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Confident in core, Rays look to fix offensive woes

Confident in core, Rays look to fix offensive woes

ST. PETERSBURG -- Andrew Friedman isn't exactly sure what happened to the Rays in 2014, but the executive vice president of baseball operations is already looking under the hood to make sure things are right heading into '15.

Friedman addressed the media during a Tuesday news conference at Tropicana Field that included Rays manager Joe Maddon.

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Whatever happened to the Rays in '14, Friedman noted: "I think it's on all of us."

In other words, players, coaches, the front office and the manager all share the blame for a campaign that did not meet expectations.

Long before the final out of the season was recorded in Cleveland, the offense stood out as the area most needing to be addressed in the offseason. And that was the area most discussed by Friedman Tuesday.

On the whole, offense was down around Major League Baseball in '14. The average number of runs scored per game came in at 4.07, which ranked as the lowest average since 1976 (3.99). The league batting average was .251 -- the lowest since '72 (.244), the .386 slugging percentage was the lowest since 1992 (.377) and the 0.86 home runs per game figure ranked the lowest since 1992 (0.72).

"Obviously offense is down throughout the league, a very suppressed run-scoring environment," Friedman said. "So we have to look at it differently. We have to come at it with as fresh of a perspective as we can so we can to figure out how we can put ourselves in the best position to score more runs than we allow.

"... If we score 200 runs and allow 160, it doesn't matter. It's about that balance between the two and putting yourself to be in position to be playing competitive games in September.

While offensive numbers were down throughout baseball, the Rays' offensive numbers were a notch below.

The Rays scored just 612 runs, the lowest total in club history, placing them last in the AL and 27th in the Major Leagues. Perhaps most telling was the fact the Rays led the Major Leagues with 1,193 runners left on base, making them the first team to lead the Major Leagues in left-on-base and have a team batting average under .250 since the 1969 Giants.

"We weren't bad at all in terms of creating opportunities," Friedman said. "We just weren't nearly good enough at converting. And so we're going to spend a lot of time at getting into both aspects of that and making sure that we feel like we can put together a 13-man offensive group that can create enough opportunities yet also convert enough to be really good. It's hard to put your finger on exactly."

Despite the accrued numbers that led to the club's 77-85 record, Friedman allowed that as far as "our core players," the Rays feel "really good about the guys that we have."

Thus, he said the front office will scrutinize what happened in '14 to become more informed as they look forward to '15. That translates to looking at players as individuals -- what they bring to the table -- and how they complement each other. That will lead them into an examination philosophically of offense in general and toward the changes they feel they must make.

The Rays also suffered a power outage in '14. That lack of power was particularly noticeable at Tropicana Field where the Rays hit just 51 home runs, which tied them for the third-lowest home total in the Major Leagues.

"[Power is] one area that certainly came in below than what we expected," Friedman said. "We expected that we would have greater power production than we ended up having. And just like everything we're going to do when reviewing the season, none of it is to make excuses. We're all disappointed with what happened this year. But it's really important to get into each thing specifically to appreciate as we look ahead to inform us going forward about how to make the best decision.

"So looking back, certainly an area that we underperformed from what we expected. And look ahead to a scenario where we need to do a better job of having more power in our lineup."

Though the Rays had a down year offensively, the pitching proved to be outstanding as personified by the 22 staff shutouts, which were the most by an AL team since the '72 Athletics. And Rays starters pitched to a 3.48 ERA, the sixth-lowest ERA by an AL team in the past 25 years.

Still, the ball just seemed to bounce the other way for the Rays in '14. And, in Maddon-speak: "It was just an awkward year."

According to Friedman, "every offseason takes its own life form," and he stressed that he and his cohorts will be doing their due diligence to make sure that '15 does not become a repeat.

"We feel that we have the core talent in place to be really, really good next year," Friedman said. "And now we need to spend time kind of tweaking the roster and focusing on different aspects of it to put ourselves in a position to break camp next year with a realistic chance of playing competitive games in September. And as I sit here right now, I feel really confident about our ability to do that."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Murphy's Law in effect for Rays in 2014

Injuries to key contributors, bullpen woes led to club's first losing record since 2007

Murphy's Law in effect for Rays in 2014

ST. PETERSBURG -- What could go wrong pretty much did for the Rays in 2014, resulting in an early offseason rather than a postseason appearance and the team's first losing record since 2007.

Leaving Port Charlotte, Fla., at the end of Spring Training, the Rays had the swagger of a champion. Particularly the team's starting pitching, which has been its strength since first making the playoffs in 2008. On paper, there seemed to be no holes with David Price heading the rotation followed by Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi -- who stepped in after Jeremy Hellickson had elbow surgery in January. Unfortunately for the Rays, other injuries followed.

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Moore made two starts before getting shut down for the season following Tommy John reconstructive left elbow surgery. Further troubles came following Cobb's April 12 start against the Reds when he went on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. At the time, the Rays held a 7-5 record. The Rays went 12-23 in Cobb's absence, pitching to a 4.63 ERA by the time he returned on May 22.

Other first-half injuries saw Ben Zobrist shelved with a dislocated left thumb and Brandon Guyer suffer a left thumb fracture.

By June 10, the Rays had the worst record in baseball -- by four games at 24-42, including a 1-14 stretch -- and nothing seemed to be working. The offense ranked 28th in runs scored per game and the staff ERA ranked 22nd. The weakened condition of the starting rotation had a residual effect on the bullpen, which led the Major Leagues in innings pitched.

From June 11-Aug. 15, the Rays began to click, posting the Majors' best record over that period at 37-19. Complementing that improvement were offensive and pitching improvements, fueling the team's hopes for making the postseason.

Never was that feeling stronger than when the team reached .500 at 61-61 on Aug. 15. Unfortunately, the energy spent to reach the even point could not be maintained.

"You utilize a lot of mental energy as much as anything to get yourself back [in] there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And it's not easy to do that. You get back there and you have to maintain this real high level of success on a professional level against professionals. So it's not easy to do. But I really thought we could. I never thought that we could not.

"And all of a sudden we were on the verge of pulling it off. We got back to .500, and since then it's just been teetering back and forth. Just could not get back to that level of play that we had going on for a long time. It's not easy to do. I understand that."

Record: 77-85, fourth place in the American League East

Defining moment: After finding themselves 18 games under .500 on June 10, the Rays embarked on a gritty streak in which they looked like one of the best teams in baseball. On Aug. 15, they defeated the Yankees, 5-0, at Tropicana Field to reach the .500 mark. Unfortunately, that point seemed to signal the moment when the Rays ran out of gas. Four consecutive losses followed and the Rays never seemed to be in contention after that.

What went right: Odorizzi made great strides as a starter, overcoming a slow start to become an effective member of the rotation. ... Price was dealt to the Tigers at the Trade Deadline, with the Rays receiving left-hander Drew Smyly and Minor League infielders Nick Franklin and Willy Adames. What the Rays saw of Smyly brought smiles, as he went 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA in seven starts. ... Kevin Kiermaier made the jump to the Major Leagues, bringing an unparalleled energy to the team and better-than-anticipate offense.

What went wrong: Every team has to deal with injuries, but the early injuries to Moore and Cobb were devastating to a staff that entered the season down a pitcher after Hellickson's elbow surgery. Meanwhile, Wil Myers injured his left hand in the second game and wasn't the same before he went on the disabled list after fracturing his right wrist. Catcher Ryan Hanigan, who was looked upon to become a force behind the plate for the Rays, also spent a good portion of the season on the DL. Bullpen problems plagued the team as well. Grant Balfour lost the closer role and Joel Peralta struggled in the setup spot. Compounding matters further was the fielding. While the numbers suggest a better fielding team, the double plays and exceptional plays of Rays teams past were not made.

Biggest surprise: Brad Boxberger came to the Rays in the deal that sent Alex Torres to the Padres, and the right-hander did not make the club out of Spring Training. However, once he joined the team, he made a huge impact, pitching significant innings at the end of games. Going forward, the Rays will likely head into the 2015 season with Boxberger penciled in as their top setup man.

Hitter of the Year: Evan Longoria. The prevailing opinion where the Rays slugger is concerned deals with health: If Longoria plays, he's going to put up numbers. But that wasn't the case in the early going, as he remained on the field but the numbers were not representative of seasons past. While Longoria struggled for much of the season, he began to click toward the end, reaffirming the fact he remains the Rays' best hitter.

Pitcher of the Year: Cobb. When the 2013 season ended, many thought he was the best pitcher in a rotation that included Price, a former Cy Young Award winner. But after pitching seven scoreless innings against the Reds to claim his first win of the season, Cobb came away with an oblique problem that kept him out of action for much of the first part of the season. Upon returning, he fought his mechanics initially then finished with a bang, showing again why many consider him the top pitcher in a rotation of quality arms.

Rookie of the Year: Odorizzi. After battling to win the fifth-starter spot in Spring Training, the right-hander struggled to start the season, going 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA in his first 12 outings. After that he just seemed to get it, navigating the strike zone with expertise -- generating a lot of swings and misses without an overpowering fastball. In short, he showed he knows how to pitch, and he showed he belongs.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Rays unable to find extra gear in rare lost season

Rays unable to find extra gear in rare lost season

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays kept pushing the pedal to the floor, the engine sputtered and nothing happened. That's how much of their disappointing 2014 season went.

As executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon sat behind microphones on Tuesday morning at Tropicana Field groping for answers for their first losing summer since 2007, they came up empty.

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They could start with the anemic offense that just couldn't deliver in the clutch. The Rays led the Majors with 1,193 runners left on base and scored just 612 runs, fewest in the American League. Their .247 team batting average was the lowest in club history. The Rays were shut out 18 times.

To put it bluntly, ever since this regime took over in the mid-2000s, the Rays have been the model for a small-market, low-revenue franchise.

But as Maddon, one of Major League Baseball's most respected managers, said, "It was such a weird season to describe. We were 18 under .500, then got even -- that's 18 games over .500. You have a winning record on the road, a losing record at home. How did that happen? I have no idea.

"And look at the records the pitching staff set this year."

Then, he used football terms: "We just had to score more points. A lot of that had to do with being bad in the red zone. We got inside the 20 a lot [runners on base], but we couldn't score.

"It was just a weird, awkward season. You had to be there on a nightly basis to witness it. It was a strange year, people on base we couldn't drive in -- all kinds of awkward things that occurred; we have to figure out why in Spring Training."

This was supposed to be a banner year for Tampa Bay. The Rays were expected to go deep into the postseason, maybe make it to their second World Series.

