The Tampa Bay Rays concluded the bulk of their pre-Grapefruit League action, full squad workouts ahead of Thursday’s Spring Training opener against the Baltimore Orioles. Asdrubal Cabrera returned to the fold after being sent home the day previous with stomach virus like symptoms. And while there wasn’t much of a buzz regarding Wednesday’s shortened workout, there is quite a buzz ahead of Thursday’s game. I’ll delve into that below.
Alex Cobb was named as the Opening Day starter against the Orioles on April 6. Cobb, whose initial reaction was “Joy,” will continue the streak of 13 consecutive seasons for Tampa Bay with an Opening Day starter who is 30 years old or younger — the Rays are only team that can make that claim. He is also the first Ray in seven years, who isn’t David Price or James Shields, to take the mound on Opening Day.
Kevin Cash said it was obvious how much of an honor this is for the Rays ace,
He was extremely excited. I kind of expected him to say, ‘Yeah, OK, whatever,’ but he was pumped. And you look back and you’re like, ‘Man, he’s had some good pitchers here that maybe he’s had to wait in turn for Shields and Price and those guys. I think he looks at it as being an honor, because there have been some good ones here in the past that have done it.
Cash admitted he considered starting Drew Smyly or Chris Archer on April 6, but Cobb ultimately earned the spot based on his past performance, and the amount of work he put into things this off-season past,
I think for the organization, you respect what the other guys have done in Arch and Smyly. But Cobb, he’s right there with them,” he said. “We know everyone wants to do it, but at the same time, with the way Cobb pitched last year and also just the work he’s put in this offseason – along with Arch – has been really impressive to watch.
In true ace form, Cobb was humbled by the opportunity to kick things off, though he is well aware of the responsibility this position holds,
…More on an individual note, seeing what Archer did last year in making every one of his starts and having an excellent year statistically and just on and off the field the way he came into his own, if he was given the ball, I’d have nothing but excitement for him also. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was excited to get that nod.
I definitely think taking the ball on opening day comes with a lot of responsibilities, whether you want to embrace that or not,” Cobb said. “There’s going to be a lot of eyes looking at you and judging you, how you go about your business. Younger guys will all want to be in that position to have the ball on opening day, so they’re going to watch how you go about your business and try to replicate that. Whether you want that tag on your or not, it’s there. The best thing to do is embrace it and carry it, take all the responsibilities that go along with it.
Cash also set the rotation for the opening series, leading into the following set against the Miami Marlins:
April 6 Alex Cobb
April 7 Chris Archer
April 8 Drew Smyly
April 10 Jake Odorizzi
It should be noted, neither Cash nor the team know who the fifth starter will be. Because of it, they may skip that spot and bring back Cobb, on regular rest (they are off April 9), on April 11 .
Longo in the fourth hole
For all of Joe Maddon’s intrinsic wisdom, he tended to place Evan Longoria in the three hole based on Longo’s preference for where he hit in the batting order.
The Rays third baseman told Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) that he was willing to hit wherever in the order as long as that’s what was best for the team,
I’ve always said, and as far back as when Joe (Maddon) was here, if that’s what makes the lineup better, if that’s what gives us the best chance to win on a nightly basis, then I’ll hit wherever you ask me to hit,” Longoria said. “They feel that the way our lineup shapes up that that’s the best way, and I agree with that.
And after speaking with Cash and team officials, it was determined that he would be better suited hitting cleanup. Besides Longoria is more productive when he’s hitting fourth, statistically speaking:
Batting 2nd .297 BA/.333 OBP/.378 SLG/.712 OPS/.081 ISO/.333 BABIP/4.5 wRC/109 wRC+
Batting 3rd .223 BA/.292 OBP/.411 SLG/.703 OPS/.188 ISO/.242 BABIP/22.5 wRC/98 wRC+
Batting 4th .264 BA/.333 OBP/.403 SLG/.736 OPS/.138 ISO/.301 BABIP/51.5 wRC/111 wRC+
With all of this in mind, Longoria will bat fourth in Thursday’s game in part as an experiment — behind Cabrera and ahead of James Loney — though this is what the middle of the order will look like more-or-less.
How it all lines up
As Topkin wrote, “another major point of spring interest will be the middle infield alignment. Cabrera starts at shortstop in the spring opener with Tim Beckham at second, though Cash said there will be numerous combinations.”
David DeJesus, who is still likely to be traded, will start in left field. Starting players will get two at-bats and pitchers will work one inning apiece unless a starter has a very short one.
Rays 3/5/15 Starting Lineup
Also slated to see time on the mound; left handed pitchers Enny Romero, CJ Riefenhauser and Robert Zarate, and right handed pitchers Kevin Jepsen, Brad Boxberger, Steve Geltz, German Marquez, Andrew Bellatti and Dylan Floro.
- The Rays inked a minor-league deal and spring invite, pending a physical, with RHP Jim Miller. Miller, 32, spent parts of five seasons in the majors and will add bullpen depth. Most his work came in a 48-2/3 inning stint with the Athletics in 2012, when he posted a 2.59 ERA (4.74 FIP) with 44 strikeouts against 27 walks (5.25 K/BB). Miller has a 3.48 ERA (5.19 FIP) with 7.9 K9, 5.2 BB9 and a 33.5% GB%. Per Steve Adams (MLB Trade Rumors), he’s averaged just under 93 mph on his fastball in his 67 1/3 Major League innings and has a solid 3.78 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 429 Triple-A innings.
- On the subject of the Miller acquisition, Tommy Rancel (Process Report blog) brought up a good point,
With Ronald Belisario on the shelf indefinitely due to a left shoulder fracture, Miller likely assumes his role as the veteran hurler with groundball tendencies. Miller throws in the low to mid 90s, but unlike Bellasario, has at least one secondary offering worth noting: a low-70s curveball. There is also a slider that is tossed a bit harder.
The winner(s) of the remaining bullpen spot(s) will likely be someone younger and with better stuff, but Miller has the chance to stick around the franchise as a plan c or d.