Mailbag: Impact of Baldelli being out
Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers Rays fans' questions
With the new problem of Rocco Baldelli not being healthy, does this open up an opportunity for the club to think about signing Barry Bonds for the right-field triangle?
-- Jubal J., Fairbanks, Ark.
In theory, I would say yes. Bonds would be a nice addition to the Rays' lineup, or to any lineup for that matter. Who wouldn't want the all-time home run leader? In reality, I would say no based on the negative aspects of having Bonds in the clubhouse. And I have not heard anything about the Rays pursuing Bonds, either.
Who will be the designated hitter against left-handed pitching with Baldelli on the disabled list? I'm assuming Johnny Gomes will be in right field, and either Evan Longoria or Willy Aybar at third base. Does this development increase Longoria's chances of making the club this spring? Who will play right field against right-handed pitching?
-- Dave O., St. Petersburg
I think we'll see Gomes play right field most days against both left-handed and right-handed pitching. As for Longoria, the Rays still have not revealed whatever criteria it is that they are evaluating their top prospect this spring. He has looked like the real deal, so I'm convinced he's ready. I like the idea of putting Longoria in the sixth or seventh spot in the order and just letting him play. As for the DH against left-handed pitching, that one is not clear just yet. Aybar could be the answer. He's a switch-hitter, and the Rays like him better from the left side, but he looks like the most viable candidate right now.
Why is it that the Rays are vicious against the Yankees, and then Shelly Duncan makes that crash into Aki Iwamura and the Rays are all defensive! Why are they so fickle? They did that exact thing, only much worse -- breaking a wrist! Iwamura just had a cut. The Rays need to stop and think about what they said last week, and realize that they're being really hypocritical.
-- Carrie W., New York
I think you can argue both ways about the play at home plate in which Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli was run over by Elliot Johnson, resulting in Cervelli suffering a broken wrist. Should you go all out in Spring Training games or not? That is the question that has been debated in regards to the bench-clearing incident. But I don't think anyone would argue that Duncan's play was the kind of play that should not be tolerated. Remember, Duncan was thrown out on the play long before the incident began. Anyway, it looks like both teams are backing what they believe. Only time will tell if any further incidents will arise from what has been an ongoing feud this spring.
Not quite sure what the Rays' won-loss record was when leading after eight innings, but I predict a 25-win improvement over last season's won-loss record, especially with the much-improved rotation and bullpen. What do you think?
-- Daryl H., St. Petersburg
Have a question about the Rays?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Rays beat reporter Bill Chastain for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
An improvement of 25 wins might be a little overly optimistic, but you never know. I do think this year's club will have more wins, and the team's improved rotation and bullpen should have a lot to do with that. In theory, having an improved rotation will mean the team's starters are going further into the game, which saves use of the bullpen. In the first half last season, Rays fans witnessed what can happen when the starters don't go at least five innings -- which was the case on many occasions when Jae Seo, Edwin Jackson and Casey Fossum pitched. Having to pick up the extra innings put a strain on an already mediocre bullpen, which definitely affected the 'pen's performance.
After the way Carlos Pena came out of nowhere as a non-roster invitee last year, do you think that this year's big surprise could be Eric Hinske? After a great start to his career in Toronto, he has underachieved. Yet after seeing him play this spring, I feel he could be another success story for the Rays. What do you think?
-- Nick G., Bradenton, Fla.
Hinske is a true professional. Funny thing, as I was writing out the reply to your question, Hinske just hit his first home run of the spring. However, right now I think a lot of things would have to break right for the veteran to make the club, particularly given the left-handed bats the Rays already have.
Why would Joe Maddon have three lefties batting 1-2-3 and Upton fourth? What sense does this make? Upton is a classic No. 3 hitter because he does everything, including walks and stolen bases. Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to bat Upton third and Pena fourth? Upton will be on base so much more, which will give Pena more RBI chances than if it were the other way around. Also, having Upton on first as a base-stealing threat would open a huge hole on the right side. And there is the obvious part about not batting consecutive lefties because of bullpen changes in the late innings. I would love to know his logic for this very illogical order.
-- Anthony R., Chicago
Basically, it's just the way the order has evolved. For example, Crawford looks like the ideal leadoff man, but he's more comfortable hitting second. And you can't argue about the results of having Upton batting behind Pena. Upton hit behind Pena in 36 games in 2007, and Pena hit .333 with 18 home runs and 40 RBIs in those games. As for having three consecutive left-handed hitters in the order, Maddon explains that all three hit left-handers fine and he's not that concerned about having them stacked, given the American League's lack of dominant left-handed relievers.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.