Inside The Game: Rays vs. Jays 3/30/11

Post Game: Joe Maddon seemed impressed with his team’s effort during today’s win. “When we play on Friday night, I just want the same kind of effort you saw tonight” Maddon said. “That’s what I really appreciate about tonight’s game.”

The Rays’ skipper then talked about two of his young arms in the bullpen: Jake McGee and Adam Russell. Each reliever tossed a scoreless inning, giving us a glimpse of the high-octane stuff we can expect to see in 2011. When speaking of Russell, who has had a rough spring, Maddon noted his delivery was more consistent today. He also said he would filter through the numbers before determine how to use them in the opening series.

B.J. Upton was the jack of all trades today for Tampa Bay. The outfielder worked two walks, stole two bases, and had the game winning hit. Upton was picked off once and said that is something he would like to cut down this season, but also noted he would remain aggressive. “I’ll take my chances” Upton said after the game. As for defense, Upton said he did not feel any different running around on the new turf at Tropicana field, saying it felt “like it does every day.”

The Rays will once again rely heavily on the right-handed bat of Evan Longoria in 2011. Longoria belted his fourth home run of the spring against Toronto and said he feels comfortable heading into his third major league season. Longoria echoed the familiar process over result mantra when talking about preparing for the season. “I prepare as a well as anybody.” “You can’t hit .500 and you can’t make every play, so you gotta let the results try to take care of themselves.”

After swiping 15 bases last season, Longoria stole his first bag of the spring today. I asked Longo about the team’s aggressive baserunning style with Longoria saying the team is trying give their opponents some different looks and make it hard for them to defend. “We gotta find different ways to push runs across.”

Top 9: That’ll do it for our first live game at Tropicana Field in 2011. The Rays win 5-3 on the strength of two home runs and some heads up baserunning. Jeff Niemann looked decent in his final tuneup while Adam Russell, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jake McGee looked strong out of the new look bullpen.

Join us all season as Jason Collette and I take you inside the world of Rays baseball on ESPN1040.com (and twitter @RaysESPN1040 @TRancel @Jasoncollette).

Bottom 8: Nothing doing for the Rays offense with three flyball outs against Evan Crawford.

Top 8: Andy Sonnanstine escaped a jam after allowing a walk and a single. He struckout Eric Thames to end the threat.

Bottom 7: The Rays played small ball in the bottom of the inning to take a 5-3 lead over Toronto. Elliot Johnson notched his second hit of the game with a single and was moved into scoring position after Reid Brignac reached on an error. After another well-executed double steal, Upton drove in both players with a two-run single. Johnny Damon followed up with a single, but the Rays could not cash in. Damon was lifted for pinch-runner Sam Fuld. If you’ve been reading us on ESPN1040.com, you’ll note that we are high on Fuld as a late-inning weapon. Expect him to shadow Damon late in the game on the bases and in the field.

Top 7: One of the best arms in the Rays’ system, Jake McGee pitched a flawless seven inning. McGee pumped a fastball for a swinging strike on his first pitch and induced several more whiffs throughout the frame, including a swinging strikeout to end the inning.

Bottom 6: Kelly Shoppach laced a two-out single of projected Jays’ closer Jon Rauch, but was stranded after a deep flyball by Sean Rodriguez died on the warning track.

Top 6: Newcomer Adam Russell came out to pitch the sixth inning. After a rough spring, Russell worked around a leadoff hit to put up a scoreless frame. Although two of the outs came on flyballs, Russell showed off his low-mid 90s sinker quite a bit.

Bottom 5: Elliot Johnson has flashed some nice leather, but did some work with the bat tying the game up at 3-3 with a solo shot to LF. B.J. Upton was picked off again on a stolen base attempt; however, unlike the last could not reach second base safely.

Top 5: Kyle Farnsworth came on to relieve Jeff Niemann. Farnsworth retired two batters (flashing a nasty slider) before allowing a double that fell in front of a diving B.J. Upton. Farnworth promptly struckout Adam Loewen in the next at-bat on a what looked like a really good cutter.

Bottom 4: The Rays go down quietly against Reyes in the bottom half of the fourth.

Top 4: Niemann bounces back for a 1-2-3 inning keeping the lead to just one run. Niemann’s day ends after 4 Innings, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, on 65 pitches (44 strikes).

Bottom 3: B.J. Upton stole his 4th base of the spring on a botched pick-off attempt. Johnny Damon started to walk down the first baseline after ball four only to realize it was ball three. He grounded out on the next pitch. After an Evan Longoria walk, the Rays executed a double steal – Longoria of second and Upton of home – to cut the lead 3-2.

Top 3: Niemann got into his first bit of trouble on the afternoon. After walking Rajai Davis with two outs, Niemann induced a groundball that was well played up the middle by Elliot Johnson. Meanwhile, the other Johnson (Dan) could not handle the throw. The mishap led to three runs by the Jays on Jose Bautista’s second single of the game and an Adam Lind double down the RF line.

Bottom 2: After reaching base on a walk, Sean Rodriguez stole his sixth base of the spring. Unfortunately, the tandem of Johnson & Johnson were struck out by Jo-Jo Reyes leaving him stranded.

Top 2: Another easy frame for Jeff Niemann in the top of the second. Elliot Johnson with a nice little play to end the inning.

Bottom 1: The Rays put the first run on the board with solo blast off the bat of Evan Longoria to left-center field. It was Longoria’s 4th homer of the spring.

Top 1: After retiring the first two batters, Jeff Niemann allowed a single to 2010 home run champion Jose Bautista before putting down the Jays in the first.

Update: Now that he has made the opening day roster, Sam Fuld has switched his number from 27 to 5. Given the production and health problems associated with that number last season, let’s hope Fuld has better luck.

Although the Grapefruit League has officially ended, the Rays and Jays play a final tune-up at Tropicana Field today. The Rays lineup gives us a small glimpse at what we will see versus left-handers during the regular season with the left-handed Jo-Jo Reyes on the mound. B.J. Upton will lead-off while lefty mashers Sean Rodriguez and Kelly Shoppach also get the start. The most notable name missing from the lineup is Manny Ramirez, who is out for personal reasons.

Lineup:

Upton, CF

Damon, LF

Longoria, 3B

Zobrist, RF

Shoppach, C

Rodriguez, 2B

Johnson. D, 1B

Johnson. E, 22

Brignac, SS

Niemann, P

Check back for more updates during the game.

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