And even when they were 18 games under .500 at 24-42 on June 10 with MLB's worst record after a 1-14 stretch, Maddon predicted they'd turn the season around.

He looked like a genius on Aug. 15 when they climbed to .500 at 61-61. From June 11-Aug. 15, they were 37-19, best record over that span in the Majors.

But the wheels soon fell off.

"We've gone through rough stretches over the last five-six years," said Friedman. "For the most part we just kept doing what we did -- win more games and be in the position we expected to be in.

"There was some sense things were going to work out this year, that we'd win more games just by virtue of the talent we had. All of us expected, 'Hey, we're just going to start winning games. We're too talented not to.'"

It just didn't happen.

Third baseman Evan Longoria, the team leader, told reporters he felt the players began the season with a mindset that "things are going to be easier than they really are.

"We all need to take a look in the mirror this offseason and understand what kind of players we are and be able to come back next year and try and fill those obligations -- what we're expected to do offensively, individually."

Now, Friedman, Maddon and Co. must sit down, dissect the debacle that was 2014 and convince themselves that the group of core players presently on board has the talent and motivation to return the Rays to contender status.

Friedman said tweaking the roster, probably through trades, is the early plan.

Maybe the envious model the Rays have built that propelled them to the postseason four of six seasons prior to 2014 has played itself out.

And maybe it's unrealistic to believe a franchise with such a low payroll can continue to compete with the big spenders -- no matter how astute those who run the franchise are. Their Opening Day payroll of $77.062 million ranked 28th among the 30 teams.

"It's kind of a cliche, but it's us against the world," offered Friedman, who added everyone in the organization shoulders the blame. "We're going into Spring Training next year with what I would imagine would be much lower expectations than this year.

"We love that. We'll go in and talk about how everyone is picking other teams ahead of us. This is all about what we can learn from this season that will help us go forward. That's where all our focus will be."

Even when the Rays won 17 of 23 games for the AL's best record in July, I felt the offense was a glaring weakness, certainly not potent enough for slug it out with the Orioles, Blue Jays and Yankees.

The Rays had always turned Tropicana Field into a devil's den for opponents, but in 2014 they were 36-45 at home, compared to 41-40 on the road.

Despite his uncanny positive outlook, in Maddon's most private moments he had to wonder if this team could turn the season around.

I asked him just that on Tuesday.

"I thought once we got back to .500 we had a legitimate chance, at least for the Wild Card," he said. "Early on, it was tough. We have never really gone on a 1-and-14 gig before. And to look up and see you're 18 games under .500, that's a really bad feeling.

"I had my one team meeting about a month before the All-Star Game and stated our No. 1 goal was getting back to .500. The night we got there it was pretty festive and I felt good about the whole thing. I thought there was a good shot, but we used so much emotional energy.

"Retrospectively, I thought we could do it, but realistically it's hard to maintain that kind of emotion to dig out of that kind of a hole and then get 15 games over .500."

And several weeks after reaching .500 (the Rays lost eight of their next 12 games), Maddon realized "this is going to be much more difficult than I thought."

Friedman put it this way: "We're obviously disappointed with the way this season turned out. We have the core talent in place for next year to be really, really good. Now we have to spend time tweaking the roster and focusing on different aspects of it to break camp next year with a realistic chance to be playing competitive games in September."

Friedman used the analogy of spending a lot of offseason time "looking under the hood."

If an overhaul isn't needed, a tuneup is obviously a necessity.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays have decisions to make heading into 2015

Pitching staff is solid, but Zobrist could be trade candidate with payroll cut expected

Rays have decisions to make heading into 2015

ST. PETERSBURG -- Heading into the 2015 season, the Rays will need a healthy dose of temperance rather than overreacting to what happened in 2014, a year in which the team appeared so much better than it performed. But some tough decisions must be made if the Rays want to avoid a repeat of 2014.

Unlike this season, when the Rays brought back the bulk of their 2013 roster, the club will need to carefully scrutinize each position. In some cases, contracts might need to be eaten.

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Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has already noted that the payroll will likely be headed down, but not necessarily slashed.

"It's clearly going to be lower," Sternberg said. "This year was an enormous aberration. Look, having said that, if the greatest thing since sliced bread shows up and it costs us money, anything is possible. We never say no to anything, but the default is clearly going to be lower.

"Our two highest payrolls have been the years we stepped it up, 2009 and 2014, and those are the only two years we haven't played significant September baseball."

The 2009 Opening Day payroll was $63.3 million, up from $43.7 in 2008, and this year the Rays' opened the season at $76.8 million, up from $61.9.

Paring the payroll will be a lot easier without having to worry about paying David Price, who was traded to the Tigers at the Trade Deadline. Price made $14 million in 2014 and could be considerably north of that via arbitration.

One certainty is the Rays will have the following group of solid starters: Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake Odorizzi, Nathan Karns and Alex Colome. And Matt Moore should be healed and ready to return from Tommy John surgery by early June at the latest.

Though the group of starters has changed, it has not changed dramatically, and the group remains a tight-knit unit despite losing its leader, Price.

"It can be difficult when things change and the environment changes around you and new guys come in," Cobb said. "Since I've been here, there's been guys coming and going, and for the most part the group has stayed strong together and developed that friendship and that winning attitude on and off the field where guys are rooting for each other.

"We'll continue to grow closer as a group. This offseason we already have plans of working out together, maybe not the whole time, but parts of the year. Just the overall strength in that group will go a long way in us pulling for each other."

The starting rotation looks strong, as does the bullpen, heading into next season. While Grant Balfour struggled as the team's closer before losing the job and Joel Peralta showed decline in the setup role, Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger stepped in to play significant roles at the end of the game. Other options paint a happy picture for next year's bullpen as well.

"We haven't been really burnt by guys having tough years simultaneously out of the bullpen [in the past]," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "This year, maybe more so than 2009, we had such a hard time in the bullpen. Really being able to nail games down with some kind of formulaic later part of the game. Have to be mindful of that going forward. But some of these guys have really surfaced as premier relief pitchers in the American League."

What happens with Ben Zobrist will be interesting to monitor. The Rays have a club option to pay him $7.5 million for 2015 or to buy him out for $500,000. Zobrist is hardly at the end of his rope, so not renewing him would be totally unexpected. What happens after that will be the interesting part.

Given the fact that Sternberg has said they will reduce the payroll, the decision on how to proceed with Zobrist will be one of the meatier decisions made.

A lot of teams covet Zobrist. He's not your standard utility player, rather a starting position player who plays several positions well -- including shortstop, second base and the outfield. Trading him would not be difficult. and it's likely the return could be significant.

Much of how the Rays go forward could depend on how they feel about Nick Franklin as they head into the offseason.

Franklin came to the Rays from the Mariners in the three-team deal that sent Price to Detroit. He's a switch-hitter with some pop in his bat, and he can play second and short. The Rays are on record as being more enamored with him as a second baseman and what he can do hitting against right-handed pitching. If Zobrist is traded, it's easy to see a Logan Forsythe-Franklin platoon at second. That move would save the team $6 million right away.

Then again, Zobrist is one of the team's best and most popular players. But do the Rays want to tie up almost $20 million of their payroll for Evan Longoria ($11 million in 2015) and Zobrist?

It's likely the Rays will take a wait-and-see approach. They have other contracts they are married to for 2015 that don't look as good as they did heading in '14. Balfour heads that list. He entered the '14 season earmarked to be the team's closer and lost the job through his performance. But the Rays are on the hook to pay him $7 million in '15. Catcher Jose Molina will make $2.75 and outfielder David DeJesus will make $5 million, which is a lot to pay for an outfielder given the other outfielders in the stable. If the Rays can't unload one or two of those contracts, trading Zobrist could be the only solution.

Stay tuned.

Again, the nice part for Rays fans is the fact the pitching is in place. On top of that, the AL East isn't as strong as it's been in seasons past. Thus, with the 2014 season barely in the rearview mirror, it's easy to see the Rays as a contending team in '15.

Arbitration-eligible: OF Matt Joyce, INF/OF Sean Rodriguez, OF Desmond Jennings, INF Forsythe, RHP Hellickson, LHP Cesar Ramos, LHP Smyly, RHP Cobb, LHP McGee.

Free agents: None.

Rotation: Cobb will pitch in the top spot, and underneath him are a host of quality arms that make the Rays' rotation look talented and deep. If the 2015 season began tomorrow, Cobb would be followed in some order by Hellickson, Archer, Smyly and Odorizzi. Karns and Colome will push the competition and Moore is expected back from Tommy John surgery by late May/early June. If there is one starter whose status might be in question it's Hellickson, who made $3.625 million in 2014 and is arbitration eligible. So the Rays might consider trading the right-hander. Then again, the Rays are not prone to trade starting pitching until later in their contractual advancement.

Bullpen: McGee will head into the offseason as the incumbent closer, even though he was never formally anointed as such during the 2014 season. But the left-hander was overpowering in '14 and truly a lockdown closer-type reliever. The only other sure thing for next season is that Boxberger will again be the setup guy, a job he earned this season. The rest of the bullpen has many qualified arms with roles yet to be determined.

Catcher: The Rays would like to see Ryan Hanigan log a healthy season in 2015. After coming to the Rays in a trade prior to the 2014 season, Hanigan had two lengthy stints on the disabled list. In addition to Hanigan, Molina is signed for another season. If for some reason Molina or Hanigan are not ready to go, Curt Casali gained some Major League experience in 2014, and the Rays like the way he catches a game.

First base: James Loney is the personification of the Rays' ideal player. He's smart, has quality at-bats and plays Gold Glove-type defense. While he will get the bulk of the starts at first, there's some question about who will be his backup. Rodriguez played a lot of first base this season, but there's reason to doubt the Rays will bring Rodriguez back at the salary he's likely to make.

Second base: Zobrist is earmarked as the starter. Of course, Zobrist also plays outfield and shortstop -- and there are questions whether the Rays will move him prior to 2015. If indeed Zobrist is no longer with the team -- and even if he is -- there's reason to believe that Franklin, who is a switch-hitter who hits better from the left side, and Forsythe, a right-handed hitter, could share the position.

Shortstop: Yunel Escobar will return at shortstop. Though he did not have as good of a season in 2014 as he did in '13, he's still an everyday shortstop. Franklin can back him up as can Zobrist.

Third base: Longoria remains the face of the team and will again have that status next season. Because he remained healthy all year in 2014, some were surprised that he had a down year offensively and defensively. Given Longoria's talents and drive, don't be surprised to see a huge rebound.

