davis], it definitely helps out. You have a little friendly competition between each other and we’re all rooting for each other.”

Maddon sees Fuld garnering All-Star votes

MINNEAPOLIS — After taking advantage of the opportunity given to him this season, left fielder Sam Fuld is now on the 2011 All-Star Game ballot. Rays manager Joe Maddon thinks he’ll get plenty of votes, too.

“I think you’re going to be surprised by how many people vote for him, for two reasons,” Maddon said. “He’s playing really well. You look at his numbers, they’re pretty darn good. You watch every night on ESPN, you see the highlight film, etc.

“But I think beyond that, I think there’s a lot of average Americans that can identify with this fellow, and how he plays the game also I think matters. He’s hard not to like.”

Fuld, who has quickly become a fan favorite for his incredible catches in the outfield and the energy with which he plays, has started 19 consecutive games for the Rays including Wednesday night, at four different positions. Entering the series with the Twins, the Rays were 11-6 since moving Fuld to the leadoff spot on April 7.

Maddon has been pleased with Fuld’s production, suggesting his energy at the top of the order, along with veteran Johnny Damon batting second, has helped turn the team around.

“My biggest concern is keeping him strong,” Maddon said. “I think that’s the X factor there. He’s always going to tell me that he’s well and he can play. We’re going to have to choose the right times to sit him down to maximize his strength, though. I think that, resting him properly, is going to permit him to play, not at quite the level you’re seeing now, but at a very high level for the whole season.”

Rays not thrilled with day-night twin bill

MINNEAPOLIS — When it was announced the Rays and Twins would play a day-night doubleheader Thursday to make up Tuesday’s game, manager Joe Maddon and his club were not shy about expressing their unhappiness with the plan.

Between the poor weather conditions and the late-night travel back to St. Petersburg, the idea of a July doubleheader during the Rays’ next trip to the Twin Cities sounded much more favorable.

Before Wednesday’s game, Maddon joked that he might just spend the night at Target Field due to the schedule. On a more serious note, he also shared some details on the team’s plans that were in place to accommodate for the day-night doubleheader.

The first those involved switching the order of starters Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson, to have Hellickson start Game 1 and Niemann the nightcap.

“It’s just something that’s part of our research stuff,” Maddon said. “Pitching Helly in the first game, in the day game; Jeff’s a little more comfortable in night games. That’s a big body to get going by noon, so we don’t want to tempt biology or whatever.”

For Niemann, pitching in Game 2 gives him the chance to treat it more like any other start.

“I’m probably going to try to get here around game time I guess for the first game, and just hang out,” Niemann said. “I really don’t like hanging around the hotel by myself, I’d rather come here and be around the guys.

“Fortunately for me, it’s going to be a normal day. For the rest of these guys, it’s going to be a long day.”

As for their starter Sunday against the Angels, it will depend on if the Rays need to pitch Andy Sonnanstine in either of Thursday’s games. If night, he’s expected to start Sunday. If he’s unavailable, Maddon said they’d likely bring someone up for the start.

Friday’s starter, lefty David Price, is scheduled to fly home on his own Thursday afternoon during the first game. Price is leaving early in order to get a normal night’s rest before his start.

“That’s just because they’ll be getting in so late that night,” Price said. “Game’s done at 10 p.m., leaving by 11 p.m., pick up the wheels at 12 a.m., which is really 1 o’clock our time, 2 1/2-hour flight, means you’re getting to your house by 4 or 5 a.m.

“I’ll be deeply asleep by then.”

Maddon also noted he had a lineup in mind for Thursday’s first game, and how the game went would dictate his plans for the nightcap.

For at least the first game, he does not plan to use Johnny Damon in the outfield. Damon may end up out there in the Game 2, though, especially with Maddon’s concerns about overworking Sam Fuld.

“With the weather the way it is, with the way the guys have been rested, and with the way we can move a couple guys around — again Sam would be the guy that I’d be most concerned with — I think that they’re all going to be OK and I’m not going to have to worry about that [Thursday],” Maddon said. “Over the weekend maybe, day games after night games, things like that — the two day games after the night game [Friday] bother me more than anything.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.