Sunday, June 25, 2006

Niemann not great, but not bad, either

Jeff Niemann took the loss in the opener of Sunday's doubleheader, a 3-0 Mobile victory. The second game was rained out.

Niemann gave up three hits over four innings, including a two-run home run to Stephen Smitherman on his next-to-last hitter. Niemann followed with a strikeout of Brett Dowdy. He walked two and struck out four.

Niemann's count -- 84 pitches, 53 strikes. Of the strikes, 18 were called, 18 were fouled off, seven were swung on and missed, and 10 were put into play.

To my untrained eye, he didn't look overly comfortable and seemed to rush his delivery when he threw a fastball. The press box took a good peppering from foul balls, meaning the hitters had the pitch timed, but were just missing it and fouling it straight back.

The first pitch that a hitter swung at and missed wasn't until the third inning. It was Niemann's 42nd pitch and 25th strike.

His fastball did show some steam, much to the misfortune of former Biscuit Joey Gomes. Leading off the second, Gomes took an 0-2 heater off the elbow and his pained expression was audible to the stands. Gomes stayed in the game.

Gomes played with Niemann last year at Visalia, so he took a good-natured swipe at Niemann: "It didn't hurt at all. I didn't even feel it. I've been hit by harder."

Niemann's fastball regularly hit 92 mph and topped out at 95.

Dukes out 15 games; Knox three

The Rays announced the lengths of suspensions for Durham outfielders Elijah Dukes and Ryan Knox today.

Dukes will miss 15 games and Knox three for an incident in the team's hotel last weekend in Charlotte, N.C. Dukes was immediately suspended and can return next weekend. Knox missed two games last week and then, after an off day, only pinch-ran in the eighth inning of the next game.

The fight was Dukes' second high-profile incident this year. He and a coach had a confrontation in April, which led to a week's vacation for Dukes.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

System check

The weekly look at the Rays' system (stats through Friday) ...

International League South
RF Delmon Young is 5-for-15 in four games since returning from his 50-game suspension. In 25 games this year, he's hitting .337 with no home runs.
RHP Juan Salas picked up his first win Monday with two no-hit innings.
LHP J.P. Howell gave up three hits and one run over five innings Thursday to lose his Durham debut.
RHP Jason Hammel is 3-6 with a 4.16 ERA, but hasn't won in his last eight starts.
RHP Brian Stokes has a 3-4 record and a 3.74 ERA. He's walked 25 and struck out 63 in 77 innings.
C Shawn Riggans has a .297 average, six home runs and 31 RBIs.
LHP Jeff Ridgway is 0-1 with a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings.
1B Kevin Witt has 18 home runs and 50 RBIs. He's slugging .545.

California League North
CF Fernando Perez was 5-for-6 with four runs scored and four RBIs in Thursday's 20-4 win over Stockton. He doubled, homered and picked up his 20th stolen base. Perez has a .390 on-base percentage and 62 runs scored in 72 games.
1B Chris Nowak had four hits and five RBIs Thursday. Nowak is hitting .320 with 53 RBIs.
RHP Brett Wayne pitched three perfect innings in a victory Thursday. He's 3-1 with five saves and a 3.89 ERA. Hitters have a .197 average off him.
SS Reid Brignac is 13-for-27 in his last seven games, running his average to .333 with 33 homers and 55 RBIs. He's scored 57 runs and committed 23 errors.
RHP Derek Feldkamp has a 12.50 ERA in his last five starts. He's given up at least four earned runs in nine of his last 11 starts.

Midwest League East
LHP Jacob McGee has 108 strikeouts in 83.1 innings. He's 6-5 with a 2.16 ERA. McGee threw six shutout innings and struck out 10 in a no-decision Friday.
RHP Matt Walker gave up one run over 6.2 innings to win Thursday. It was his second outing since leaving extended spring training.
3B Cesar Suarez is hitting .327 with 10 extra-base hits in 25 games.

New York-Penn League McNamara
3B Evan Longoria was 5-for-6 in his second pro game Wednesday.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson gave up one run over five innings in Tuesday's season opener. He walked one and struck out six.