Outfield: What the Rays do in the outfield might be the biggest puzzle as the team heads into the offseason with the following candidates to play significant roles in 2015: Zobrist, Joyce, Jennings, DeJesus, Kevin Kiermaier, Wil Myers, and Brandon Guyer. And pushing from below is Mikie Mahtook, who had a good season at Triple-A Durham. Of the group, several have interesting contract situations. The club has a $7.5 million option for Zobrist, DeJesus will make $5 million, Jennings (who made $517,000 in 2014) is arbitration-eligible for the first time and Joyce (who made $3.7 million in 2014) is again arbitration-eligible. Try sorting that one out.

Designated hitter: Look for the Rays to once again use a DH-by-committee approach. Doing so allows the team to rest position players with a day away from playing the field, and it also conserves payroll while allowing the team to have another fielder on the roster and not a hitting-only player.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Players pack up, uncertain of future with Rays

Peralta, Zobrist among those with options to be picked up for 2015

Players pack up, uncertain of future with Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays cleaned out their lockers on Monday afternoon at Tropicana Field, and as their offseason begins, some players said they know they could be in a different clubhouse next season.

Tampa Bay began 2014 with a franchise-record $82.1 million payroll, and owner Stuart Sternberg has said it will not be as high next year. Trading David Price certainly factors into a lower 2015 budget, but several Rays also have potential salaries that might not be picked up.

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Super utility man Ben Zobrist has a $7.5 million option, but he was the Rays' best player this season with a team-high 5.0 WAR. The club likely wants to keep him around. Another with an option, though, is veteran reliever Joel Peralta, who was ineffective at times in 2014 and would be owed $2.5 million. Peralta said on Monday that he wants to be back next year.

"I hope so, I'm hoping to," Peralta said. "I haven't talked to anybody -- [executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman] and I, we haven't talked. I'm hoping to be back. I want to be here, but I don't know what's gonna happen."

Cuts may also come from among the Rays' nine arbitration-eligible players. Some, like outfielder Matt Joyce and infielder Sean Rodriguez could end up elsewhere, based on subpar performances in 2014, the Rays' situation at their positions and the salaries they'd command.

In Joyce's case, Tampa Bay has a crowded outfield, and the veteran hit only nine home runs this year and didn't play much against left-handed pitchers.

"I wouldn't be surprised either way," Joyce said on Monday. "Obviously, I'd like to be here. I have another year on the contract, and it's my home. ... For right now, I'm still a Tampa Bay Ray. I have every intention of working my butt off and getting ready to stay a Tampa Bay Ray, and come back and have a successful season next year."

Rodriguez struggled at the plate as well this season, batting just .211, and was often relegated to pinch-hitting duty. Plus, infielder Nick Franklin, one of the prospects the Rays got in the Price deal, played well after being called up in September.

"You always hope you're gonna be one of those guys that continues coming back and stays with the team," Rodriguez said. "But that's the nature of the business. It's tough, but you hope for the best, and just prepare for any and everything."

David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays' run production needs improving in 2015

As club heads into offseason, hitting coach Shelton expects to return

Rays' run production needs improving in 2015

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' returned home on Monday with their 77-85 season in the books, never having produced less offense in a season than they did in 2014. An American League-low 612 runs scored were the fewest in franchise history, behind even the inaugural 1998 club's 620.

As the team's offensive woes built over the course of the season, with several players posting numbers below their norms -- Evan Longoria's early-season struggles were especially notable -- hitting coach Derek Shelton became a common target of fans' frustration. But Shelton, who is expected to remain with the Rays, said on Monday that he's OK with that, because it shows their passion.

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"Really? They point the finger?" Shelton jokingly asked when reporters brought up fans' criticism, as the Rays cleaned out their lockers and packed up for the offseason. "If they want to be disappointed or mad because we're not scoring runs, and it's at me, that's fine -- because of the fact that they are passionate about it, and they care, and that's what we want. But we've had some pretty good teams here and we're gonna continue to have good teams here."

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon and the rest of the organization have firmly stood by Shelton, who said he isn't worried about his job security.

"We have continuity," Shelton said. "I don't worry about that. It's something that I know you guys have to ask about, and it gets talked about, but it's not a concern on my mind. My concern is if Joe thinks I do a good job, if [executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman] thinks I do a good job, and the 13 guys that I deal with daily -- and I know they do, so that's not an issue."

But that doesn't mean the season hasn't weighed on Shelton.

"My mind's actually still working," he said. "I didn't sleep very well last night -- I still got some things going through it."

Still, Longoria's second-half turnaround, at least, is a positive sign for the offense looking ahead to 2015. After looking nothing like his usual self for much of the year, Longoria hit 11 homers after the All-Star break with 47 RBIs, only two fewer than AL leader Jose Bautista. Longoria finished the season with 22 homers and 91 RBIs, numbers that at least started to resemble his typical production.

And offensive problems were all around baseball in 2014, when pitching often dominated the game.

"Runs scored are down throughout the Major Leagues," Shelton said. "It's not just us that's struggling to score runs. You look at three teams in the American League East that finished last in the league in runs scored -- that just hasn't happened in the past."

David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cobb, Rays fall short in season finale vs. Tribe

Rodriguez homers, Longo has sac fly in loss

Cobb, Rays fall short in season finale vs. Tribe

CLEVELAND -- A lot of history came into play leading into the Rays' final game of the 2014 season, a 7-2 loss to the Indians at Progressive Field.

Three years ago to the day the Rays won the famous "Game 162" at Tropicana Field against the Yankees, storming back from a 7-0 deficit to win, 8-7, in 12 innings and advance to win the American League Wild Card. In addition, Sunday's Rays starter, Alex Cobb, had not pitched at Progressive Field since he started against the Indians and picked up the win in last season's AL Wild Card Game. Unfortunately for the Rays, the good karma from season's past did not carry over into Sunday's game.

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"They came out swinging it, man," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "They've got some nice young players I've not seen before. We started hitting the ball hard, they did the same thing. They just kept it up and we didn't. And that was the difference in the game."

Sean Rodriguez staked the Rays to a 1-0 lead with a 400-foot home run off of T.J. House to start the second. The Indians answered off Cobb in the bottom half of the inning with solo homers by David Murphy and Zach Walters.

Prior to surrendering the home runs, Cobb had strung together a franchise record 82 1/3 consecutive homerless innings.

Jose Ramirez's sacrifice fly in the fifth pushed the lead to 3-1 before Evan Longoria followed suit with a sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth to cut the lead to two runs.

Walters, who was making his first start in almost two weeks, delivered again in the sixth with an RBI double to left over Brandon Guyer's head to give the Indians a 4-2 lead.

"Cobber's stuff from the side, you didn't see as much swing and miss, so obviously, there was something not quite right," Maddon said. "Two homers tells you something's not quite right, but, nevertheless, battled through that moment."

Contrary to what his manager saw, Cobb felt like he had pretty good stuff. The results were more about the group he faced Sunday.

"I'm facing a team that has a lot of young guys who want to go out there and prove themselves, and they're being extra aggressive," Cobb said. "Put some really good swings on some good pitches, found some holes. Also, when I did miss some pitches, they capitalized pretty heavily on some.

"It wasn't my A-plus stuff, but it was better than Boston stuff [Tuesday when he got the win against the Red Sox]. It was just one of those days where the guys were locked in, trying to really put some good swings on balls. ... It was just one of those days.

The Indians put the game away for good when they scored three in the seventh highlighted by Carlos Santana's two-run single off Jeff Beliveau.

Cobb allowed four earned runs on 10 hits while striking out five to take his ninth loss of the season. By pitching six innings, the right-hander did qualify for the ERA title, finishing the season with a 2.87 mark.

In team history, only David Price in 2012 (2.56 ERA), Price in 2010 (2.72) and James Shields in 2011 (2.82) have recorded better ERAs than Cobb's this season.

Cobb finished with the sixth-best ERA in the American League, but he noted he couldn't appreciate that fact at that particular moment.

"Maybe in the middle of the offseason I will be [able to do so]," Cobb said. "But it's frustrating to end on a note like that. Once I get on the plane I'll start looking back and I'll probably be a little more happy about it."

The Indians finished the season at 85-77. Cleveland manager Terry Francona put the finale in perspective.

"That's always the hardest one," Francona said. "You go 100 mph since Feb. 10 or whatever, and you're with this group all day every day and then, all of a sudden, it comes to a crashing halt and you go home. That's always the hardest one to kind of process. I thought they did a really good job of playing right up to the end, even today."

The Rays finished 77-85, a record representing a disappointing finish given the high expectations for this season's squad.

"It's not good," said Maddon of the 85 losses. "We don't like it at all. It's been an awkward year. We had a lot of really good things happen. The bad thing is we lost 85 games. There's been some wonderful individual performances. There's been a lot of growth with different players. But there are different things we need to iron out before next season."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Maddon entering final year of contract

Manager hopes for longevity at position

Maddon entering final year of contract

CLEVELAND -- Rays manager Joe Maddon will be entering the final year of his contract in 2015 after signing a three-year extension worth $6 million on Feb. 15, 2012.

When asked about his situation, Maddon said, "I can easily see myself managing for another 10 years."

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Maddon turns 61 in February, so he said in order to continue managing he needs to take care of himself physically.

"Talk about diet, talk about rest ... those are the components I need to do this for several more years," Maddon said. "That's what I intend to do. We'll see how the contract situation works out. I love being here. I always want to be here. But I truly believe it's up to me to take care of myself to reach my goals."

Maddon made it clear that he likes managing the Rays. He allowed that having a deal in place by next spring was not a necessity, nor should anybody read anything into his situation if he does not have a new deal.

"It's between the organization and myself, talking to the guys," Maddon said. "If they're ready to move forward, then we'll talk about it.

"... I believe organically the right thing will occur. I place my faith in that. The people I work with, the people I trust, I put my faith in that area."

Maddon took over as the Rays manager following the '05 season.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Longo focused on improving at plate in '15

Longo focused on improving at plate in '15

CLEVELAND -- Rays manager Joe Maddon has talked a lot lately about the lack of offense in baseball and that the Rays are looking to uncover something new to help give them an offensive edge.

Evan Longoria did not have the offensive season he hoped for in 2014, despite managing to play in all 162 games for the first time in his career. He smiled when asked if he had any thoughts about what the team needs to do to be better on offense.

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"I could hit better," Longoria said. "That's pretty much my focus. I think when we talk so much that baseball is a team game, but at the end of itself, it's kind of selfish. You, yourself, you have to produce and do what you're capable of doing. And at times, I didn't do what I was capable of doing.

