Rapid Reaction: Shields Flashes Dominance


I’m watched the Rays-Yankees game on the Yankees’ TV station, YES, a game which the Rays won 4-0, and here are some various thoughts from the game.

Today James Shields showed what makes him so good and even dominant at times, but he also showed what prevents him from sustaining “ace” status. Shields’ control was exemplary even this early in the spring, and he threw 7 consecutive strikes in a 1-2-3 first inning with 2 strikeouts. He was working all his pitches all over the zone. The problem for Shields is that when his command is off, his pitches are hittable. He left a 90 MPH fastball up in the zone and Eric Chavez drilled it to deep left-center, although the wind knocked it down before it did any arm. Shields retired 6 in a row in this start and overall he’s an excellent pitcher, but he doesn’t truly overpower hitters and he doesn’t have the ace-caliber stuff of David Price and Matt Moore.

Reid Brignac looks a lot more relaxed in the batter’s box than he did last season. We know that he was horrific in 2011, but he has the ability to be much better than that. In this game, he hit a hard line drive single against Rafael Soriano, and while he’s not an elite hitter, he could certainly hit .250 or .260 at least. He also stole third base as part of a double steal even though Matt Joyce struck out on the play, and although he stole just 3 bases in 2011, he’s a guarantee to steal double-digit stolen bases in 2012, and he could steal 20. Brignac also beat out a bunt in the 5th inning, a part of the game we didn’t see from him at all this past season. Sean Rodriguez has hit well in the early goings of spring training, but he has also had his issues, and Brignac is the clear favorite to win the Rays’ starting shortstop job.

Stephen Vogt may not have a true position defensively, but he can hit. Vogt accounted for the all the scoring thus far in the game by hitting a hard line drive into the right field corner that turned into a 2-run stand-up triple and he later scored on a groundball. It did come on a hanging breaking ball, but Vogt was all over it. He hit a line drive single later in the game along with a groundball single. He’s a good hitter and he’s an interesting bench option for the Rays as soon as this season.

Jeff Keppinger is a Wade Davis look-alike. Here’s the side-by-side comparison (mouse over to see which one is which):

By the way, Keppinger happens to be a solid hitter. He singled in the Rays 3-run second inning and hit another hot smash but Robinson Cano was able to make a nice play to come up with it before singling to lead off the 6th. Keppinger will be in a utility role for the Rays and it will be interesting to see just how often he plays.

Burke Badenhop is an intriguing bullpen option for the Rays, but his problem both today and in his last appearance (when he gave up a 2-run home run), has been that he’s left balls up in the zone. If Badenhop can use his sinker well and force a nice groundball rate, the Rays defense will really help him out. He just has to get his command under control and he could be a nice relief option. He has understandable rust this early in spring training and hopefully he’ll be able to shake that off. He did get out of the third after allowing a double to Nick Swisher on a loopy curveball by forcing Raul Ibanez to ground out softly.

Ben Zobrist is an excellent all-around defender, and he used all his defensive tools on an Eric Chavez groundball up the middle. He needed to use all his speed just to get to that ball from his second base position, and then he needed to use his true right fielder’s arm to throw out Chavez at first.

Now it makes sense why Jesus Feliciano is in big league camp for the Rays. He made an excellent catch going back to the wall on an Andruw Jones flyball to help out Josh Lueke. Lueke was hit hard in the 5th, giving up the Jones flyball and then a line drive to Russell Martin. His location is also off thus far in spring training, and hopefully that will improve with time.

Tim Beckham seeing time at second base replacing Zobrist with Hak-Ju Lee at short. That makes sense since Lee is a much better defensive shortstop, but that’s still interesting since Beckham has never played anywhere but shortstop during his pro career. Beckham and Lee both looked smooth defensively on groundballs hit to them in the 6th.

Brandon Guyer has been unable to lift the ball thus far in spring training, but he beat out an infield single and stole second base, although on the steal Yankees second baseman Bill Hall inadvertently need kneed him in the head. Guyer has nice speed and he’s at least a 20 stolen base threat in the big leagues, but we would like to see him hit for more power, which he did in 2010 and 2011. Hopefully he’ll get the jitters out soon and start hitting the ball harder. Guyer finally hit the ball hard in the 9th, but Yankee prospect Corban Joseph made a beautiful play.

Hak-Ju Lee to Tim Beckham to Juan Miranda for a nice double play in the 9th. Miranda isn’t going anywhere, but it will be interesting to see whether Lee and Beckham could be double play partners in the future.

Alex Colome closes it out for the Rays with a 97 MPH fastball as the Rays win 4-0 and are finally in the spring training win column. Always nice to win, even when it means absolutely nothing.