Appalachian League East
RHP Chris Fessler pitched three innings of one-hit relief Thursday.
RHP Wilton Noel got one out and gave up seven runs in Tuesday's season opener.
3B Michael McCormick is 5-for-12 with two doubles.

Those who strayed from the Rays
2B Fernando Cortez was 2-for-4 with a double in his debut Thursday with Class AAA Omaha (Royals).
3B Rico Washington was 2-for-4 with a double in his debut Wednesday for Class AAA Memphis (Cardinals). Washington had a .323 average, 13 home runs and 56 RBIs at Class AA Springfield.
RHP Jose Veras, recently added to the Yankees' 40-man roster, has 37 strikeouts in 34 innings at Class AAA Columbus.
RHP Dewon Brazelton left Thursday's game for Class AAA Portland (Padres) after one batter with a strained left oblique. It was his first start since last week's one-hit shutout.
2B Dan DeMent homered twice and scored three runs last Sunday for Class AA Harrisburg (Nationals). In his last five games, DeMent has seven RBIs and five hits, all for extra bases.
RHP Jose Diaz has gone six straight appearances without allowing a run at Class AAA Oklahoma (Rangers).
C Iker Franco is hitting .278 with Class AA Springfield (Cardinals).
RHP Carlos Hines has given up 10 earned runs in his eight outings with Class AAA Fresno (Giants).
RHP Travis Minix has a 2.03 ERA at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Phillies).
RHP Jesus Colome won his first game in the Yankees' organization Wednesday for Class AA Trenton.
RHP Willie Glen is 4-2 with a 4.78 ERA in nine starts for independent Gary.
RHP Cameron Smith has 44 walks and 36 strikeouts in 40.1 innings with independent Lancaster. He's 3-4 with a 5.58 ERA.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Salas' bright Futures

Former Biscuits stopper Juan Salas has been picked for the All-Star Futures game, which will be July 9 in Pittsburgh. Two years ago, the Rays thought so little of him as a third baseman that they told him he would either pitch or go back to the Dominican Republic. He's found a home on the mound.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Gathright, Cortez to Royals

Two former Biscuits are headed to the Kansas City Royals.

Outfielder Joey Gathright and infielder Fernando Cortez were traded to the Royals on Tuesday. The Devil Rays picked up left-handed pitcher J.P. Howell in the deal.

Howell was 3-2 with a 4.75 ERA at Class AAA Omaha this year.

The Rays also demoted pitcher Seth McClung to Durham, but haven't announced who will take McClung's roster spot. They're supposed to announce it tonight.

Howell has major-league experience, so he could go to Tampa Bay. Or another pitcher could be promoted, opening a spot for Howell at Durham.

Either way, Durham is out two position players -- which makes me curious if the Biscuits are about to lose a few.

Cortez was the Bulls' starting second baseman. Elliot Johnson was struggling before going on the DL with a groin injury, but he was activated today and was raking it early in the season.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sonnanstine wins award

Biscuits pitcher Andy Sonnanstine won the Southern League's weekly award Monday.

Sonnanstine pitched a three-hit shutout against Mobile on Tuesday. He's 4-6 with a 3.63 ERA this season.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dukes a hazard

Is it really a surprise that Elijah Dukes has landed in trouble again?

The Devil Rays suspended their Class AAA outfielder this weekend, marking yet another chapter in Dukes' problem-filled career.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of last season when he was with the Biscuits, but he lived up to his reputation -- both in baseball talent and off-the-field problems. Sure, he hit .287 with 18 home runs and 73 RBIs. He was also a jerk, to umpires, teammates and, of course, sports writers.

His resume from last season includes five ejections (April 24, May 16, June 1, June 21, July 31), one missed bus (the Biscuits commute to Birmingham and Dukes didn't show up in time, but blamed everyone else) and plenty of boisterous or demeaning comments in between.

He drew a three-game suspension after bumping a pitcher (yes, a pitcher) at Birmingham and almost starting a brawl June 1. He took six games off after getting kicked out July 31.

