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Rays honor Don Zimmer with new clubhouse sign

This sign is just inside the doors to the Rays clubhouse.

MARC TOPKIN / TAMPA BAY TIMES

This sign is just inside the doors to the Rays clubhouse.

Among a series of sharp upgrades to the Rays clubhouse this off-season was the addition of this large sign just inside the doors honoring the late Don Zimmer.

"I like it a lot,'' 3B Evan Longoria said. "And he'd probably hate it.''

Zimmer passed away in June, having spent his last seasons as a senior adviser to the Rays. The Rays will retire the number he last wore, 66, in a ceremony before Monday's opener.

 

 

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For starters, Rays at Yankees

UPDATE, 10:58: Rays manager Kevin Cash said newly acquired RHP Erasmo Ramirez "most likely" will be used as a starter, though they will wait to talk to him upon arrival, which may be tonight.

Cash said RHP Matt Andriese, who had looked to be the No. 4 starter, is still "in a good spot," which suggests he could be used in bullpen. And the Rays will  need a fifth starter April 14.

Baseball ops president Matt Silverman also said nothing was official but spoke of Ramirez as a likely starter, valuing his experience and potential to provide length in games.

While Silverman said they will continue looking for pitching, he indicated they had found the extra starter they were looking for, saying getting Ramirez was "the biggest move we had considered."

Even with Ramirez aboard, the Rays don't expect to make the final decisions on their roster until the Sunday deadline.

"I would anticipate all of us talking sometime during an Easter egg hunt,'' Cash said.

LHP Drew Smyly (shoulder tendinitis) is throwing a live batting practice this morning at the Trop.

Yankees lineup:

Ellsbury cf
Gardner lf
Beltran rf
Teixeira 1b
McCann c
Headley 3b
A-Rod dh
Drew 2b
Ryan ss
Whitley p …

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For starters, Rays vs. Red Sox and at Orioles

Rays pitcher Jim Miller watches from the dugout during a March 20 game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Charlotte Sports Park. Miller will start a game on Tuesday, the last day before the Rays break camp to play the remainder of their exhibition schedule at Tropicana Field.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Rays pitcher Jim Miller watches from the dugout during a March 20 game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Charlotte Sports Park. Miller will start a game on Tuesday, the last day before the Rays break camp to play the remainder of their exhibition schedule at Tropicana Field.

UPDATE, 12:35: Casilla was released. By doing so now, the Rays give Casilla, who wasn't going to make their team, more time to seek a big-league spot elsehwere.

The Rays had to decide today on Casilla because as what is considered an Article XXB free agent, he would receive a $100,000 bonus if not placed on the 25-man roster.

UPDATE, 11:57: Top prospect Daniel Robertson is coming over from minor-league camp and will start for the Rays at SS in place of Alexi Casilla.

2B Nick Franklin, idled more than a week by a left oblique strain, is feeling better enough to get on the field today, taking some ground balls hit right at him. He also did some swings with a whiffle ball bat. Franklin is still headed to the DL.

Bullpen sessions for RHP Alex Colome, LHP Jake McGee and LHP Matt Moore all were said to go well.

UPDATE, 9:33: Not too much news out of manager Kevin Cash's  morning media sesssion, but RHP Alex Colome (pneumonia), LHP Matt Moore (TJ surgery) and LHP Jake McGee (arthroscopic elbow surgery) are throwing bullpens today. …

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Rays whittle roster, reassigning Gomes, Teaford, six others

The Rays moved a step closer to settling their final roster Monday by reassigning two of the non-roster pitchers competing for jobs, RHP Brandon Gomes and LHP Everett Teaford, plus six others.

Also told they will not make the opening day roster were C Mayo Acosta, OF Corey Brown, OF Joey Butler, RHP Jhan Marinez, RHP Jim Miller and LHP Jordan Norberto.

Manager Kevin Cash said the conversation was toughest with Gomes, who allowed one run in sevem spring appearances, striking out 15.

All the players have agreed to take part in the remaining spring games if needed, Cash said.

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For starters, Rays vs. Orioles

Grant Balfour pitches against the Yankees last week in a spring training game in Port Charlotte.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Grant Balfour pitches against the Yankees last week in a spring training game in Port Charlotte.

UPDATE, 10:15: Raul Ibanez, who took himself out of the running for the Rays managerial job to spend more time with his family, has been hired as a studio analyst by Fox, SI.com reports.

UPDATE, 10:03: RHP Alex Cobb (forearm tendinitis) played catch again today and it went well.

LHP Matt Moore (TJ surgery) and LHP Jake McGee (arthroscopic elbow surgery) will throw bullpens on Tuesday.

Orioles lineup:
De Aza cf
Reimold lf
Paredes 3b
Young rf
Snider dh
Schoop 2b
Flaherty 1b
Lavarnway c
Cabrera ss
Davies p

UPDATE, 9:55: Some morning notes from Rays manager Kevin Cash's media session:

  * LHP Drew Smyly came thru Sunday bullpen session well, will throw live BP Weds and Sat then progress into rehab games. Also  Cash that Smyly's return could be accelerated based on team need, say after 75-pitch rehab start rather than 105.

  * The outfield experiment  with John Jaso has gone well enough he could start a game out there in Miami in the second series.

  * RHP Alex Colome will continue to be stretched out as a starter as he works his way through minor-league rehab games. …

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For starters: Rays at Red Sox

UPDATE, 5:50: The Rays lost 3-2 in 10 innings to the Red Sox.

UPDATE, 8:53: LHP Drew Smyly (shoulder tendinitis) said he continues to feel better and though his scheduled is set "in pencil" he expects to be back pitching for the Rays sometime in April, and there would have to be a setback for him not to be.

RHP Alex Cobb  said he feels good the day after his first throwing session, is off today (with Grand Prix duties in St. Pete), and plays catch again Monday

Boxberger said he asked to start today because he wanted to face the top Boston hitters he is likely to see during season.

Red Sox lineup:

Betts CF,
Pedroia 2B,
Ortiz DH,
Ramirez LF,
Sandoval 3B,
Napoli 1B,
Victorino RF,
Bogaerts SS,
Swihart C,
Johnson p

UPDATE, 8:08: Rays lineup:
Souza rf,
Rivera c,
Forsythe 1b,
Longoria 3b,
Butler LF,
Beckham 2b,
Francisco DH,
Kiermaier cf,
Elmore SS,
Boxberger p

DEVELOPING: The Rays are headed south to Fort Myers this morning for the back end of their home-and-home "series" with the Red Sox today. …

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For starters, Rays vs. Red Sox

UPDATE, 12:04: Cobb said his throwng session went well, that it's back to "square one but I don't think there's as many squares,'' and he expects to be back pitching for the Rays sometime in April. He said there was some tightness, as he would expect after 10 days off, comparing it to the first time he throws in the off-season, and said he was glad to get the first step back out of the way.

 UPDATE, 9:44: Manager Kevin Cash said he would expect the final decisions on the Rays roster to come down to the April 5 deadline. "Whatever that deadline is, that's what I would anticipate,'' he said.

LHP Drew Smyly (shoulder tendinitis) will throw his fourth bullpen session on Sunday, and could next progress to facing hitters.

RHP Alex Colome said he will throw a 40-pitch bullpen session today, and also that the Rays have decided to put him on the 15-day DL with a plan for him to be ready about two weeks into the season. Also, he will remain on a starting schedule, with plans to get stretched out to 85 pitches in his final rehab start. …

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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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