"I think we all need to take a look in the mirror during the offseason and understand what kind of players we are and be able to come back next year and try and fulfill those obligations, or what we're expected to do offensively, individually. I think if we can do that, then as a team we'll be better."

Many believe hitting is harder now than ever before given a lot of different factors. Longoria was asked if hitting seems harder than when he first got to the Major Leagues in '08.

"There's just a lot more information," Longoria said. "I think that any time there's more information out there it becomes more difficult. And the pitching is getting better. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Longoria did not hesitate when answering when asked if he thought any one thing on offense needs to get better in '15.

"The runner at third with less than two outs," Longoria said. "We were really bad at it the first half of the year and we have looked at the numbers from time to time. We picked it up the second half, and you could see that in terms of wins and losses.

"I think that we were better the second half in that middle portion, and it was because we were getting those guys in or at least moving the ball and not striking out. Putting the ball in play and giving ourselves an opportunity to get the guy in."

Longoria accepted responsibility for some of the club's inability to score runners from third with less than two outs.

"For a good part of the first half, I couldn't even put the ball in play with a runner at third and less than two out," Longoria said. "It's an ongoing topic with an offensive unit.

"What do you have to do to get the job done? Put a bunt down, or if the infield's in, hit a fly ball. Just put the ball in play in general. ... I think mentally we need to do a better job in those situations."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Maddon doesn't expect changes to coaching staff

Manager defends performance of hitting coach Shelton, others

Maddon doesn't expect changes to coaching staff

CLEVELAND -- Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked Saturday if he expected any changes to his coaching staff prior to the 2015 season.

"I do not," Maddon replied.

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Maddon noted that he felt like his staff "did a great job this year."

"Really good job," Maddon said. "That's the thing, man. I know that Shelty [hitting coach Derek Shelton] takes a lot of heat, but again, this guy works within the framework of the organization extremely well."

According to Maddon, Shelton is "one of the best workers" he's been around, he's diligent about "everything he does" and has a good rapport with the players.

"So again, what else can you ask for?" Maddon said.

Maddon allowed that he understands fans wanting to blame a coach after looking at the number of times the Rays have been shut out this season, along with some of the other negative offensive numbers accrued.

"But I'm here to tell you he does a great job," Maddon said. "And at the end of the day it's about the players. It's about players and players playing well because our coaching staff does a great job of preparation."

Maddon said it is a misconception to think that another coach would make a big difference because a new coach would still be working within the organization's framework.

"Shelty works within our framework really well," Maddon said. "... At the end of the day, all of the work that he does really reflects the organizational philosophy and what we believe in."

Maddon was a Minor League hitting coach at one time, which taught him about the physical and mental grind that comes with the position.

"[Shelton] does it really, really well," Maddon said. "... From the actual results, the players will tell you, I think up to the man, that it's up to them to provide better results. When it comes to the information side or the physical working side, I'm not going to get an any more attentive or better hitting coach."

When asked to identify what the organization's hitting philosophy is all about, Maddon replied: "It's always about getting the pitch you like and hitting it hard and keeping it fair. It's about not expanding your strike zone. It's about organizing your strike zone. It's about being willing to accept your walks."

Maddon went on to note that much of the difficulty of getting hitters to improve is trying to change the nature of the beast. Simplified, it's not easy to get an aggressive hitter to be more patient or a patient hitter to be more aggressive.

"To try and teach those things on the Major League level is very difficult, almost impossible," Maddon said. "Because the glare of the spotlight is on you here to really readjust what you've been doing for the past five, 10 or 15 years is difficult.

"So coming into it, we look for guys that fit that mold. For the guys who are here, we can attempt to refine that a bit. But it's difficult."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays prospect Colome stifles Tribe

Righty earns second win in final start with 6 1/3 scoreless innings

Rays prospect Colome stifles Tribe

CLEVELAND -- Alex Colome presents a pleasant problem for the 2015 Rays: Should he be used as a starter or a reliever? All clubs should have such weighty decisions.

Saturday night, Colome made a compelling case to continue starting in the Rays' 2-0 win over the Indians at Progressive Field. The win ensured that the Rays -- who went 36-45 at Tropicana Field this season -- will have a winning record on the road.

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Colome has started virtually all of his career. Of his 141 Minor League appearances, 137 have been starts. And he's made eight Major League appearances, of which six have been starts.

Given that body of work, the reasonable decision would be to keep Colome on the same path. Complications come in the fact he's out of options, which means he must be on the 25-man roster at the start of the 2015 season or else the Rays would be at risk of losing him trying to send him back to Triple-A Durham for another season.

Looking at the starting pitching candidates for next season doesn't improve Colome's chances of being a starter, either. The Rays will have Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi, with Matt Moore scheduled to return from Tommy John surgery in June, followed by Nate Karns and Colome. Based on that backup, Colome looks like he's headed for the bullpen if none of the group gets traded or comes up injured.

What Colome showed against the Indians Saturday night would play well in the rotation, or out of the bullpen. The 25-year-old Dominican right-hander experienced no bumps in a 6 1/3, 79-pitch outing, holding the Indians scoreless on four hits and a walk while striking out six to move to 2-0 on the season.

Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to remove Colome after he retired Yan Gomes, the leadoff hitter in the seventh.

"I thought after we got that out on Gomes, I wanted to get him out," Maddon said. "He's going to leave. He's going to go home feeling really good about himself. I did not want anything negative to happen to him tonight. He did a great job."

Colome said he was more comfortable starting than he is coming out of the bullpen, but he wants to be in the Major Leagues next season.

"I will show up at Spring Training, whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do my best," Colome said.

After getting shut out Friday night and striking out 12 times, Tampa Bay continued to struggle offensively Saturday night against Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco. But the Rays did take advantage of their opportunities.

Carrasco held the Rays hitless and scoreless through three innings before David DeJesus scratched out an infield single to start the fourth. Evan Longoria then reached on a botched force attempt at second when third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall's throw went into right field. DeJesus moved to third on the play, and one out later he scored on Wil Myers' single to right.

In the eighth, Ben Zobrist led off with a single, stole second and moved to third on a groundout. After Longoria grounded to shortstop for the second out of the inning, Marc Rzepczynski took over for Carrasco and James Loney greeted him with an infield single that drove home Zobrist and put the Rays up, 2-0.

Carrasco held the Rays to one earned run on four hits and three walks while striking out 10, but he took his seventh loss of the season.

"The runs he gave up, the first run was an infield hit," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We get the double play ball and throw it away, so it's first and third, nobody out and they haven't hit the ball out of the infield. And he limits them to one run, throws 19 pitches and then continues on. That speaks volumes in itself."

Myers smiled when asked why Carrasco was so effective.

"Well, he was throwing 97 with movement," Myers said. "Any time you can do that, it's pretty good."

Rays hitters had just five hits Saturday night following Friday night's performance when they also amassed just five hits. But this time they came away with timely hits and earned a win.

"Fortuitous in a sense," Maddon said. "We've been challenged in that regard."

The Rays have now been involved in 40 shutouts this season, posting a 22-18 mark in those games.

"Our guys have been pretty darn good," Maddon said. "It's part of the baseball fabric. ... Pitching's getting good."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Archer falls short in pitchers' duel with Kluber

Righty gets hard-luck loss after 7 2/3 strong innings in last start of '14

Archer falls short in pitchers' duel with Kluber

CLEVELAND -- Joe Maddon reminisced prior to Friday night's game against the Indians at Progressive Field. A year ago, the Rays had played the Indians in a one-game playoff and came away winners to advance to the Division Series against the Red Sox. The setting had been magical, the outcome terrific -- why, Larry King even called the Rays manager.

King did not call on Friday, and the Rays had little at stake other than pride, but they continued to play hard, even if they did lose, 1-0, to a team whose postseason hopes were still alive.

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The Rays have played 39 games decided by a shutout this season, which is the most by any Major League team since the 1968 Indians played in 43 such contests. They have won 21.

Corey Kluber started for the Indians, and the right-hander put forth a compelling argument for why he should be given serious consideration for the American League Cy Young Award.

"Once [Kluber] gets ahead he just goes right at you, attacks you," said Kevin Kiermaier, who was the only Rays player to reach as far as third base after hitting a two-out triple in the fifth. "... The four-seamers are 97 and he throws two-seamers that are 93-95.

"It's tough because you don't know what's coming at you. He always has you guessing and you can't give up on certain pitches, and he did a good job tonight of really mowing us down with all four pitches that he has."

Kluber struck out the side in the first, and by the end of the seventh he had struck out nine Rays hitters. Ryan Hanigan became Kluber's ninth victim when he went down looking with two aboard to end the seventh.

Not only did Hanigan's strikeout end one of the Rays' only legitimate threats, it also tied the Indians' staff with the 2013 Tigers for the most strikeouts in a single season.

Kluber struck out David DeJesus for the second out in the eighth to establish a new Major League strikeout record.

"He was getting a lot of early 0-2, 1-2 counts," Maddon said. "Elevated fastball was his friend."

Meanwhile, Chris Archer made his final start of the season for the Rays and pitched beautifully.

"[Archer] had everything going," Maddon said. "Utilized the changeup. Everything kept getting better, and I like when that happens game in progress."

Unfortunately for Archer and the Rays, he served up a solo home run to Jose Ramirez in the first. The way Kluber was carving up the Rays, one run looked like more than enough.

And it was.

Kluber allowed five hits while striking out 11 and walking two in eight innings to earn his 18th win of the season. Cody Allen pitched the ninth to preserve the win and record his 24th save.

"Early on, it was the fastball," said Kluber of his outing. "I think that set up more of the offspeed stuff late. Overall, I think the big thing was mixing up speeds on them. They were really aggressive at certain points in the game, so we were kind of taking advantage of that. We got some easy outs, first pitches, things like that, by just mixing up speeds."

Archer celebrated his 26th birthday Friday night and deserved a better fate than his ninth loss given his performance. When Archer left the game with two outs in the eighth, he reached the dugout, where Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey met him.

"When I came out, that's the first thing Hickey said, 'Start to finish, that was the best one of the season,'" Archer said. "And I've had some really good games this year. I've actually pitched deeper into some games this year. But it stinks because the first objective for a starting pitcher is to get a team win."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cobb, Rays talk length of games

Cobb, Rays talk length of games

CLEVELAND -- Time of game is on the front burner for Major League Baseball to study as it has put together a committee to find ways to shorten game times. The Rays lead the Major Leagues in length of game, averaging 3 hours, 12 minutes and 40 seconds per game.

Rays right-hander Alex Cobb said he was all for "whatever makes the game more popular."