To be fair, he didn't deserve the June 21 ejection. Called out on a not-so-bang-bang play at first, he was kicked out quicker than you can say "bang-bang."

Our photographers got a shot of the play that showed his foot on the bag and the ball a few feet from the first baseman's glove. Dukes taped a copy of the picture on the umpire's door the next day. (Look for the photo on Monday.)

On the next "Dukes a hazard," his MIA weekend and his Southern League All-Star experience. Coming soon ...

Saturday, June 17, 2006

System check

I was off last weekend, so there wasn't a system check. It's back ...

(stats are through Friday)

International League South
RHP Juan Salas made his debut Thursday with 1.1 no-hit innings. He walked one and struck out three.
LHP Jon Switzer has gone 18 straight appearances without allowing an earned run. He's 3-0 with two saves and an 0.94 ERA in 28.2 innings.
1B Kevin Witt has a .300 average and 17 home runs.
C Shawn Riggans is hitting .310 with six home runs and 29 RBIs.
RHP Chad Orvella has struck out 13 and walked three in 11 innings.
2B Fernando Cortez has a .281 average since June 1, pushing his season average to .222.
LHP Chris Seddon is 5-3 with a 4.88 ERA.

California League North
RHP Chris Mason has won his last five starts, making him 7-2 with a 3.14 ERA this season. He threw seven shutout innings Wednesday.
C John Jaso caught his first game of the season Monday. He had been exclusively a designated hitter because of offseason surgery. Jaso is hitting .322 with 26 RBIs.
SS Reid Brignac has 18 hits, including four home runs, in 13 June games. For the year, he's hitting .318 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs.
OF Shaun Cumberland is 4-for-35 in his last nine games.

Midwest League East
RHP Greg Dupas is 2-1 with 17 saves and a 1.21 ERA. He's struck out 28 and walked eight in 29.2 innings.
2B Cesar Suarez is hitting .326 in 22 games.
LHP Mike Wlodarczyk is 1-3 with a 6.27 ERA in his last four starts.
RHP Wade Davis, by losing his last two starts, is 4-3 with a 2.44 ERA. He has 89 strikeouts in 70 innings this year.

New York-Penn League McNamara
Season starts Tuesday.

Appalachian League East
Season starts Wednesday.

Those who strayed from the Rays
RHP Dewon Brazelton threw a one-hit shutout Friday for Class AAA Portland (Padres). Brazelton allowed a two-out single in the eighth. He's 1-3 with a 3.79 ERA.
OF Brian Martin was 3-for-5 Friday in his ninth game at Class AAA Memphis (Cardinals). He had a .293 average at Class AA Springfield when he was promoted.
3B Rico Washington has a .455 on-base percentage, a .636 slugging percentage, 49 runs scored and 56 RBIs for Class AA Springfield (Cardinals).
RHP Travis Minix is 0-2 with three saves and a 2.15 ERA for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Phillies).
RHP Jose Diaz has a 1.74 ERA in eight appearances for Class AAA Oklahoma (Rangers) since giving up five runs in two innings May 20.
RHP Carlos Hines has a 3.98 ERA in 19 appearances with Class AAA Fresno (Giants). He's 1-0 with two saves.
2B Dan DeMent is hitting .247 at Class AA Harrisburg (Nationals).
IF Jace Brewer has 10 hits in his last eight games for Class AAA Oklahoma (Rangers). He has a .252 season average.
RHP Jose Veras is 2-2 with eight saves and a 3.00 ERA with Class AAA Columbus (Yankees). He's allowed 29 hits and struck out 35 in 33 innings.
IF Frank Moore has a seven-game hit streak at Class AA Carolina (Marlins). He's hitting .245 in 16 games.
RHP Gerardo Garcia has given up five earned runs in four appearances for Angelopolis of the Mexican League.
C Robinson Cancel has a .262 average and 20 RBIs at independent Edinburg.
RHP Josh Parker is 1-3 with a 6.20 ERA in 24.2 innings for independent Amarillo.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Salas to Durham

Biscuits stopper Juan Salas has been promoted to Class AAA Durham.

