Ramon Hernandez’s blast caps comeback for Reds

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Pulling off a big Opening Day comeback, the Reds scored four times off John Axford in the bottom of the ninth Thursday to beat the Brewers 7-6.

The Brewers supplied all of the fireworks early on today, with Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez delivering back-to-back homers to start the top of the first against Edinson Volquez.  Ryan Braun later added the team’s third homer, all of them coming off the struggling Volquez.

But while the Reds have to possess some concerns about a rotation that’s already lost two starters to the disabled list, the offense came through yet again.  Leadoff man Drew Stubbs homered and doubled to help get the team back in the game, setting the scene for the bottom of the ninth.

Down 6-3, the Reds started the ninth against Axford with Brandon Phillips’ shot to the wall in center.  It would have been a double under normal circumstances, but Phillips sensed the possibility of a close play at second and opted to stay at first because of the score.

After Joey Votto walked, Scott Rolen hit a roller to third that Casey McGehee grabbed on the move.   McGehee opted to try to tag Phillips as he was streaking by, only to miss with the glove, and was then late with the relay to first.  Manager Ron Roenicke came out to argue that Phillips went out of the baseline, but he didn’t get the call and Axford faced a bases-loaded, no-out situation.

Axford rebounded from there to strike out Jay Bruce on his one good curve of the day.  However, after that, Jonny Gomes smashed one to center that had to be caught by a jumping Carlos Gomez, scoring one run on the sac fly.  Hernandez, who already had three singles on the day, ended the game as the next batter, lifting one over the fence in right.

For Axford, it was just the third time in 58 career appearances that he had allowed multiple runs and first in which he gave up three or more. He was 8-2 with 24 saves in 27 chances for the Brewers last year, but he suffered from a nasty case of food poisoning in February and mostly struggled this spring.

Hernandez continued with his recent clutchiness.  He hit .342 with RISP last year and .328 in 2009.  Although he was one of baseball’s better offensive catchers while hitting .297/.364/.428 in 313 at-bats last season, he settled for $3 million as a free agent over the winter.  That’s less than Rod Barajas received from the Dodgers.

The Reds as a whole became known for their comebacks last year.  They started the season with their first six wins coming in their final at-bat, tying a major league record.  If one day is any indication — and it’s not like they changed much in the way of personnel over the winter — similar feats are in store for 2011.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.