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"If the speed of game captures kids' attention a little more, there's more action, I completely understand," Cobb said. "It's going to be tough to do that without bothering some of the players' routines during the game.

"They're going to have to do things like expand the strike zone a little bit -- not expand it, but call strikes strikes. Just get the guys to swing the bats a little quicker. Stepping out of the box, walking around the mound, stuff like that might have to be altered a little bit. That could really bother some of the players."

Cobb believes some players go overboard following their routines, which can add time to the games. He also noted that more pitchers could do their fielders a favor by "getting the ball and throwing it."

"Because the less standing around they do, their feet don't get that cement-like feeling, like they've got bricks on their feet," Cobb said. "They don't get heavy. It can be tiring just standing there waiting and they throw ball, ball, ball. It gets a little bothersome out there for them. There's a few things they can do."

Rays manager Joe Maddon recently noted that the time of game issue is "a much bigger issue for everybody else than it is for me."

"So I would be the wrong guy to talk to about it," Maddon said. "I don't understand or necessarily see where the times are going to come from. … To make the games 15 minutes quicker and think that's going to make it more attractive, I don't understand."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays routed by rookies in Red Sox lineup

Hellickson struggles in short outing in his season finale

Rays routed by rookies in Red Sox lineup

BOSTON -- A Major Leaguer's first career home run is always is a special moment.

Three up-and-coming Red Sox players enjoyed said special moments in two nights, compliments of a generous Rays staff. Two of those special moments occurred in the Rays' 11-1 loss to the Red Sox in Thursday night's rubber game of their three-game series at Fenway Park.

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"Give them credit, they totally beat us up tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "...We didn't pitch well."

The high numbers on the backs of the players fueling the Red Sox's suddenly potent offense were familiar to those seen in the late innings of Grapefruit League games when the Minor Leaguers clean up for the Major Leaguers, who head to the golf course.

"They're nice, but they haven't seen our best pitchers either, that's part of it, too," Maddon said. "...I like them, don't get me wrong. That kid [Mookie] Betts [No. 50], interesting, really interesting. The other guys, I don't know exactly where they fit in to their plans for next year, but they're nice. They're really nice."

Wednesday night Garin Cecchini, No. 70, connected for his first Major League home run in the Red Sox's 11-3 win. Christian Vazquez, No. 55, and Rusney Castillo, No. 38, connected Thursday night. All told, the Red Sox started seven rookies Wednesday night and started seven again Thursday.

Jeremy Hellickson started for the Rays, hoping to end a strange season on a high note. The Rays right-hander had right-elbow surgery in January and did not join the team until July 8. Though pain-free following the surgery, Hellickson struggled to find consistency for most of his 12 starts heading into his season finale. Unfortunately for Hellickson, No. 13 was not a lucky one.

After Hellickson surrendered a sacrifice fly to Daniel Nava in the first to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead, Ben Zobrist tied the score with an RBI single in the top of the second. The night went downhill for Hellickson and the Rays after that.

Vazquez connected on a 3-2 Hellickson offering with two out in the second and when the ball landed over the Green Monster, the Red Sox had a 3-1 lead.

In the third, Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig connected for back-to-back one out singles. Cespedes then stole third before Cecchini reached on a fielding error by first baseman James Loney. Cespedes scored on the play and Hellickson got an early shower.

"It just got away quickly," Maddon said. "Helly was having a hard time."

Steve Geltz took over and Castillo feasted on the first pitch he saw, sending a ball over the Green Monster for a three-run homer to give the Red Sox a 7-1 lead.

Hellickson's final line showed five earned runs on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings to move to 1-5 on the season with a 4.52 ERA. The start marked the fourth start by a Rays pitcher of less than three innings this season while marking the shortest start of Hellickson's career.

Hellickson felt like he had good stuff and command warming up for Thursday night's start. He allowed that he was somewhat puzzled that he didn't fare better and gave some credit to the Boston hitters.

"Yeah, they hit some good pitches," Hellickson said. "And obviously, Vasquez got a mistake. Honestly I felt really good and thought my command was really good. I don't know, it shouldn't have been like that the way I felt."

Hellickson couldn't hide the disappointment of having to wear Thursday night's start heading into the offseason.

"I definitely wanted to go out on a good note," Hellickson said. "It will be nice to have a full offseason, get stronger. In the past, I felt like when the game went on I got stronger. I haven't felt like that this year. I feel like those long innings that just drag on, I just get tired. That's never happened to me before. It's definitely how I wanted to end this season."

Allen Webster got the win for the Red Sox as the rookie right-hander -- wearing No. 64 -- allowed one run on seven hits in seven innings to move to 5-3 on the season.

"He started to use his four-seamer a little bit more, which he's able to keep on the plate and go to an area in the strike zone to get a strike when needed and it enables him to use his two-seamer with some added action rather than trying to fight back into the count all the time," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

While the numbers on the backs of the young Red Sox sluggers -- and their starting pitcher -- suggested a bus ride back to Fort Myers following a Grapefruit League game in Port Charlotte, there's a good chance the next time the Rays see the likes of Cecchini, Castillo and Vazquez they all will be wearing lower numbers.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Escobar has MRI on knee, no structural damage revealed

Escobar has MRI on knee, no structural damage revealed

BOSTON -- Yunel Escobar had an MRI on his injured left knee Thursday and the news was good. He has a bruise, but no structural damage.

The Rays shortstop flew home to the Tampa Bay area on Wednesday after injuring his left knee during the third inning of Tuesday's 6-2 win against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

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"Bruise in the knee," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Not unlike what happened to Desmond [Jennings]. So he's out for the rest of the season. He went back there. They did the MRI. Nothing was horrible. But bad enough where he cannot play anymore."

Escobar will finish the season on a five-game hitting streak and his final numbers will include a .258 batting average with seven home runs and 39 RBIs.

Maddon felt like Escobar came on strong toward the end of the season.

"I thought his last month was pretty good," said Maddon, noting that Escobar played better after the rumor that he was getting traded to Oakland was explained to him as just a rumor. "After everything settled down with the Oakland-Gate, with all that stuff going on. That was a tough moment, because he really didn't understand all of that. Once we were able to explain everything to him, he started slowly getting better. Then I thought he played really well after that. Offense and defense."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Odorizzi, bullpen unable to slow Red Sox

With loss, Rays will finish under .500 for first time since 2007

Odorizzi, bullpen unable to slow Red Sox

BOSTON -- A losing campaign came to fruition for the Rays Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

An 11-3 loss to the Red Sox was the Rays' 82nd defeat of the season, insuring that they will finish with their first losing season since 2007, snapping a six-year run of prosperity.

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"It's no fun to be in this position," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've talked about it. We don't like it, I don't like it. But it also speaks to the consistency of the group and really the motivation to get back to where we had been. For us it's not acceptable. We expect to be in the playoffs on an annual basis. We expect to vie for the World Series on an annual basis. It did not happen this year. And we've got to figure it out."

Many forecast this year's Rays collection as a team that could contend for a spot in the World Series. Maddon allowed that the results were surprising given the expectations.

"Yes, but so many things went awry," Maddon said. "... Just overall performance didn't match up some times that we thought we were going to see, just a strange year."

Jake Odorizzi started for the Rays and carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the second. That's when the Rays' right-hander got the first taste of the offensive verve of the Red Sox.

Garin Cecchini homered to lead off the inning, giving Cecchini his first Major League home run. Xander Bogaerts then tied the score at 2 with a sacrifice fly later in the inning.

Odorizzi silenced the Red Sox in the third before Boston got busy again in the fourth. This time they did irreparable damage to the Rays' hopes for a win.

Bryce Brentz doubled to center field to begin the Red Sox's big inning. Odorizzi then walked Christian Vazquez and surrendered a single to Mookie Betts, prompting Rays manager Joe Maddon to bring in Brandon Gomes with the bases loaded.

Bogaerts greeted Gomes with a two-run single to left then Daniel Nava doubled home two more. A wild pitch by Gomes allowed the Red Sox's fifth run of the inning to score to extend their lead to 7-2.

"I felt like I was pretty rusty," Odorizzi said. "I hadn't pitched in a while. ... I just didn't feel comfortable. Didn't really have good bite on my pitches and they did a good job of taking pitches, offspeed pitches that were over the plate, but over the zone. They worked good at-bats."

Odorizzi experienced a remarkable turnaround this season. After going 2-7 with a 5.31 ERA in his first 12 starts, he righted his ship by going 9-6 with a 3.27 ERA in his next 18. Wednesday night did not reflect that improvement as Odorizzi matched his season low for innings pitched while taking his 13th loss of the season.

"Disappointed more than anything," said Odorizzi of his outing. "This is the outing I have to take into the offseason. Use it as motivation, really. It's a terrible way to end the season. It's disappointing. And it kind of overshadows a year that was up and down, but I made a lot of strides. ... Going forward there's a lot of things I improved on. I can be a lot better pitcher next year from what I've learned this year."

The Red Sox kept their foot on the accelerator, pouring on more in the sixth.

Kirby Yates walked Rusney Castillo to force home Boston's first run of the inning. Steve Geltz replaced Yates with the bases loaded. After striking out Brentz, Geltz issued two bases-loaded walks forcing home the second and third runs of the inning. Geltz threw a wild pitch on the second bases-loaded walk, which allowed a second run to score to push the Boston's lead to 11-2.

Three bases-loaded walks in a single inning proved to be a first for the Rays and tied the club record for most bases-loaded walks in a game set on July 5, 2007, also against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox started seven rookies Wednesday night and eight of their nine players in the field in the ninth were rookies.

"They're a talented group," said Boston manager John Farrell of his fresh-faced group. "We've got an opportunity in September to get some experience."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Casali takes two foul tips to mask, exits with concussion

Casali takes two foul tips to mask, exits with concussion

BOSTON -- Rays catcher Curt Casali had to leave Wednesday's 11-3 loss after taking two foul tips off his mask.

According to the Rays, the rookie catcher suffered a concussion and will continue to be monitored in the coming days.

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"That got him pretty good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "First one hit him and we were concerned. And the second one definitely took him to the canvas. ... He was visably not doing too good."

Brandon Gomes was pitching to Rusney Castillo with two outs in the fourth inning of the Rays-Red Sox contest when Castillo fouled one of Gomes' offerings into Casali's mask. The foul ball that forced Casali out of the game was the second he took to the catcher's mask in the at-bat.

Casali went down behind home plate and was quickly joined by a Rays trainer and Maddon. After they talked briefly with Casali, they ushered him away from the field.