Salas is 3-0 with 14 saves this year and a 0.00 ERA. In 34 2/3 innings this season, Salas has given up 13 hits, walked 14 and struck out 52. He also blew three save opportunities.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Prochaska back

The Biscuits have switched left-handed pitchers on their roster.

Mike Prochaska is back from Class AAA Durham, while Yorkin Ferreras is no longer listed.

Prochaska went to the Bulls late last month when the Devil Rays promoted Jamie Shields to the major leagues. Ferreras has struggled this season with Montgomery.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Here comes Niemann

Jeff Niemann, the highly regarded Tampa Bay prospect who claims to have expert fishing abilities, is apparently headed to Montgomery.

Niemann is supposed to join the Biscuits next Saturday.

Niemann hasn't pitched this season because of offseason shoulder surgery. He was with Montgomery at the end of last year, but was limited because of a groin injury he suffered earlier in the season.

Niemann, who was Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick in 2004, is as low key and humble a person as you could hope to meet, much less one who signed for $3.2 million. (Unfortunately, I'm told, that doesn't help him with the fish.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Overstocked Bulls

The Biscuits may be making some roster moves soon -- at least after the Durham Bulls make at least three.

With Tampa Bay recently demoting pitchers Chad Orvella and Doug Waechter and outfielder Joey Gathright, Durham is three players above the International League roster limit.

The Devil Rays demoted the three to bring Rocco Baldelli, Jorge Cantu and Casey Fossum off the disabled list. Baldelli and Cantu were on minor-league rehab assignments, but those players do not count against a minor-league team's roster limit.

The Bulls could simply deactivate three players, but that's a lot of dead weight to carry in the clubhouse. The Biscuits are playing at Carolina and the Bulls open a homestand tonight. Carolina and Durham are an easy drive apart (in fact, coaches and players usually visit with each other, if the schedule works like this), so it would be easy to switch players around.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Tampa Bay draft list

If Evan Longoria starts at high-Class A Visalia, he'll be the first to reach Montgomery. Who will be second?

signed First round (third overall pick): Evan Longoria, 3b/2b, Long Beach State U. -- no relation to Eva Longoria, the Desperate Housewives bombshell
signed Second (47th): Josh Butler, rhp, U. San Diego
Third (79th): Nick Fuller, rhp, Kell HS, Marietta, Ga.
Fourth (109th): Alex Cobb, rhp, Vero Beach (Fla.) HS
signed Fifth (139th): Shawn O'Malley, ss, South Ridge HS, Kennewick, Wash.

signed Sixth (169th): Nevin Ashley, c, Indiana State U.
signed Seventh (199th): Ryan Reid, rhp, James Madison U.
signed Eighth (229th): Tyree Hayes, rhp, Tomball (Texas) HS -- son of former major-leaguer Charlie Hayes, according to the St. Pete Times
signed Ninth (259th): Eligio Sonoqui, 1b, Chavez HS, Laveen, Ariz.

signed 10th (289th): Desmond Jennings, cf, Itawamba (Miss.) CC, Pinson Valley native -- former Alabama football signee
signed 11th (319th): Lewis Rollins, rhp, Winthrop U.
12th (349th): Antwonie Hubbard, rhp, Hooks (Texas) HS
13th (379th): Mikey Minor, lhp, Forrest HS, Lewisburg, Tenn.
signed 14th (409th): Travis Barnett, rhp, Salt Lake (Utah) CC

15th (439th): K.D. Kang, of, Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga.
signed 16th (469th): Ryan Owen, lhp, Cal State Dominguez Hills U.
17th (499th): Ryan Thornton, cf, American River College (Calif.)
18th (529th): Jay Brown, rhp, Young Harris College (Ga.)
19th (559th): Robi Estrada, ss, El Segundo (Calif.) HS

signed 20th (589th): Erik Walker, rhp, UNC-Charlotte
signed 21st (619th): Joey Callender, 2b, Texas Tech
22nd (649th): Mark Thomas, c, Alpharetta (Ga.) HS
23rd (679th): Matthew McCarney, of, Holy Trinity Catholic HS, Kanata, Ontario
24th (709th): Angel Chapa, rhp, Treasure Valley (Ore.) CC -- same school as Jason Hammel

