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Vince Naimoli to throw out first pitch at Rays opener

Vince Naimoli was chosen to acknowledge the 20-year anniversary of the franchise being awarded. [Times files (2008)]

Vince Naimoli was chosen to acknowledge the 20-year anniversary of the franchise being awarded. [Times files (2008)]

The Rays are making an unexpected nod to their past in picking previous team owner Vince Naimoli to throw out the first pitch prior to the April 6 season opener.

Naimoli was chosen to acknowledge the 20-year anniversary of the franchise being awarded.

"We are glad to have Vince Naimoli throw out the first pitch as we recognize 20 years since Tampa Bay was awarded a major league franchise,'' current principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. "Vince led the effort to bring baseball here and has continued to enrich the community with his charitable giving.''

Naimoli is the Tampa businessman who led the group that was won the franchise in March 1995 to cap the Tampa Bay area's 20-year pursuit of a team, though his tenure was often marked by controversy and confrontation.

He sold the team to the group led by Sternberg, which took over after the 2005 season.

Naimoli, 77, still resides in Tampa and attends some games at the Trop.

 

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For starters, Rays at Orioles, weather permitting

Crews prepare to cover the field at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]

Crews prepare to cover the field at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. [JOEY KNIGHT | Times]

The Rays and Orioles got 3 1/2 innings in at Ed Smith Stadium before storms arrived from the coast. LHP  Everett Teaford, vying for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, and left-handed reliever Mike Montgomery logged two innings each.

Baltimore led 4-3 when play was stopped. Facing the Orioles' de facto opening day lineup, Teaford gave up a first-pitch home run to LF Nolan Reimold,  then retired the next six batters he faced.

Rays C Rene Rivera hit his third home run of the spring, a one-out solo shot to left, where the wind was blowing outward.

DEVELOPING (11:50 a.m.) : The Rays are scheduled to face the Orioles in Sarasota today, but rain has begun falling at Ed Smith Stadium, and in the infield is shrouded beneath a tarp.

The Rays took batting practice and did other pre-game work here in Port Charlotte, delaying what usually is a 9:15 bus to 10:30 at the earliest for the 45-minute trip.

With LHP Everett Teaford, who is bidding for a spot on the staff, scheduled to pitch rather than one of the established starters, a rainout won't have a dramatic impact on their plans. Also, most of the starting position players were not in the lineup today.

Meantime, some morning notes from Rays camp: …

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Some Instagram views of Rays vs. Yankees in Port Charlotte

Heading into the Charlotte Sports Park for the Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankees on Thursday.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Heading into the Charlotte Sports Park for the Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankees on Thursday.

The Tampa Bay Rays hung on to beat the New York Yankees 6-5 on Thursday at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. Times photographer Will Vragovic captured these Instagram images. 

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Four more cuts: Belisario, Bellatti, Stowell, Velez

The Rays continue to further whittle their spring roster, cutting the number to 44 by reassigning veteran RHP Ronald Belisario, prospect RHP Andrew Bellatti, RHP Bryce Stowell and INF Eugenio Velez.

More moves are possible Friday as teams can start putting players on the 15-day DL, which also allows for optioned players to be recsalled.

Belisario, who was sidelined for nearly a month after reporting to camp with a fractured left shoulbder, is expected to be part of the Rays bullpen at some point this season, manager Kevin Cash said, noting his ability to get a lot of ground balls. But because Belisario is just starting to throw bullpen sessions the Rays sent him down to keep preparing.

Cash also noted that Velez, who can play infield and outfield and can hit a bit, could also be of help.

Bellatti and Stowell, who both pitched in the bullpen for Double-A Montgomery last season, needed to start getting regular work.

 

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Rays make it official, it's Archer for starter

Chris Archer, who was to start the second game, became the obvious choice once Alex Cobb was sidelined.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Chris Archer, who was to start the second game, became the obvious choice once Alex Cobb was sidelined.

The Rays made the obvious official today in naming Chris Archer their opening day starter to replace injured Alex Cobb.

