Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Rocco question

Hmmm, its almost a whole week since my last post, and for once its not because I've been terribly busy. Rather, its because of the particularly unispiring run of performances that have been put in. A four-game series split on the road in Kansas City, and the first two in Toronto also shared.

Its all been the same old story to be honest. Solid pitching, dazzling defense, and no hitting worth speaking off. Actually, a couple of bits, such as a couple of homers from Carlos Pena, and a 2-triple game from Carl Crawford (who added another last night), were pleasant moments, but by and large its been a struggle. The highlight of the trip so far has without question been in the field - Jason Bartlett returned and showed right away just what we have been missing, making difficult plays seem routine and impossible plays look comfortable. I honestly don't think that there is a better defensive infield in the majors than Longoria, Bartlett, Iwamura and Pena. They are outstanding.

Also outstanding are James Shields and Matt Garza. (I mean, Kaz is to, but his start in KC got abbreviated due to rain). Shields pitched excellently, but was outduelled by AJ Burnett on Monday night. Then last night, Garza went up against Roy Halliday for the second time in just over a week, and once again came out on top of the Cy Young-winner. The Rays managed only 3 runs on 6 hits, but Garza was so lights out it was plenty. He went the distance, for his first career complete game shutout, giving up only 5 hits while striking out 5.

So thats the whirlwind week-in-review, now onto the big story. The trading deadline. A day and a half to go, and as yet nothing for the Rays. Possible targets are moving left, right and centre. Nady and Marte to the Yanks. Teixeira to the Angels. Actually, I never understood that rumour to be honest. Apart from the fact that he hits leftys well, we really don't need a first baseman. Anyhow...

So, who's left? Brian Fuentes. Huston Street. Will Ohman. They're the names that are being mentioned the most. Bullpen help would be welcomed. But, from what I've read the price is quite high at the moment - everybody needs reliable arms in the 'pen after all! With plenty of arms in the minors (admittedly mainly young starting pitchers), it will be interesting to see what moves are made.

Since last week, and specifically since Nady was traded, most of the Rays-talk has moved away from a right-handed bat to play rightfield. Ok, there is still some chatter (Jason Bay still, and Randy Winn are among the names being thrown about), and I wouldn't be totally shocked if we were to make a move for an outfielder, but for the most part it looks as though we are looking at who we already have.

Justin Ruggiano was up with the team a couple of times earlier in the year, and acquitted himself very well indeed. He is an option. And of course there are still those of us who believe(/hope?) that Jonny Gomes can find his swing and contribute.

But there is another guy, a guy that during Spring Training many Rays fans resigned themselves never to seeing play at the Trop again. That man is Rocco Baldelli.

I pretty much haven't mentioned Rocco since the spring. I've seen him struggle with fitness in the past, and I've proclaimed his return. This time I don't want to get over-excited, I don't want to tempt fate. But, it has to be said, the signs are promising. We finally know what the problem is. Its not going to go away, but there are ways to works around it. Is he going to be the everyday star centrefielder that everybody saw back when he first arrived in the Bay? No. Can he be the right-handed DH, occasional rightfielder, pinch-hitter and defensive replacement? If the answer to that is indeed yes, then without making a trade at all we may be able to add the best available player around.

Down at Double-A he's currently hitting .333 with 3 homeruns and 8 RBI in 11 games. He's DH-ing. He's pinch-hitting. He's playing some late-inning outfield. On friday he's slated to play 7 innings in right. If he comes through that, then it could be next stop Tropicana Field.

I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much. I want Rocco to make it back to the bigs more for himself than anything else. If he can overcome everything that he's faced, and play regularly and contribute once again at the major league level, then that will be some achievement.

But it sure would be nice to have his bat right now.

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