25th (739th): Blaine Howell, rhp, Reynolds HS, Asheville, N.C.
26th (769th): Johnathon Parker, rhp, Lord Tweedsmuir School, Surrey, British Columbia
signed 27th (799th): Andrew Lopez, of, St. Francis HS, Carolina, Puerto Rico
28th (829th): Andrew Hagins, rf, Oak Park & River Forest HS, Oak Park, Ill.
29th (859th): Leon Johnson, of, formerly Eastern Arizona College -- also drafted by Rays in 2003 and 2005, has been on Mormon mission, brother of Biscuits 2B Elliot Johnson

signed 30th (889th): Jimmy Mayer, ss, U. Pittsburgh
31st (919th): Justin Reynolds, of, Mount Hood (Ore.) CC
32nd (949th): Emmanuel Morales, of, Puerto Rico Baseball Aca.
33rd (979th): Brooks Lindsay, 2b, Mount Hood (Ore.) CC
34th (1,009th): Stephen McCray, rhp, Parkview HS, Lilburn, Ga.

35th (1,039th): Michael Ross, 2b, Northwest Mississippi CC
36th (1,069th): Walter Marciel, lhp, Iolani HS, Honolulu
37th (1,099th): Kalvin Johnson, 1b, Iowa Western CC
38th (1,129th): Chris Dennis, 1b, St. Thomas of Villanova School, Lasalle, Ontario
39th (1,159th): Matt Miraldi, of, Bear River HS, Grass River, Calif.

40th (1,189th): Brando Casalicchio, rhp, Cold Spring Harbor HS, Long Island, N.Y.
41st (1,219th): Michael Dufek, of, Desert Mountain HS, Scottsdale, Ariz.
42nd (1,249th): Brandon Vernon, c, Overton HS, Nashville, Tenn.
43rd (1,278th): Victor Ramos, of, Miami Senior HS
44th (1,307th): Neil Hardon, of, Saguaro HS, Scottsdale, Ariz.

45th (1,336th): Chris Wilson, rhp, Trinidad State CC (Colo.)
46th (1,365th): Candy Maldonado, of, Porterville (Calif.) CC -- son of former major-leaguer of the same name, according to the St. Pete Times
47th (1,393rd): Brandon Brown, 3b, Tate HS, Cantonment, Fla.
48th (1,421st): Alex McRee, lhp, Chestatee HS, Gainesville, Ga.
49th (1,449th): Ryan Fraser, rhp, Walker Valley HS, Cleveland, Tenn.

50th (1,477th): Travis Tartamella, c, Los Osos HS, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rays take Longoria

The Devil Rays took Long Beach State's Evan Longoria with their first-round draft pick today.

Longoria is a third baseman who was rated the top available position player. Tampa Bay had the No. 3 overall pick.

Longoria is not -- as in NOT -- related to Eva Longoria, the Desperate Housewives bombshell, despite the similarity of their names.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Rays name May stars

The Devil Rays picked Jamie Shields as the organization's top pitcher for the month of May, while Kevin Witt was the top player.

Shields, a former Biscuit, was 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA, numbers good enough that he was promoted to the major leagues last weekend.

Witt, who is not a former Biscuit, hit .354 with seven doubles, eight homers and 24 RBIs in 26 games.

System check

The weekly look at Tampa Bay's system (stats through Friday):

C Shawn Riggans hit .429 during May with 12 extra-base hits and 16 RBIs. His season average is .301.
SS B.J. Upton has reached base via hit or walk 19 times in his last seven games. Upton is hitting .298, but has committed 18 errors.
LHP Jon Switzer hasn't allowed an earned run in 13 straight appearances. Hitters have a .164 average against him in that time. This year, Switzer is 3-0 with one save and a 1.11 ERA.
RHP Jason Hammel is 3-4 with a 3.91 ERA. He hasn't won in four straight starts.
LHP Mike Prochaska allowed two runs over 5.2 innings in his first start Friday. He gave up a grand slam to lose his debut last weekend.
IF Brent Butler has a .238 average with 12 doubles.

