One of the lone bright spots for the last place Tampa Bay Rays has been the steady production of 1B James Loney. Always known for his defense at first base, Loney is leading the offensively challenged club with a .302 average. Although not known as a power hitter, and his lone home run thusfar reinforces the point, Loney leads the team with 52 hits and 26 RBI. For a club swamped with pitching injuries and suffering from a hitting drought by its two most prominent offensive players, the consistent hitting from Loney has been a godsend.
As Wil Myers and Evan Longoria struggle at the plate, the Tampa Bay Rays’ James Loney motors along with steady production from the number five spot in the batting order. The Rays were pleased enough with Loney’s play last season to sign him up for another three years at a total contract price of $21 million. Loney previously played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox. The Rays signed him to a one year contract before last season and liked enough of what they saw to bring him back. The budget conscious club appears to have made a wise investment. The Rays are built on defense and pitching. Loney always shows excellent skills at first base. His hitting is reliable and Manager Joe Madden knows what he will get from Loney on any given night.
Sitting at 21-28, the Rays find themselves mired in last place in the win challenged AL East. The club beat the Red Sox 1-0 on Friday with a walk off double by Cole Figueroa. The RBI from the pinch hit was the first for the MLB rookie. The Red Sox have now lost eight straight and the three game set with the Rays has an air of desperation. Both clubs need to make a move quickly. If the Rays fail to improve soon, then the likelihood of a deal sending off David Price or Ben Zobrist, or both, increases exponentially.
Chris Archer struck out 11 in six shutout innings against the World Series champs yesterday. Likewise, in his 2014 debut against the A’s, Alex Cobb went 6 2/3 without surrendering a run to prevent a series sweep. With Jeremy Hellickson beginning to throw curveballs off the mound, the starting rotation could get close to normal soon. The Rays can survive replacing only Matt Moore, but not two other starters as well.
The celebration at home plate after Sean Rodriguez’ walk off home run against the A’s on Thursday night shows that the Rays team really cares. Perhaps the Rodriguez home run helped return some mojo to the club so they believe they will find a way to win instead of find a way to lose. If Myers and Longoria can find their strokes, and Longoria was 3-4 on Friday against the Red Sox, the Rays could catch fire with Cobb back and Hellickson getting closer. As other things change throughout the season, the one constant has been Loney. Manager Joe Madden and the Tampa Bay Rays will no doubt continue to rely on the steady production of James Loney to help fuel a team resurgence.
Commentary by William Costolo