The Tampa Bay Rays head into their first off-day of the spring on the heels of an 8-4 win over the New York Mets, bringing their Grapefruit League record to 5-6-1. After first posting an abysmal 1-5-1 record, Tampa Bay has won four out of their last five while averaging 5.4 runs per game, with yesterday's game having particular excitement.
Although Spring Training records and statistics don't matter, especially this early in the game, winning certainly is a feather in the cap in the feel good department.
Starter Matt Andriese, in the running for the opening day roster as a groundball specialist, posted three innings of shutout baseball Sunday, relinquishing four hits and a walk, while striking out a batter on 42 pitches (24 strikes, 57% K/BB).
Andriese pitched to contact and was aided by the fielders behind him. In the second inning, Steven Souza made an impressive running catch at the center field wall, then spun around to relay the ball to Nick Franklin who nailed Kirk Niewenhuis as he attempted to tag and score from second base (26 seconds in the video below).
Then in the third inning, after Wilmer Flores singled on a liner to center, Souza made another sharp defensive play -- throwing to Franklin at second after the Mets' shortstop tried to stretch a single into a double. For a team that erred 88 times in 2014 -- costing the pitchers 33 unearned runs -- quality defensive run prevention plays like these will prove crucial in the upcoming season.
Burch Smith, too, was able to get three innings of work under his belt. Despite a rough two run, three hit third, Smith settled down and allowed only one other base runner to reach on a sixth inning walk.
The Rays offense, which has progressively gotten more consistent, put up another four plus run game -- the third this week, and fourth overall. It stands to reason, the more at-bats the starting lineup gets, the more consistent they will be. Tampa Bay averaged 2.6 runs per game in the first six games of the Grapefruit League season, and 5.4 runs per game since, and a good number of players who the Rays will depend upon in 2015 are coming to life at the plate.
Desmond Jennings has seven hits, two runs, and an RBI; Evan Longoria -- who was again productive Sunday -- has four hits on the spring (including a double), a run, and an RBI; of John Jaso's four hits, two have been doubles, and he has scored twice; and Steven Souza mashed a homer and a double within the last week. Which brings us back to Sunday's game.
Under the previous manager, scoring early and often was referred to as the swarm. Sans a witty name for the Rays offense, they swarmed (wolf packed?) Bartolo Colon and the Mets early, tagging the 41 year old righty for five runs on seven hits and a walk in the first two innings of the game. David DeJesus led off the Rays half of the inning with his first double of the spring. Nick Franklin, batting from the left side, responded by moving DeJesus to third on a line-drive base hit to right. Evan Longoria put Tampa Bay on the board with a long sac-fly to center. After a swipe of second by Franklin, James Loney plated the second run of the inning with a base hit to right.
Tampa Bay was far from done.
Corey Brown, this year's Spring Training beast, worked a one out walk, then moved to second on a Bobby Wilson liner to center. One out and two batters later, Franklin hit another single to right, scoring Wilson from second and bringing John Jaso to the plate. Jaso proceeded to power in a pair of runs on a double to right. Jaso was re-acquired by Tampa Bay for his ability to work good at-bats and make contact. It's nice to see him do that now.
Longoria drove in his second run of the day in the fourth inning, and Alan Dykstra and Juan Francisco went back-to-back, uncorking a pair of solo shots which capped the Rays scoring for the day.
Despite the off-day, Jake Odorizzi will throw an intrasquad game in Port Charlotte on Monday, likely working into shape to take Drew Smyly's slot as third in the rotation.
Tuesday the Rays will travel to Clearwater for another contest against the Phillies.
Alex Cobb will make his third start of the spring after allowing three earned runs in 2-1/3 innings against Toronto, Thursday.
- Closer Jake McGee is looking forward to Tuesday when he take the mound for the first time since going under the knife to throw a bullpen session in Port Charlotte. McGee told Bill Chastain (MLB.com) that he hasn't experienced any setbacks throughout the rehab process,
I'm pretty excited about it, because last week I was [throwing from] up to about 135 feet. I was able to carry the ball on a line. I feel like my arm strength is pretty close to where it needs to be. And [head athletic trainer] Ron [Porterfield] was saying, 'If you can carry the ball at 130 feet, your arm's kind of ready to go on the mound.' So [it's] pretty exciting. Another step.
- Rays manager Kevin Cash announced his second round of roster cuts, Sunday. Infielders Ryan Brett and Hak-Ju Lee, catcher Justin O'Connor, and pitchers Grayson Garvin, and Jose Dominguez were optioned to Minor League camp. Additionally, Dylan Floro, Robert Zarate and Luke Maile have been reassigned. Tampa Bay now has 54 players in camp.
- Cash was complimentary of developing catcher Maile and O'Conner:
With Maile and O'Connor, you definitely see the upside with both of them. Ryan Brett, I apologized to him because it just didn't work out where he was going to get a lot of at-bats; we had so many people. But he's very much a priority with what we're doing going forward. Hopefully he enjoyed the camp as much as we enjoyed having him in.
- Cash also acknowledged that Lee may have gotten the short end of the stick, thanks to the glut of infielders in camp:
Then Hak-Ju was more or less, it's time for him to play. He came in and did a really good job of getting his body in shape in the offseason and now it's time to get some consistent ABs. Dominguez? He's going to help us at some point this year. [We] wanted him to get down and get some consistent innings.
- Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) writes LHP Drew Smyly might be ready early in regular season. Despite Smyly's bout with tendinitis, which effectively halted his progress, it is possible that he may not miss a start, thanks to the off-day between the third and fourth games of the season. It's worth noting that Tampa Bay could go as far as April 15 before needing a fifth starter.
- Finally, the Rays donned Carolina blue socks on Sunday to honor the passing of Grant Balfour's father, former Sydney baseball executive David Balfour, the inaugural GM of the Sydney Blue Sox.