Once the fog cleared from the greater Port Charlotte area, likely opening day starter Alex Cobb got the opportunity to throw live batting practice, along with Nathan Karns and flame throwers Jose Dominguez and Jhan Martinez among others. Karns, one of the candidates for the number five starter’s job, will get the ball in the spring opener against the Orioles, Thursday.
While getting reps on the mound is important, the pitchers are getting a little tired of throwing live batting practice. According to Marc Topkin, Cobb said without the hitters swinging, there wasn’t much point to it. Manager Kevin Cash understood the frustrations, noting everyone is eager to get to games. Cash talked about the importance of this last round of batting practice with Rays Radio:
Pitching coordinator Dick Bosman worked with the pitchers on the art of holding runners on base, and the Rays squad spent a good amount of time on rundown plays, with an emphasis on making only one throw, and a good one at that.
The Rays will hold two more workouts ahead of Thursday’s game; Tuesday — which won’t start until 10:00 AM due to a pre-scheduled MLB domestic violence awareness meeting — and an abbreviated session Wednesday in advance of the annual charity golf tournament.
If you were to ask Nick Franklin who would be the heir apparent at shortstop, his answer would be quick and to the point:
“I’m going to be out there at short. There’s not a doubt in my mind that I’m not.”
In a piece on the utility player acquired last season in the David Price trade, Marc Topkin suggested if the biggest question in unscrambling the Rays’ muddled middle infield situation is indeed whether Nick Franklin can play shortstop, there may be an easy answer.
Franklin’s answer was simple and passionate,
“Absolutely, absolutely. One hundred percent. I’ve grown up playing shortstop. Even at the big-league level, playing short just seems natural to me. I enjoy it. I’m really comfortable there. … It’s been in my blood for a long time.”
Franklin was quick to note that he practiced all off-season on any weaknesses at short, namely his range. Spending part of the winter working with a track coach to increase his rang, Franklin focused on his first and second step.
“I’ve been making pretty good gains on that,” Franklin said, “starting from the bottom of my running form to starts, sideways, you name it.”
As Topkin wrote, with only a brief September look to go by — six starts at second, three at short — Rays bench/infield coach Tom Foley said Franklin appears to have focused on the right issues, mentioning arm strength, range and consistency as the primary points of evaluation.
At the end of the day, the plan is to take almost the whole spring to decide who fits best where — either Franklin as the primary shortstop with Asdrubal Cabrera at second, or vice versa. Should Franklin win the job, he would more than likely still be platooned with the likes of Logan Forsythe and/or Tim Beckham against LHP.
There was some action in camp Monday when middle infield prospect Tim Beckham smashed Drew Smyly’s windshield during batting practice. Beckham was quoted,
“I hope BMW covers that; if not, meal money will,”
and continuing with,
“Blame Hickey, he threw it to the barrell.”
— Will Vragovic (@willvrag) March 2, 2015
Smyly, by all accounts, scrambled to see if he could get it repaired Monday afternoon, adding,
“I’ll find a new spot tomorrow.”
Finally, I wrote Sunday that Kevin Cash plans to use LHP Mike Montgomery in a relief role this spring. After starting 150 of his 155 career minor league games, Montgomery seemed open to trying something new. Josh Vitale (Suncoast Sports Now) talked to Montgomery about the possibility of starting the season as a reliever,
“I’m willing and open to do any kind of role this team would need me to fill,” Montgomery said. “There’s going to be adjustments you have to make doing that, but I told them, ‘Hey, I feel good as a starter and I feel like I could transition to a bullpen role if needed, as well.’ I feel pretty confident about doing that.”
“If they want me to do that and if called upon to do that, I think I can do it,” Montgomery said. “Obviously you want to be in the big leagues, and any way you can get there is what you want to do. So having the ability to start or relieve would be more valuable, and as a player, I want to make myself the most valuable that I can.”
Cash compared Montgomery to New York Yankees reliever Andrew Miller, who, like Montgomery, is a tall left-hander whose “leverage and that deception plays pretty well.” Cash thinks that adjustment can help a pitcher, citing Indian’s right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco, who put up a 2.30 ERA in 43 innings out of the ‘pen in 2014 before moving into the starting rotation and going 5-3 with a 1.30 ERA in a 10 game span.
Cash spoke about the difference in perspective between starting and relieving,
“You’ve got three outs or two innings to work with, and it shortens your thought process instead of thinking about getting to that sixth inning all the time. They end up being better pitchers in the long run.”