tampabay.com

Maddon weary of sluggish starts

The Rays sputter from the gate again as manager questions their readiness.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 29, 2007


OAKLAND, Calif. -- You'd think the Devil Rays would learn from their mistakes. Especially the same ones twice in three days.

Instead, they got off to another brutal start, sustained another lopsided loss, 12-5 to Oakland, and again left manager Joe Maddon publicly questioning their preparedness.

"We have to get ready to play mentally, " Maddon said. "It's a mental thing. You've got to get out there and turn up that dial. I think it's a youthful thing sometimes. ... We've got to be ready from the first pitch. The physical preparation is good. We give them all the information. We just have to be more acute mentally early in the game."

Saturday's game was similar to Thursday's debacle in Anaheim, when they allowed five first-inning runs, were down 9-0 after three and lost 11-3. The Rays (10-14) rebounded with a crisp performance Friday night but then didn't look to be making much of an effort again in Saturday's matinee, trailing 8-2 after two innings, as 10 of the first 14 Oakland batters reached base.

Casey Fossum allowed eight hits, including a three-run homer to No. 8 hitter Travis Buck, a rookie just up from Double A. As bad, shortstop Ben Zobrist made one error and failed to make two other somewhat routine plays, starting with a grounder from leadoff man Shannon Stewart that became an infield single. Leftfielder Carl Crawford also made a throwing error.

"I thought overall we set a bad tone early in that game and we messed it up, " Maddon said. "It just kind of a deja vu of the day game against the Angels a couple days ago. It's unfortunate. You can't do that. I don't have any solid answers right now, but I definitely have to figure it out."

Crawford, the senior Ray, didn't have any, either, for their erratic play. But he did not seem to appreciate the blanket accusation and said Maddon should be more direct.

"Guys look like they're ready to play to me, so I don't know what he's talking about, " Crawford said. "You should ask him to be more specific about that because if there's guys he thinks are not ready to play, then he needs to tell those guys they need to be ready to play in the first inning. Obviously if he hasn't said anything, then they don't know."

Fossum, according to Maddon, wasn't actually throwing that poorly. The lithe left-hander acknowledged his command wasn't sharp but thought he could have had better results.

"I don't know what's going on, " Fossum said. "I got quite a few ground balls in the first inning; a couple inches here or there and it would have been a quick inning. That's just how baseball is."

Zobrist, who is struggling at the plate, too (.148 after an 0-for-3 Saturday), and has lost playing time to Brendan Harris, certainly contributed to the problems, though he said he felt fine and they were isolated mistakes.

"He did not move well for a couple of those balls, " Maddon said. "That just speaks to you've just got to be ready for that very first pitch. Zoey always prepares himself well. I know he does. He's diligent and he's prepared. I don't have a good answer for that. He just failed to make a couple plays there."

He wasn't the only one.