Veteran receiver Jose Molina came took over behind the plate.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Maddon praises Myers' defense at Fenway

Maddon praises Myers' defense at Fenway

BOSTON -- Wil Myers has been a standout on defense of late. During the last homestand the Rays' right fielder made a leaping catch at the wall, then Tuesday night against the Red Sox, he made a diving catch and later a nice running catch that took him deep into the right-field corner.

"I think the ghost of Dewey Myers has been out there the last couple of days," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I mean the play diving in there and the one in the corner was really reminiscent of [former Red Sox great Dwight Evans' play in] the '75 World Series."

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Maddon complimented Myers for how hard he's worked on his defense.

"It's something we really impressed on him during Spring Training," Maddon said. "The catch at home. Those two catches last night. He understands that we're looking for the complete baseball player. And he's really worked at it."

Myers endured a fielding gaffe at Fenway Park during last year's American League Division Series between the Rays and Red Sox. Myers noted that he does not carry any baggage from that play and that he's simply concentrated on just making the plays on defense.

"The biggest thing is just being ready every single pitch," Myers said. "It's not like I'm a terrible outfielder. I think a lot of people remember what happened last year in Boston, so everybody thinks I'm a bad outfielder. It's just being ready each and every pitch and taking better routes to the balls. The biggest thing is, I'm getting better jumps right now."

When asked if he knew who Evans was, Myers replied: "No idea."

When told that Maddon had called him "Dewey Myers" as a compliment, Myers smiled and said, "Thanks, Joe."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays erupt late, support Cobb's impressive outing

Zobrist hits go-ahead 2B in big eighth; righty allows one run in seven

Rays erupt late, support Cobb's impressive outing

BOSTON -- Alex Cobb didn't have his best stuff, the right-hander just had positive results Tuesday night, and the bats came alive late to lead the Rays to a 6-2 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The win kept alive the Rays' (76-81) chances of finishing .500, which can only happen if the team wins its remaining five games.

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Cobb entered Tuesday with the best ERA in the Major Leagues since the All-Star break at 1.51. And nothing he did on the mound suggested that was a statistical anomaly.

First Cobb bypassed Jake McGee's club record of 76 consecutive innings without allowing a home run in the third inning. Multitasking, Cobb was also working on a no-hitter and a shutout.

Cobb held the Red Sox scoreless and hitless for 3 2/3 innings before Yoenis Cespedes broke the spell with an infield single off first baseman James Loney's glove. Daniel Nava followed with a double to center to score Cespedes to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.

That would be all Boston could muster against Tampa Bay's ace, who allowed just five hits, two walks and three strikeouts en route to his 10th win, lowering his season's ERA to 2.75 and his ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break to 1.49. Cobb has won at least 10 games in each of the last three seasons, becoming the sixth different pitcher in Tampa Bay history with double-digit wins in at least three years with the club.

Ironically, Cobb said he had to battle given his stuff, or lack thereof.

"I knew early on it was one of those nights where I didn't have my best stuff, but one thing I've started to learn as I've gotten more experience is that I can go out and battle without my best stuff," Cobb said. "Once you get that confidence and you're able to figure out how you're going to maneuver throughout the entire game of trying to get positive results, you go out there with a little more confidence with what you have."

Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz pitched seven scoreless innings before the Rays got busy in a five-run eighth.

Nick Franklin drew a leadoff walk and one out later, Brandon Guyer got hit by a pitch. With two outs, Ben Zobrist doubled to left -- on a ball that Cespedes appeared to have -- to drive home two for a 2-1 lead.

"I had known I was done at that point," Cobb said. "Even tracking that ball the whole way, I thought Cespedes had a good bead on it. It was one of those deflating then exciting moments within a few seconds."

Tuesday night, the Green Monster simply bit the home team.

"The wall is something that every new outfielder, every new left fielder that comes in here has to contend with," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "And through games played and repitition, and understanding his space, in left field, we're confident that will continue to gain some comfort with it. Unfortunately, it was timely tonight."

David DeJesus singled home another and Loney added a two-run single to put the Rays up, 5-1.

The Rays' runs against Buchholz snapped the club's 29-inning scoreless streak against him.

"Typically we have no chance against him and then all of a sudden, things just broke loose," Maddon said. "... [Zobrist] had a really good day. Zo had not had any luck against Buchholz historically."

Zobrist wasn't even scheduled to start, but Kevin Kiermaier felt ill, so Zobrist started in center field. Zobrist entered the game 4-for-36 with one extra-base hit in his career against Buchholz. Tuesday night, he went 3-for-4 against him.

"Go figure," Maddon said.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Humbled Guerrieri prepared to fulfill potential

Tommy John recovery nearly complete, Rays prospect focusing on maturity

Humbled Guerrieri prepared to fulfill potential

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- A step backward isn't always bad. For a pitcher with special talents who needed to mature, it might actually be a blessing.

Heading into the 2013 season, Taylor Guerrieri appeared to be on the fast track in the Rays' organization. The right-hander had three quality pitches, including a true "yellow hammer," or a curve that drops off the table.

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A curveball is almost old school these days, given the propensity of pitchers who opt for the easier-to-learn slider. Guerrieri's curve came to him the old fashioned way: He played catch with his father in the yard.

"It was kind of self taught," Guerrieri said. "My dad and I would always play catch, and I would kind of spin some curveballs using this funky grip."

Guerrieri couldn't find a baseball to demonstrate his grip to a visitor, so he showed how he stacks one finger on top of another to grip the pitch.

"I've had that same curveball since I was about 13 years old," said Guerrieri, flashing a lazy grin.

Guerrieri was selected by Tampa Bay out of Spring Valley (S.C.) High School with the 24th overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. In his first full season in the organization, Guerrieri went 1-2 with a 1.04 ERA across 12 starts for Class A Short-Season Hudson Valley. Guerrieri struck out 45 and walked just five in 52 innings.

"When he was pitching for Hudson Valley [in 2012], you saw superior stuff and 'Major Leagues' written all over him," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "He has plus-plus stuff. Plus-plus fastball, curveball and changeup. And he showed that that year in Hudson Valley."

Guerrieri had a different look the following year at Class A Bowling Green.

"He wasn't the same at Bowling Green," Lukevics said. "You wondered if something was going on. You ask him, and he tells you he feels all right."

Something seemingly had to be wrong, and something was.

"My elbow was kind of bothering me," Guerrieri said. "There were a lot of times when I was afraid to throw the curveball because I was scared the elbow was going to go. So I was fastball-changeup. And when I did throw my curveball, I hit [10] guys with it. It wasn't much of an out pitch. I kind of just put it in my back pocket. Finally, it just went."

Guerrieri's right elbow needed Tommy John surgery -- not exactly the kind of news a 20-year-old pitcher wants to hear, particularly one who chose to play professionally rather than go the college route.

"It's difficult [to face]," Guerrieri said. "Surgery is definitely not anything a young athlete wants to go through. You'd love to have just a clean slate of health."

Tommy John surgery is perceived almost as a way station before pitchers head back to the mound stronger than before. That perception lives for everybody except those having the surgery.

"A lot of people will say they've perfected it, but everybody handles it differently," Guerrieri said. "I know some guys in the system who have had it and had no setbacks. Another 50 percent of the guys have had it and it's an 18-month process instead of 12. It's completely different for different guys."

Guerrieri ranks No. 3 on Tampa Bay's Top 20 Prospects list, so there were obvious concerns about the risk involved with his surgery, and other concerns followed when he was handed a 50-game suspension for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Guerrieri already had somewhat of a bad boy reputation, which many speculated was the reason the Rays were able to draft someone with his talent so late in the first round. The suspension only added to the idea that Guerrieri needed to clean up his act.

"One of the things with these young high school kids -- for the most part, they have a lot of growing up to do," Lukevics said. "When Taylor got here, he had a lot of growing up to do."

Guerrieri understands the reputation he's earned, and he knows his only option is to wear it.

"I'm just really trying to stay positive throughout this whole process," Guerrieri said. "I'm always going to be that guy now. I put myself in that situation, and I'm just going to try and move past it."

Lukevics did not make excuses for Guerrieri's mistakes, but he did allow that "kids make mistakes."

"We continue to try and educate our players prior, during and after," Lukevics said. "And what takes place, we tell them, 'You made a mistake, young man. Make good on it. You have your whole life ahead of you, a whole career ahead of you. Is this what you really want in life? If so, make good on the task at hand and move forward.'"

Guerrieri now appears to be doing just that. He has served his suspension and is in the final stages of his elbow rehab. The right-hander should be ready to go by Spring Training, and when Guerrieri takes the mound again, he will move forward with a fresh perspective and a greater appreciation for what he does for a living.

"I want to stay healthy," Guerrieri said. "I never want to go through this process again. And I've made great strides in my work ethic, my personality, too. Being injured will definitely humble you. All around, I would say it's a good thing that it happened."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Maddon, Rays searching for new offensive edge

After leading the way on defense, club brainstorming creative strategies

Maddon, Rays searching for new offensive edge

ST. PETERSBURG -- When Joe Maddon, Andrew Friedman and company joined the Rays prior to the 2006 season, they brought a wealth of ideas along with an eagerness to try them out in an untapped frontier.

Among those ideas were advanced metrics and shifting on defense. Primarily, the ideas helped thwart the offenses of opposing teams. Since that beginning, the Rays have seen their ideas pay off with unprecedented winning by the franchise and the purest form of flattery -- imitation.

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The imitation has been particularly obvious where defensive shifts are concerned. Now, the Rays are getting bit by some of the ideas they came up with, leaving them to look for the next great idea to help them win.

Maddon doesn't know what the next great idea is or from where it will derive, but he knows that the thinking needs to be directed toward offense.

"It's becoming an industry-wide situation," Maddon said. "Offenses. It's gone backwards. The next big frontier is to figure that out. How do you generate offense in 2015 like you did several years ago, when we were able to combine pitching and defense with victories because we got up one-run plus as opposed to one-run minus.

"Already talked to the guys. The biggest offseason exercise for me is to come up with ideas for how you garner that one extra run, that two extra runs that we were unable to come up with this year."

Maddon posed the question: "What do you do to where the hitter gains an advantage?"

"The hitter's at a total disadvantage right now," Maddon said. "And there's no advantages on the horizon. I don't see it. That's why it's going to take a lot of creative thinking.

"It could be just going back maybe to something that had been done before. I'm not sure. But right now, offense is going south, and it's going to continue going south based on pitching and defense. Everything, data, video, all the information benefits them over offense."

Maddon pointed at the state of relief pitching as a major contributing factor to the lack of offense.

