tampabay.com

Rays' old ways difficult to shed

Unimpressive pitching, injuries and errors spoil Maddon's Rays debut.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 4, 2006


BALTIMORE - The Devil Rays will try anything to show that things are different.

There was a new attitude throughout the clubhouse Monday as the players expressed an actual sense of anticipation about the season rather than the typical dread.

There was new principal owner Stuart Sternberg working the room to individually tell each player he was behind him and just to do the best he can.

There was even new manager Joe Maddon's mom, Beanie, coming down from their hometown of Hazleton, Pa., to share her son's debut and bring him his favorite cold-cut hoagies from the Third Base Luncheonette.

Then they took the field for their opener.

And everything new looked old again.

A starting pitcher, Scott Kazmir, had a rough outing.

A star player, shortstop Julio Lugo, got hurt and had to leave the game.

A couple of steady defenders, Joey Gathright and Carl Crawford, misplayed balls that led to runs.

A bullpen that was revamped turned out not to provide much relief.

And a 9-6 loss to the Orioles delayed at least until Wednesday their opportunity to disprove what has to be their worst nightmare - that people think of them as the same old Rays.

"That doesn't even enter my mind," Maddon said. "I don't have that thought. My thought is Wednesday. Let's go. Let's roll."

The Rays can only hope it turns out better.

They figured their offense could be dynamic, and it looked Monday to have that potential, mixing power with speed and execution. But there has been concern that the pitching staff - specifically a bullpen that included two relievers whose first pitches Monday were their first in the big leagues - could be damning.

And Monday's performance did nothing to dispel that, as the Rays saw leads of 2-0 and 4-2 disappear, and a 7-6 deficit quickly expand to 9-6.

"Jumping out trying to score as many runs as possible, that's going to be the thing for us this year," Crawford said.

"That's the only thing we know right now. We're just going to try to hold the slack for those guys until things change. Basically that's all we can do right now. Keep doing what we're doing on offense and hope those guys can do what they need to on the mound."

For starters, there was Kazmir throwing 104 pitches and not even getting one out into the fifth inning, with 11 of the 22 batters he faced reaching base. And that was after a moment of concern when he felt a twinge in his back that required trainer Ron Porterfield to visit the mound.

Though Maddon and pitching coach Mike Butcher said Kazmir was throwing the ball well, he certainly was not throwing it to the right place at the right times.

"Getting ahead of hitters like that, working hard and making mistakes - it's frustrating," Kazmir said.

Three times, Kazmir got two strikes on a hitter and gave up a home run, including back-to-back shots by Luis Matos (0-and-2) and Melvin Mora that turned a 4-3 fifth-inning lead into a deficit the Rays never closed. Overall, seven of the eight hits he allowed came on two-strike pitches.

"That really bothered us there," Maddon said.

And for relief, well there wasn't much. Between Kazmir and rookie Jason Childers, the Rays allowed four runs in the fifth and trailed 7-4. Travis Lee's two-run homer in the sixth drew them within 7-6, but rookie Ruddy Lugo couldn't keep it there, allowing one run in the sixth and another in the seventh, on Baltimore's fourth home run.

"When we made a mistake, they did not miss it," Maddon said. "And we made several mistakes."

Maddon insists there was plenty of good in what was his first game as a full-time major-league manager, which turned out, between injuries, ineffective pitching and a questionable call, to be an eventful afternoon.

"I think I made the most trips to the field for an opening-day manager in the history of the game today," Maddon said.

The best sign of hope was that the offense looked like it has the potential to be productive, though that could change quickly if Julio Lugo's abdominal strain leads to an extended absence.

They scored three runs with muscle, as Jonny Gomes homered in the second and Lee hit a two-run shot in the sixth. And they scored three on hustle, including textbook execution in the first when Lugo doubled, Crawford bunted him to third and Jorge Cantu delivered a sacrifice fly; and two more in the third, on two singles, a walk, an error and a runner advancing on a fly out by Crawford.

"We'll be fine," catcher Toby Hall said. "We're going to score. We've just got to buckle down on how many we give up."

That, it turns out, is nothing new.