Archer, who was to start the second game, became the obvious choice once Cobb was sidelined.

"I'm excited for sure,'' Archer said. "Not excited that Cobb and Smyly and Colome are all three out. I know Cobb was ready to take the ball. This is just a temporary thing.''

Actually, Archer said he was not looking at the opening day assignment as a big deal because he will treat it like any other game.

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MLB commissioner Manfred says stadium is Rays' biggest issue, calls on 'local government' to help

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred talks with Ray pitcher Chris Archer.

MARC TOPKIN | Times

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred talks with Ray pitcher Chris Archer.

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said today the lack of a new stadium is the biggest issue facing the Rays and called on local government to provide assistance in resolving the situation.

"You have to conclude that the stadium issue is the key issue because the Rays have put a great product on the field consistently for a really long period of time,'' Manfred said during a visit to Rays camp this morning. "It's not a situation where you can blame a lack of support on the fact you don't have a good product. (Baseball operations president) Matt (Silverman), (principal owner) Stu (Sternberg), the whole Rays team has done a fantastic job in really difficult circumstances putting a competitive product on the field.''

While Manfred said "the good news" for Tampa Bay area fans was that Sternberg "remains committed to the idea that the Rays should be here,'' he did put the onus on local government leaders - though he didn't specify St. Petersburg or Tampa - to help.

"From our perspective it is very difficult to get a new stadium done without cooperation, help, assistance from local government,'' Manfred said. "We're hoping - we're hoping - that Stuart gets that kind of help so that they can get a facility that will keep the Rays and keep them competitive for the long term.''

Manfred said he will follow Sternberg's lead on the best route and has "no firm timetable" for action, but did say, "Obviously there are 30 teams and it's in everyone's best interests to have 30 strong franchises, and our markets have to participate in making sure that we have major-league quality facilities everywhere.''

Manfred also said "it's always a concern when we have a franchise that doesn't have the support in terms of attendance, sponsorships, all the revenue streams that are necessary to keep a team competitive. We want all 30 teams to be competitive franchises and obviously local support is the key to that. So it's a big concern for us.''

Manfred says the Athletics and Rays stadium issues are  "1 and 1-A, they're a single entry in my mind.'' …

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Forsythe eager for early opportunity at second base

Logan Forsythe turns a double play during an exhibition spring training game against the Minnesota Twins last week in Port Charlotte.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Logan Forsythe turns a double play during an exhibition spring training game against the Minnesota Twins last week in Port Charlotte.

Rays infielder Logan Forsythe can fill a number of part-time roles as needed, but he'll open the season getting most of the work at second base as Nick Franklin is likely out at least a month with an oblique injury.

"It's unfortunate what happened with Nick ... but it's exciting. It's an opportunity," said Forsythe, 28, who played 74 of his 110 games with the Rays last season at second.

Forsythe leads the Rays with three home runs in 25 spring at-bats -- he had six total in 301 at-bats last year -- and said he's feeling more comfortable in his second year in the organization after being acquired in January 2014 from the Padres.

"I think anybody coming into an organization doesn't want to step on any toes, wants to get to know people," he said. "I could say that was the case last year, but I'm not going to use that as an excuse. But I do feel more comfortable, a little bit more confident coming into this spring and definitely going into this season. We'll see what happens." …

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For starters: Rays vs. Yankees

UPDATE, 12:30: Greg Auman with an update from manager Kevin Cash's pregame session with the media.

-- Right-hander Ronald Belisario, coming back from a left shoulder fracture, threw a "really good bullpen," Cash said. "He's going to help us this year, for sure," said Cash, who likes him as a ground-ball pitcher.

-- The latest on LHP Drew Smyly, recovering from left shoulder tendinitis, is "all good. Everything was good." His next step is another bullpen session, then they'll go from there.

-- In easing Rene Rivera into getting ready for start of season, Rays are DHing him Friday, then play catcher two games and get a day off before catching three games in a row.

