Rays aiming to break out of offensive slump
Defensive shifts, lack of speed have resulted in club scoring less
ST. PETERSBURG -- Offensively, the Rays have been in a funk lately. Heading into Friday night's contest against the Red Sox, the Rays had scored in just four of the last 48 innings.
A contributing factor to the malaise has been the overall lack of speed on the roster. Past Rays teams have had a major speed factor that has allowed them to produce offensively even when they aren't hitting.
"We don't have that same kind of game, where we can just run ourselves into a couple of runs and get ourselves into position to score," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Not only score, but I also always believed that when you're able to do that, that separates the pitcher's concentration. When a pitcher knows you can't do that, he's really able to just focus on one area. Defense is focused on just one area."
Hitting coach Derek Shelton noted "this game is hard and hitting's the hardest part of it." He added that hitting has gotten harder.
"I think that's the biggest part of the game that's changed," Shelton said. "And you're seeing a tendency for runs scored to be down. And teams are being built differently because of the defensive metrics. You have coaches watching video of defenses. You have spray charts where people are playing. You see the shifts going on.
"Sometimes it's not even shifts. It's one or two steps into the pull-side hole. I mean how many times this year have we seen a line drive through the middle -- something that has been a base hit for a 100 years -- and you see the second baseman or shortstop standing there? It's changed the whole dynamics. ... We just have to continue to change with it."
Shelton believes the most important thing Tampa Bay's hitters can do when the hard times arrive is simply remain positive.
"You've got to remember that it's something all teams go thorugh," Shelton said. "And if you dwell on it, it's just going to compound. Just try and stay positive, remain upbeat. Maybe change the daily routine a little bit. With some of the guys, it is small mechanical things. But for the most part, it's guys trying too hard."
Oviedo feeling great, dominating opposition
ST. PETERSBURG -- Juan Carlos Oviedo has been dealing in May.
The veteran Rays right-hander had made nine appearances this month entering Friday, covering 10 2/3 innings, and allowed just one run and three hits. Twelve of his 13 appearances this season have been scoreless.
Oviedo signed with the Rays before the 2013 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery to his right elbow, but he did not pitch for Tampa Bay. The club re-signed Oviedo on Jan. 24 to a $1.5 million deal that can escalate to $2.9 million with incentives.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked if Oviedo has been exceeding the team's expectations.
"I don't know if he's exceeding," Maddon said. "He's definitely approaching what we thought he could be. ... This guy was really good a couple of years ago before he got hurt. And now he's gaining his confidence. Velocity is coming up. [He's] throwing more strikes, and the changeup is outstanding."
After missing two seasons, Oviedo allowed that again facing hitters has been the toughest part of his return.
"It is different when you're on the mound in a game situation and you start to think about what's going on in the mind of the hitter and you try to think about what he's expecting and do the opposite, so you can dominate him," Oviedo said.
Oviedo saved 36 games for the Marlins in 2011 when he was known as Leo Nunez. He said he feels like he did before his injury.
"I feel very strong, I feel like I'm pitching the same way that I was before," said Oviedo, who has been clocked in the 92-95 mph range. "I feel like I got my mechanics back. I've got the motion in my arm back. Thank God I'm pitching the way I am.
"Little by little, you get stronger while going through the process of rehab. I'm at the same type of velocity I had before the injury. Just takes a little time to get there."
Ramos readjusting to long relief
ST. PETERSBURG -- Cesar Ramos started for the Rays on Saturday against the Angels and has since been reassigned to the bullpen to facilitate Alex Cobb's return to the rotation.
Ramos initially expressed disappointment about returning to the long-relief role he's pitched in during past seasons, but he's handled the move with class.
"All good," said Ramos of the move. "Now just waiting to take the ball whenever I'm asked. Obviously try to be the best reliever I can be."
But the move has required some adjustments by the southpaw.
"Just the everyday throwing now," Ramos said. "Now I have to watch how much I throw before the game. Because you never know if I'm going to go two [innings] and then go back out the next night. Just kind of get used to the whole reliever thing, being able to bounce back day to day."
Ramos received an early hook from Rays manager Joe Maddon in his final start, getting lifted after just 1 1/3 innings, and expressed some displeasure after the game. They have since buried the hatchet.
"We just talked," Ramos said. "They were going to make a move and I was going to be in the bullpen. He knows that it's the competitor in every player that you want to take the ball and that's kind of where I was. I wanted to help and eat innings, but the decision was what it was and you respect that. It's nothing personal, just kind of the competitive animal in me."
While Ramos has adjusted to his role, he still hopes to become a starter.
"I definitely know I can start," Ramos said. "And my body can be pushed to that over 100-pitch mark, the 115 I did in Seattle. And being able to overcome adversity early in the game and take it deep in the game. Just proved to me that I can do it at this level. Hopefully, outside of our circle, people can see that I can do it."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.