The Devil Rays roster remains the same as it was on Opening Day, but the way Joe Maddon is using it has changed. To begin with, he’s switched Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford in the order, leading off Baldelli and putting Crawford in the three-spot. He’s also been working his four-man bench into the starting lineup with regularity, alternating Brendan Harris at shortstop with the struggling Ben Zobrist, starting Josh Paul behind the plate in two of the last four games in place of the scuffling Dioner Navarro, and setting up a rotation at DH that has allowed him to keep Baldelli and Ty Wigginton in the lineup on a daily basis while also working Elijah Dukes and Carlos Peña in at center field and first base respectively. Maddon will also use Wigginton at second base on occasion to give B. J. Upton a day off or at DH, and has also started Harris at third to give Akinori Iwamura a breather. As a result Jonny Gomes is last on the team in plate appearances, which is good news for the Yankees, though I must admit, I, like Alex, enjoy watching Gomes play.
Thus far Upton has been a world beater at the plate, but has committed five errors at second base. Iwamura has been the quiet surprise I anticipated. Peña has just six hits, but three of them are home runs. Paul is hitting for high average and getting on base, but has no extra-base knocks. Duke and Baldelli have both been struggling, and the team as a whole has been thrown out on 47 percent of its stolen base attempts.
The pitching, meanwhile, has been abysmal outside of the dominant performance of ex-Yankee and current closer Al Reyes. James Shields has been the team’s best starter thus far, but has also allowed six homers in four starts. Tonight’s starter, Casey Fossum, is the only other Ray with as many as two quality starts in the early going and, in fact, has piched very well after an opening week drubbing at the hands of the Blue Jays. In his last two starts against the Twins in Minnesota and the Orioles at home, Fossum has assembled this line:
14 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 1 HR, 1 BB, 6 K, 0.86 WHIP, 3.21 ERA, 1-0
The good news, of course, is that the Cherry Hill native will have to face a Yankee lineup that’s back at full strength. Hideki Matsui returns to left field tonight and is reportedly all the way back from the hamstring injury that place him on the DL during the frigid opening homestand. Joe Torre has said that Jorge Posada will be back in the lineup tonight. Jorge could return as the DH, pushing Jason Giambi into the field, but if he’s able to catch, the lefty Fossum will draw Josh Phelps at first base for a line-up that looks like it did on Opening Day
L – Johnny Damon (CF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (DH)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Josh Phelps (1B)
Kei Igawa takes the mound for the Yanks. He’s improved across the board in each of his last two starts (IP, K, ground ball rate up; H, R, HR, BB, fly ball rate, pitch total down). Here’s hoping that trend continues tonight.
By the way, Alex Rodriguez hasn’t gone more than two consecutive games without a home run this season. He homered twice on Friday night, but was kept in the park over the last two games in Boston. He has four career dingers off Fossum in 34 at-bats.
Update: Chase Wright was optioned back to double-A to make room for Matsui. That means Kevin Thompson’s still around, which suggests that Johnny Damon and his achy back may get the night off against the lefty Fossum on the Tampa turf (even if it’s fancy new turf). I would expect Darrell Rasner to be recalled to make Friday’s start against Matsuzaka at the Stadium.
Upupdate: Posada catches, Damon sits. Melky starts in center and leads off. Harris, Dukes and Paul start in the field for the Rays. Baldelli is the DH.
Upupandawaydate: Scratch Rasner. Phil Hughes makes his Yankee debut on Thursday against the Blue Jays. Karstens moves to Friday against Matsuzaka. More on Hughes after the game.