"It's really at an all-time physical high," Maddon said. "You get guys out of the bullpen. You're able to match up at a high velocity. It's really unusual. So I think game in progress you used to always want to get the starter out of the game to get to the bullpen. I think it's almost going to where you better beat up on that starter before you get to the bullpen.

"And I've always talked about winning the seven-inning game. You have to try and score first and score last. Try to win it in seven. You might have to win it in six. We're at the point now where teams have three or four good backside guys. So all those things are becoming more prominent or important. Win the game early then just hold on."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays stymied by Danks in home finale

Karns gives up three home runs; offense hitless until sixth inning

Rays stymied by Danks in home finale

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field never felt like home sweet dome in 2014, and that seemed to be the simple message reiterated on Sunday as the White Sox defeated the Rays, 10-5, to cap the Rays' home schedule.

The Rays finished with a 36-45 home record, their worst mark since 2003 (also 36-45) and tied for the fourth-worst home record in club history. Since becoming the "Rays" in 2008, they had never gone worse than 46-35 at home until this season.

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"That's the part that is hard to understand," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We're actually slightly over the top on the road and well under at home. We made hay at home in the past. That's how we really became as good as we are. But there's where this season literally went upside down. There is no explanation from me."

The Rays fell to 75-81 on the season. With six games remaining, the Rays will not experience a winning season for the first time since 2007.

Nate Karns made his second start of the season for the Rays and his first at Tropicana Field. And things did not flow as smoothly for the rookie right-hander as they did in his first appearance for the Rays on Sept. 12 in Toronto when he picked up the win after tossing seven scoreless innings. Karns surrendered a leadoff home run to Avisail Garcia to start the second. The damage got trebled when Karns hit the next batter Dayan Viciedo and Jordan Danks followed with a single before Marcus Semien homered to left to give the White Sox a 4-0 lead.

Karns found trouble again in the sixth when Garcia led off the inning with his second home run of the game. Viciedo then singled to chase Karns.

"At times, I missed my spots, and they took advantage of that, but I have to [tip my cap]," Karns said. "I think the three-run home run was a pitch off the plate. He did a great job keeping his hands in, and that's how it goes sometimes. The hitters are going to take a pitch and make good."

Karns' departure provided an opportunity for the Rays to take a look at right-hander Alex Colome coming out of the bullpen.

Jordan Danks greeted Colome with a single and the inning went downhill from there. By the time the Rays could mint the third out,the White Sox had scored six runs on six hits and a walk.

Karns' final line showed six earned runs on five hits and two walks in five-plus innings, and Colome's showed four earned runs on four hits and a walk in one inning, adding up to a 10-0 White Sox lead.

"Karns had a tough night," Maddon said. "And Colome, just trying to get him out there to see what he looked like. And I'm not going to draw any conclusions whatsoever about that. Just a bad day."

Maddon added that the White Sox hitters had something to say about the way the Rays pitched Sunday.

"They've got some really talented hitters on that team, I'm here to tell you," Maddon said. "Offensively, they're a good ballclub."

After Chicago's turn at bat in the sixth, the only remaining suspense was whether John Danks could spin a no-hitter.

Brandon Guyer answered that question with a one-out double to left. Kevin Kiermaier drove in a run with a groundout and Wil Myers legged out an infield hit -- that was awarded after a challenge -- to drive home another, cutting the White Sox lead to 10-2.

John Danks allowed two runs on two hits and three walks while striking out five in six innings to earn his 10th win.

"That was fun," Danks said. "We got in a nice little rhythm and were able to get some quick outs, which helps. Really, the walks were the only thing that's a little bothersome. All in all, it was a good day."

Curt Casali added an RBI double off Matt Lindstrom in the seventh to cut the lead to 10-3, and Guyer brought home a pair of runs with a single in the ninth against Daniel Webb.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Home field not an advantage for Rays in 2014

Club in position to finish with losing mark at Trop, winning road record

Home field not an advantage for Rays in 2014

ST. PETERSBURG -- Sunday afternoon will bring the Rays' home finale against the White Sox in a 1:40 p.m. ET contest at Tropicana Field.

The Rays will finish with a losing record at home in 2014 -- they began play Saturday with a 35-44 home record -- while they have a good chance to finish with a winning record on the road since they head into the final six games of the season at Boston and Cleveland with a 39-36 mark away from home.

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One of the things Rays manager Joe Maddon strived for from the beginning of his tenure as manager of the Rays was to make Tropicana Field a venue opposing teams dreaded and where the home team always had an advantage. Maddon spoke about the oddity of the situation this season.

"It's been really weird," Maddon said. "From the beginning, we talked about making [Tropicana Field] into 'The Pit' and we did. Other teams were very uncomfortable coming here. Now they are not. The ball normally bounced in our favor here, now it's not.

"We still have a winning record on the road, right? To have a winning record on the road and finish under .500, that's got to be really, really unusual. Probably another one of our firsts. I don't have any answers for that."

The Rays entered Saturday night's game hitting .249 at home with 50 home runs and 309 runs scored in 79 games. In 75 road games, the Rays have hit .245 with 64 home runs and 281 runs scored.

"From what I understand, our numbers are pretty similar home and road on offense, too, which I wouldn't have guessed watching it," Maddon said. "But in general, we just haven't played as well here. And I have no explanation whatsoever."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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No postseason, but Rays show plenty of fight

Injuries, overworked bullpen took too much of a toll in '14

No postseason, but Rays show plenty of fight

ST. PETERSBURG -- Postseason elimination came to the Rays on Friday night, bringing to an end what has been a disappointing season.

"The nice thing is there's really nothing to pinpoint," Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg recently said. "... We dug just way too deep of a hole early on. So, it was disappointing back in April and May and into June, so that feeling has sort of subsided a bit.

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"I think playing baseball like we did for a couple of months after that probably adds to it a little bit because we know with this team, not just what they were capable of, but what they had the ability to do."

The Rays left Spring Training with the look of a champion. On paper, there seemed to be no holes. But injuries bit the team hard, early, when they lost Matt Moore for the season due to Tommy John surgery, and Alex Cobb for an extended period due to an oblique injury.

On June 10, the Rays had the worst record in baseball -- by four games -- at 24-42 (including a 1-14 stretch) and nothing seemed to be working. The offense ranked 28th in runs scored per game and the staff ERA ranked 22nd. That ineffectiveness by the starters had a residual effect on the bullpen that led the Major Leagues in innings pitched at that juncture.

In short, the easiest tact for the team would have been to quit and look toward 2015. The 2014 Rays did not.

From June 11 through Aug. 15, the Rays began to click, posting the Major Leagues' best record over that period at 37-19. Complementing the run were offensive and pitching improvements, fueling the team's hopes for making the postseason.

Never was that feeling stronger than when the Rays reached .500 at 61-61 on Aug. 15. Unfortunately, the energy spent trying to arrive at the even point could not be maintained.

"You utilize a lot of mental energy as much as anything to get yourself back [in] there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And it's not easy to do that. You get back there and you have to maintain this real high level of success on a professional level against professionals. So it's not easy to do. But I really thought we could. I never thought that we could not.

"And all of a sudden we were on the verge of pulling it off. We got back to .500 and since then it's just been teetering back and forth. Just could not get back to that level of play that we had going on for a long time. It's not easy to do. I understand that."

Since first reaching the postseason in 2008, the Rays have strung together six consecutive winning seasons and they've twice won the AL East. So the hope is that this year's season is an aberration.

"None of us like the fact we are not winning the division," Maddon said. "It's the goal, it's going to be the goal every year. We feel like we can do it. We thought we could do it this year. And in spite of all of this, again, just a really bad awkward moment. ... We get into this 1-14 stretch and all of a sudden it's really difficult. But I give our guys a lot of credit. They continued to play hard."

While Maddon, Sternberg, Rays fans and Rays players don't like how the season will finish, the effort level never came into question.

"Watching our guys, I've been really pleased and impressed with the attitude of our players," Maddon said. "In spite of having to come back from a pretty large deficit."

Maddon allowed that some sweet forecasts are destined to turn sour.

"It just happens," Maddon said. "It's nobody's fault. It's just the way this things rolls sometimes. You try to be the best every year. Obviously, it's hard to do.

"I would want to believe we'll reflect on [what happened in 2014] and really never let it happen again, and never let it happen in the next 10 years or so. Get back on that division-winning horse. Because that's our goal every year."

As for moving forward, Sternberg said "forward is easy."

"Thankfully, [the 2014 season is] an odd place for us to be. A September when games are less meaningful than they have been in the past."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Archer finds holes in White Sox

Allows two hits, walks four over 6 1/3; Franklin hits two-run homer

Archer finds holes in White Sox

ST. PETERSBURG -- A quality start by Chris Archer and a long ball from the new guy paved the way for a 3-1 Rays win over the White Sox on Saturday night at Tropicana Field.

Though eliminated from making a postseason appearance, the Rays (75-80) can still cling to the thin hope of finishing with a winning record. The Rays won for the fourth time in six games, but they need to win all of their remaining seven games to finish with a winning record. One loss will snap their streak of six consecutive winning seasons.

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Archer started for the Rays and held the White Sox scoreless on two hits and four walks through 6 1/3 innings to earn his 10th win and 19th quality start of the season.

"I really wish I could've gone deeper into the game," Archer said. "But we played great defense, and that just gives you confidence to keep filling up the strike zone. ... A little unfortunate I couldn't go at least seven, but it's a win. The team won, we played great defense, had timely hitting and our pitching only gave up one run, so you've got to be happy about that."

Archer is 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA over his last three starts after going 0-2 with an 11.70 ERA in his previous two. Offensively and defensively, the second inning brought several highlights for the Rays.

In the top half of the inning, the White Sox had a runner aboard with one out when Andy Wilkins hit a deep drive to right that looked like trouble. But right-fielder Matt Joyce made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Wilkins of extra bases.

James Loney doubled off White Sox starting pitcher Hector Noesi to start the Rays' half of the inning, bringing Nick Frankin to the plate.

Franklin came to the Rays in the three-way deal with the Mariners and Tigers that sent David Price to the Tigers on July 31. After spending August and the first part of September with Triple-A Durham, Franklin joined the Rays on Monday.

Noesi fell behind 1-0 to Franklin, who followed with his first home run of the season, a sky shot to right that hit off one of the catwalks to stake the Rays to a 2-0 lead.

Rays manager Joe Maddon likes what he's seen of Franklin thus far, particularly the power.

"He's got real power, and yeah, you can see the ball come off his bat. That ball came off hot. ... It's one of those things you can hear on the field."

Franklin noted that he didn't get all of the pitch.

