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Help on the way for Rays

6/12/2009

The Rays have the best run differential in the AL East but the fourth-best record, so they obviously still have some work to do. Fortunately (as Marc Lancaster reports), help is on the way:

    With their disabled list threatening to hit double digits after a flurry of injuries the last few weeks, the Rays have waited patiently for reinforcements. The first will arrive tonight.
    DH Pat Burrell (strained neck) is expected to be in the lineup as the Rays open a weekend series against the Washington Nationals after completing a three-game rehab assignment by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts for Single-A Charlotte on Thursday night.

    The Rays cleared a roster spot for Burrell following Thursday's game by optioning OF Matt Joyce to Durham.

    Close behind Burrell is SS Jason Bartlett (sprained left ankle), who is set to begin a three-game stint with the Stone Crabs tonight. He'll DH in the first game then play in the field the next two days before joining the Rays on a late Monday flight to Colorado for a series that begins Tuesday.

    Getting Bartlett back should boost the Rays in every aspect of the game, as his fielding is as valuable to them as his bat.

You know what's sort of amazing? The Rays lead the the American League in runs despite:
• Pat the Bat hitting one home run so far,

Dioner Navarro batting .202 with three (!) walks, and

Bossman Junior -- who as you might recall hit seven homers last October -- hitting only three homers while batting .212 and piling up huge strikeouts.

I'm sitting here looking at all the numbers and I still can't quite figure out how the Rays have done as well as they have, considering the failures of those three notables. Sure, Evan Longoria. But he was supposed to be great. The real keys have been Bartlett (before he hit the DL) and Ben Zobrist, who somehow have the highest OPS's on the club.

Bartlett's return is obviously a real plus, even if he obviously can't be expected to continue hitting like he was. Not close. I don't know what to make of Burrell, except to figure the neck must have really been bothering him before he went down. I do feel a little sorry for Matt Joyce, who has to deal with the twin burdens of 1) having been traded for Edwin Jackson, and 2) batting left-handed, which is usually a good thing but in this case isn't, because if he batted right-handed he might reasonably take Gabe Kapler's place on the roster, but ...

Wait. He should anyway. Kapler can't hit, and while he's supposedly a great guy, I don't know that a team trying to beat the Red Sox or the Yankees really can afford to carry a great guy who can't hit.

Kapler was a great story last year, hitting .301/.340/.498 as a part-timer with the Brewers after taking a year off to manage in the minors. Great story. But in the five previous seasons, Kapler hit .270/.318/.377, which I would suggest is a better barometer of his skills than last season's 245 (National League) plate appearances.

Meanwhile, Joyce has superior numbers as a major leaguer, he's significantly younger than Kapler, and he's now torn up Triple-A pitchers for two seasons running. I just don't get it. Joyce can hit. He runs OK. Statistically speaking, he's a pretty good outfielder. And you're going to send him to Durham so two guys named Gabe can play right field?

Good luck with that.