-- The Rays have an all-bullpen day today with no projected starters pitching. Cash originally had RHP Kevin Jepsen pitching first, but switched him out for LHP Jordan Norberto. He said Jepsen won't ever start during season and didn't want to throw him out of his comfort zone. All today's relievers will get Friday off, then should get some back-to-back work to prepare them before spring training is over. …

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Evan Longoria featured in national New Balance ad campaign

  Rays 3B Evan Longoria is featured in a national ad campaign for New Balance's new Fresh Foam Zante shoe line, appearing with track standout Emma Coburn and ESPN SportsCenter/radio host Scott Van Pelt.

   The campaign includes print ads in ESPN The Magazine and a prominently placed video on ESPN.com, and may grow from there.

    The storyline in the video is that Longoria and Coburn take a break from their training to get trained by Van Pelt in doing his job - and it's actually pretty funny.

   "It was a lot of fun to do,'' Longoria said.

 

 

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For starters: Rays at Twins, for the last time

Catcher Rene Rivera is expected back in the lineup after missing the last few days due to left calf tightness.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Catcher Rene Rivera is expected back in the lineup after missing the last few days due to left calf tightness.

UPDATE, 11:16: With INF Nick Franklin likely out at least a few weeks into the season, Logan Forsythe will get the bulk of the playing time at second base. There's a chance that two of the other three middle infielders will now make the team, from the group of Tim Beckham and non-roster invitees Jake Elmore and Alexi Casilla.

Manager Kevin Cash said the reports on Cobb were good.

In talking about the rotation vacancies, Cash acknowledged that Karns is pretty much in, and that the other two spots are "up for grabs.'' RHP Matt Andriese, who starts today, is a leading candidate.

UPDATE, 10:23: RHP Alex Cobb (forearm tendinitis) said his visit with Dr. Koco Eaton went well and expects to resume throwing in the next few days: "The pain is pretty much gone today. I can't even make it hurt.''

Twins lineup:

Dozier 2b
Escobar ss
Mauer dh
Vargas 1b
Suzuki c
Rosario lf
Nunez 3b
Robinson rf
Hicks cf
Gibson p

UPDATE, 8:43: Rays lineup looking a lot like it could on opening day, though with Archer starting:

Jaso DH,
Rivera c,
Cabrera SS,
Longoria 3b,
Loney 1b,
Jennings LF,
Kiermaier cf, S
Souza rf,
Beckham 2b,
Andriese p

  …

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Zimmer's No. 66 to be retired at Rays opener

The Rays will permanently honor longtime senior adviser Don Zimmer by retiring his No. 66 he in a ceremony before the April 6 season-opener.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

The Rays will permanently honor longtime senior adviser Don Zimmer by retiring his No. 66 he in a ceremony before the April 6 season-opener.

The Rays made official plans to permanently honor longtime senior adviser Don Zimmer by retiring his No. 66 he in a ceremony before the April 6 season-opener. 

"Don Zimmer enriched the lives of everyone in the Rays family, and he played a significant part in the growth of our organization," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement. "Zim's presence has been a gift to the game of baseball, and his influence will be felt for years to come.

"It has been a true privilege of my stewardship of the Rays to have had Don as such an important part of our organization. It is with great pride that we honor him and the game by retiring his number."

Zimmer, who died last June 4 after battling several ailments, was with the Rays for 11 years - the most of any team he played for, coached or managed. He increased his number annually to reflect his number of years in professional baseball, last wearing No. 66.

He broke into the majors in 1954 with the Dodgers, where he would team with Jackie Robinson, and went on to play for Cubs, Mets, Reds and Senators. He managed the Padres, Red Sox, Rangers and Cubs, and was a bench coach for the Yankees dynastic run. …

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Off-day report:: Karns sharp, Franklin officially out for opener

After throwing two innings in a minor-league game, Rays RHP Nathan Karns signed  a few autographs and watched prospect RHP Brent Honeywell pitch.

MARC TOPKIN / TAMPA BAY TIMES

After throwing two innings in a minor-league game, Rays RHP Nathan Karns signed a few autographs and watched prospect RHP Brent Honeywell pitch.