IF Mark Schleicher has a hit in his first three games with the Oaks, including a home run in his debut Monday.
DH John Jaso is 1-for-14 since ending a 19-game hit streak last weekend. He has a .320 average, 25 runs scored and 23 RBIs in 40 games.
SS Reid Brignac is hitting .315 with 38 RBIs, but has knocked in only one run in his last 11 games.
LHP James Houser Jr. is 3-4 with a 3.77 ERA. Last weekend, he threw eight innings, allowing one run on three hits with one walk and nine strikeouts. On Friday, he allowed three earned runs over seven innings.
OF Fernando Perez hit .292 with 23 walks and scored 23 times in May.

LHP Mike Wlodarczyk lost Wednesday for the first time since Opening Day. He's 5-2 with a 1.65 ERA. Wlodarczyk has allowed nine hits and seven earned runs in his last two starts. In 38 May innings, he was 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA and 38 strikeouts.
RHP Wade Davis has struck out at least eight in four straight starts. He's 4-1 with a 1.18 ERA in 11 starts with 27 walks and 80 strikeouts.
OF Garrett Groce has a .265 average and a team-high 25 runs scored.

Those who strayed from the Rays
3B Rico Washington had two-home run, four-RBI games Sunday and Tuesday for Class AA Springfield (Cardinals). In his last six games, Washington is 11-for-24 with six doubles, four home runs, 10 RBIs and seven runs scored. For the year, he's hitting .328 with 40 walks and 49 RBIs.
RHP Carlos Hines has surrendered one earned run in 12 appearances with Class AAA Fresno (Giants).
RF Joey Gomes made his season debut Thursday with Class AA Mobile (Padres). He hasn't played because of a hamstring injury.
IF Frank Moore is 0-for-11 in three games at Class AA Carolina (Marlins).
OF Brian Martin, 11-for-21 in his last five games, has pushed his average to .302 at Class AA Springfield (Cardinals).
RHP Jose Diaz has allowed 18 hits in 9.2 innings for Class AAA Oklahoma (Rangers). He has a 9.31 ERA.
IF Jace Brewer is hitting .227 at Class AAA Oklahoma (Rangers).
2B Dan DeMent has a .251 average, 28 runs scored and 22 RBIs with Class AA Harrisburg (Nationals). He made his second pitching appearance of the season Wednesday with a shutout inning of relief in a 9-0 loss.
C Robinson Cancel has a .313 average, 12 runs scored and 12 RBIs in 15 games for independent Edinburg.
RHP Neal Frendling was released Friday by independent Gary. He was 0-1 with an 11.17 ERA and allowed 19 hits over 9.2 innings.
RHP Willie Glen allowed three hits and struck out 10 over seven innings in a loss for independent Gary on Wednesday.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Cantu: Let them eat steak

Jorge Cantu played his last home game at Riverwalk Stadium on Thursday, and the rehabbing major-leaguer left the Biscuits with a good taste in their mouths.

A good steak taste.

In a nice touch, Cantu had a steak meal catered for the team before it jumped on the bus for Chattanooga. Cantu, Tampa Bay's second baseman, has been with the Biscuits this week on a rehabilitation assignment for a broken left foot. He's scheduled to rejoin the Devil Rays next week.

Cantu makes close to the major-league minimum, but the major-league minimum is much more than any of the regular Biscuits make. Almost every player (and their wives, if applicable) squeek by while they chase a dream.

Noodles, I'm told, are a regular item on the dinner table away from the ballpark. Steak is rare.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Josh Hamilton

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have announced that Josh Hamilton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft who has missed the last few seasons because of drug suspensions, will start working out with the team's extended spring training program Friday.

Hamilton has been on Major League Baseball's suspended list since Feb. 18, 2004. He hasn't played an organized game since July 10, 2002.

The outfielder was considered one of the top prospects in the minor leagues until his suspensions.