The Rays lost Game 2 of their ALDS matchup with the Rangers this afternoon in Tampa and face elimination Saturday in Texas. But it wasn’t all fire and brimstone at Tropicana Field.
In the eighth inning, as impending free agent Carl Crawford stepped to the plate, a large section of Rays fans began chanting “CAR-L CRAW-FORD … CAR-L CRAW-FORD … CAR-L CRAW-FORD.”
Crawford grounded out on the first pitch of his at-bat. But, as he took his place in left field for the top of the ninth inning, the chants started again. “CAR-L CRAW-FORD … CAR-L CRAW-FORD … CAR-L CRAW-FORD.” It filled the stadium and could be heard clearly through the TBS telecast.
Rays fans get a lot of guff because of their early-exits from important games and the perennially low attendance numbers at The Trop, but Thursday’s chant showed a great deal of intelligence and consciousness on the part of the fanbase.
Unless the Rays squeak out two wins in Texas, Thursday’s game was probably the last Crawford will ever play as a member of the home team in Tampa. The 29-year-old batted .307/.356/.495 with 19 homers and 47 stolen bases in 600 at-bats during the regular season while showing excellent range in the outfield. He will be courted this offseason by baseball’s biggest spenders.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.