Projected No. 3 starter RHP Nathan Karns made the best working on the Rays' off-day, throwing 29 pitches over two innings in a Class A minor-league game.

"I knew they were going to be swinging early and often so it kind of allowed me to play with some of the pitches that I need to work on, knowing they're aggressive and making sure (the pitches) are effective,'' Karns said.

Karns actually got seven outs, as the Rays had him face a fourth Oriole in the first inning after retiring the first three on eight pitches. For the outing, he allowed one hit, walked one, struck out three, throwing 20 strikes.

He threw some good curveballs, he looked really sharp, he looked like he had really good velo going today.

Manager Kevin Cash said Karns looked sharp. "He threw some good curveballs,'' Cash said. "He looked like he had really good velo going today.''

C Bobby Wilson came in to catch Karns, and got three at-bats in return for doing so. …

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For starters: Rays vs. Pirates, with Cabrera confirmed as SS

The Rays' Asdrubal Cabrera launches a fly ball last week in Port Charlotte during a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

The Rays' Asdrubal Cabrera launches a fly ball last week in Port Charlotte during a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins.

UPDATE, 12:59: Franklin was scratched from the lineup with what the Rays said was a tweak of his left side. More info may be available post-game.

Loney went into the lineup at DH:


DeJesus LF,
Forsythe 2b,
Cabrera SS,
Longoria 3b,
Loney DH
Souza rf,
Francisco 1b,
Kiermaier cf,
Casali c,
Archer p


1

 

UPDATE, 10:50: Cabrera said he was somewhat motivated by the chatter that he'd lost range, worked out a lot this off-season and reported to camp 5-7 pounds lighter and felt good about how he has played, and was pleased/excited by the decision.

UPDATE, 9:40: Cash confirms Cabrera has won the starting SS job, says the biggest reason is "he makes the everyday play.'' Also said that Cabrera "has earned the right to be there.'' Cash said second base primarily will be handled by a combination of Nick Franklin and Logan Forsythe, although there are some other options to consider, such as Tim Beckham and non-roster invitees Alexi Casilla and Jake Elmore.

Cash also said a decision on Beckham will be made based on what's best for the big-league team, and not on whether he needs everyday at-bats. …

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For starters: Rays at Jays (again)

UPDATE, 10:50: Greg Auman pinch-hitting for Marc Topkin today, with a little more on the rotation shuffle reported earlier this morning.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said the decision to throw three key starters Saturday -- Nathan Karns against the Red Sox and Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi in a minor-league game -- was driven by the players, who represent the top three in the Rays' opening rotation.

"Basically ... Hick (pitching coach Jim Hickey) sat them all down, talked with them and they all came up with the same day they wanted to pitch," Cash said. "We're going to find a couple of games, innings for them, but nothing more than that. We're trying to not disrupt that many people's schedule, so we let them have their choice. We'll figure it out as we go."

Karns will throw in a minor-league game Tuesday while the Rays are off, but Cash said that will likely be a shorter outing compared to Saturday's. As Topkin reported in his Sunday notes, the Rays have a day off after the first three games, allowing them to use four pitchers in their first rotation. Cash said he has a "pretty strong feeling" the Rays will do that, keeping pitchers on normal rest instead of getting a day off. …

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Another pitching injury: Enny Romero sidelined

   The Rays starting pitching depth has taken yet another hit as LHP Enny Romero is sidelined with a mid-back muscle strain and likely won't be ready to start the season.

   Romero was slated for Triple-A and would have been among the first options if the Rays had additional injury issues.

  They are already looking at opening the season without RHP Alex Cobb (forearm tightness), RHP Alex Colome (pneumonia), LHP Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery), LHP Drew Smyly (shoulder tendinitis).

   The rotation looks at this point to be RHP Chris Archer, RHP Jake Odorizzi, RHP Nathan Karns, RHP Matt Andriese and a fifth starter to be named, possibly LHP Mike Montgomery.

 

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