"You know, I just missed it, actually," said Franklin of his home run, which stood following a crew-chief review. "I got underneath it a little bit. I wasn't sure whether it was going to get out."

Noesi told reporters he was not happy with his outing.

"Every pitcher makes mistakes," Noesi said. "I made a few mistakes, but I made one mistake that cost the game and that was the pitch to Franklin. I was trying to go outside and then the ball just went to him. ... He hit the ball good and it was a home run."

Ben Zobrist's single in the fifth scored Yunel Escobar to push the lead to 3-0.

After Archer left with one out in the seventh, Joel Peralta got the final two outs in the seventh and the first out in the eighth for his fourth consecutive scoreless appearance. Jeff Beliveau and Grant Balfour finished out the eighth, leading to Jake McGee in the ninth.

McGee gave up a run on one hit and a pair of walks in the ninth inning before stranding runners on first and second, earning his 18th save of the season.

Over their last five games, Rays relievers have combined for a 0.57 ERA.

"It was a really nice, clean game, they made it a little difficult at the end," Maddon said.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Zobrist named Don Zimmer Most Valuable Player

Local BBWAA chapter also honors Odorizzi, Longoria

Zobrist named Don Zimmer Most Valuable Player

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of American announced its annual award winners before Friday's game at Tropicana Field, with the top individual award now honoring a late baseball legend and close friend.

Ben Zobrist, the Rays' best hitter amid their hottest stretch of the season, was named the Don Zimmer Most Valuable Player, an award that reflects the club's reverence for Zimmer, their former senior adviser who passed away June 4.

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"He's such a special person to everyone around here," Zobrist said. "He always thought of the little things, and he always talked to me about those things as a ballplayer and how important those things are to making a complete ballplayer and helping the club. You don't think about ... the little things [being] that important for an MVP; it's about the big things.

"But it's pretty cool that I was able to win the award this year, and the fact that Zim always appreciated those things and I think the writers and the committee obviously saw some of those things as well."

Zobrist, who finished ahead of closer Jake McGee and third baseman Evan Longoria in the voting, entered Friday night hitting .268/.353/.394 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs while playing solid defense all over the field. He leads the team with 5.2 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs.com.

But Zobrist was at his best when the Rays were at theirs, batting .315/.403/.477 as Tampa Bay climbed back into contention with a 37-19 stretch from June 11-Aug. 15.

"'Zobrist' in the dictionary equals consistency," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He started out somewhat slowly, but then he really gained momentum and has been there pretty much the whole season, offensively speaking."

Right-hander Jake Odorizzi was named Rookie of the Year, having gone 11-12 with a 3.98 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 165 innings. Odorizzi, who finished ahead of Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer, said he was looking forward to entering next season with some certainty regarding where he stands after battling for the fifth starter's job in Spring Training.

"I've had the full year. I know what to expect. I've seen every team that we're going to be playing," Odorizzi said. "It's just a comfort level going into next year that I'm going to be ready to go out of the gate. ... There's a lot of things, statistically, that I think I could've gotten better at this year."

Longoria received the Paul C. Smith Champion Award, named in honor of the late MLB.com writer and presented to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field. In addition to his role as the team's leader, Longoria, also the Rays' nominee for the 2014 Roberto Clemente Award, has committed to donate more than $1 million to the Rays Baseball Foundation, which supports youth and education programs.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Hellickson's home struggles continue; Rays eliminated

Allows four runs over 4 1/3 innings; Forsythe homers, plates three

Hellickson's home struggles continue; Rays eliminated

ST. PETERSBURG -- Since the end of the 2007 season, since getting rid of the "Devil" in front of their name, the Rays have played only 13 games in which they had already been eliminated from the postseason race. They played 11 in 2009 and two in 2012.

They're about to play eight more.

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The Rays already had to come to terms with the reality of missing out on the playoffs this season. Logan Forsythe said after Friday's 4-3 loss to the White Sox at Tropicana Field that nobody in the home clubhouse even thought about whether they were mathematically alive in the postseason race.

But the Rays' 80th loss made it official: They're out of the playoff picture, and a seventh straight winning season seems all but impossible.

"Very strange. It's no fun," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We expect to be there on an annual basis regardless of whatever anybody wants to talk about, financial restrictions, whatever. To me, that's never mattered and it's never going to matter. We had that opportunity this year.

"The group of people that we have is very capable of playing in the postseason. We shot ourselves in the foot, in the thigh, possibly in the biceps. We just kept beating ourselves up."

In that regard, the way the Rays lost Friday's game before a crowd of 17,540 was fitting. Tampa Bay jumped out to a three-run lead in the third inning and wasted it away in the fifth, unable to mount a comeback against White Sox lefty Jose Quintana and Chicago's bullpen.

The Rays have held a lead in 13 straight games and won only seven. In seven of those games, six of them losses, they've failed to hold leads of 4-0 (three times), 3-0 (twice), 2-0 and 1-0. Now, they would have to win out to finish above .500.

"It's been a very difficult year from that perspective. You take away that awful (1-14) stretch which we had, we've played pretty good since the break," Maddon said. "The guys are still fighting. We put ourselves in a significant hole, and it's been really hard to dig out. ... It was a really significant moment that we put ourselves into, and that's pretty much it."

Forsythe drove in the Rays' three runs, plating Evan Longoria and Wil Myers on a line-drive double to left-center field in the first inning and smashing a solo homer, his sixth, to left in the third inning.

But Quintana bounced back after his shaky start, allowing three runs (one earned) on nine hits over 7 1/3 innings.

"I started a little bit badly with the two runs in the first inning," Quintana said. "But I tried to keep going in the game and tried to throw my best stuff and get a win."

And right-hander Jeremy Hellickson couldn't hold the lead for long. Chicago's first six batters of the fifth inning reached base safely, one on a leadoff walk and another on a fielder's choice. Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu hit back-to-back RBI singles, and Avisail Garcia made it a four-run inning with a double to left.

Just like that, the Rays' lead -- and Hellickson's chance for a win -- evaporated. Hellickson, who allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings, has gone 12 starts at Tropicana Field without a victory, and the Rays have lost his last eight starts overall.

"It's just happened so many times this year, guys give me a three- or four-run lead, I throw four or five scoreless and the next inning I just lose it," Hellickson said. "I made a few mistakes after the walk and just couldn't make a big pitch to get out of that and keep the lead."

Hellickson is hardly acquainted with the feeling of playing games with no postseason implications -- he's only been a part of two with the Rays -- but he admitted it's "definitely no fun to come to the park and play and know you're not going to be playing in October."

As Maddon said, the Rays expect to play meaningful games right up until the end every year, and that's certainly true for 2015 as well. Now, all that's left for the Rays in 2014 is these eight games as they try to build toward the future.

"I think that's everybody's mentality. We know where we stand and we're working toward what we need to work on this offseason and take it into Spring Training," Forsythe said. "We're just going to try to finish strong."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Alex Cobb treats young fan to Rays shopping spree

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Alex Cobb treats young fan to Rays shopping spree

When they met, Madison Barrett told Alex Cobb she was going to become a mermaid doctor when she grows up. That was back in May 2013, when Barrett was five and a patient at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. She met the Rays right-hander when he visited the hospital on "Rays Kids Spirits Day."

Madison was born with gastroschisis, a condition for which she's undergone 37 surgeries -- requiring her to wear portable monitors at all times. She's grown familiar with the Rays, as players make weekly trips to the hospital. Madison has mingled with them on several occasions, and each time she's declared, "Alex Cobb is my favorite."

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Field, Snell among Rays' Minor League award winners

Outfielder named Player of the Year; lefty receives Pitcher of the Year

Field, Snell among Rays' Minor League award winners

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays handed out their Minor League awards before Friday night's game at Tropicana Field, with outfielder Johnny Field named Player of the Year and left-hander Blake Snell the organization's Pitcher of the Year.

The winners arrived early Friday night, signing autographs down the right-field line before accepting their awards on the field from executive vice president Andrew Friedman and director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics.

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Field, 22, hit .300/.376/.488 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs for Class A Bowling Green and Class A Advanced Charlotte, playing primarily center field. A fifth-round Draft pick in 2013, Field doesn't boast the physical gifts of many other top prospects -- he's listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds -- but prides himself on his hard work, modeling himself after Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier.

"He's a man-made player. He really likes to play the game, works at the game very hard," Lukevics said. "You wouldn't put him in a category with some of the other players with total skill, but he's proven with heart, determination and the skill he has that he's become a really good player. ... A hustle guy, without question."

Snell, 21, went 8-8 with a 3.19 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 115 2/3 innings over 24 starts for Bowling Green and Charlotte. The 2011 first-rounder threw the first no-hitter in Charlotte history on Aug. 2, twirling 5 1/3 innings in a rain-shortened contest.

Lukevics noted how much Snell, ranked as the club's No. 13 prospect, has matured over the last year, and Snell agreed that his development has been more on the mental side than anything physical or mechanical. With an overpowering fastball to go along with a changeup and curveball, Snell compared his repertoire to that of Rays lefty Matt Moore.

"I really was just trying to learn as much as I could from my pitching coaches. I was just having fun," Snell said. "I've always had powerful stuff. I just didn't know how to use it. ... I'm more confident. I'm more comfortable with myself. When I pitch, I kind of feel bad for the hitter just because I know the kind of stuff that I have."

Infielder Tommy Coyle was named the organization's Baserunner of the Year, while lefty Adam Liberatore was named Reliever of the Year and catcher Justin O'Conner, who appeared in this year's All-Star Futures Game, was named Defensive Player of the Year. O'Connor is ranked No. 14 among the club's top 20 prospects.

Bowling Green right-hander Jake Faria was named the Erik Walker Community Champion, an award given annually to a Minor Leaguer who exemplifies teamwork, sportsmanship and community involvement.

The following players were named Most Valuable Player for their respective Minor League affiliates: Triple-A Durham outfielder Mikie Mahtook; Double-A Montgomery infielder Ryan Brett; Charlotte infielder Patrick Leonard; Bowling Green infielder Kean Wong; Short-Season Class A Hudson Valley outfielder Hunter Lockwood; Rookie-level Princeton right-hander Brent Honeywell; Gulf Coast League right-hander Henry Centeno; Dominican Summer League outfielder Angel Perez; and Venezuelan Summer League outfielder Oscar Rojas.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays fan makes great no-look catch

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Rays fan makes great no-look catch

Wil Myers crushes baseballs. That's a known fact. So catching a foul ball off the bat of the Rays outfielder is a difficult endeavor, particularly when there's a fan diving for the souvenir in front of you ... particularly when you're not even looking:

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