LAKELAND — C Hank Conger entered spring training hardly considered a lock to make the Rays' final roster. He'll exit it as the opening day starter.
Talk about March madness.
Conger, who hit only .143 in 12 games this spring but is deemed an exceptional pitch-framer and sharp game-caller, was chosen as Chris Archer's battery mate for Sunday's opener against the Blue Jays.
Manager Kevin Cash said the decision to use Conger instead of Curt Casali was based on the switch-hitting Conger, a career .279 hitter against right-handers, being a better matchup against Jays starter Marcus Stroman.
"Obviously we're gonna play some matchups," Cash said Friday morning. "Stroman is a very good pitcher, and we like how Hank's handled the bat, especially against those tough righties.
"I spoke with Arch. Arch is very comfortable throwing to both of them, so that was basically it. Curt's gonna play quite a bit."
As a late callup in 2015, Casali had 10 home runs in 101 at-bats and threw out seven of 19 base-stealers. Conger, acquired from the Astros in December, threw out one of 43 in 69 games last season.
"We're not going to have egos getting in the way of the overall goals for the team," Casali said.
"In that aspect, we're completely fine splitting time, and even if he gets more or I get more, at the end of the day as long as we're winning ball games, that's what matters. I've been really impressed with his work ethic, how he goes about business and what kind of player and teammate he is."
STAY TUNED: Cash and president of baseball operations Matt Silverman both indicated the team's final couple of roster moves won't come until some point this afternoon at the earliest. The decision centers around whether to carry OF Mikie Mahtook as a fifth bench player and go with a seven-man bullpen, or go with eight relievers. RHP Andrew Bellatti, RHP Danny Farquhar and LHP Dana Eveland (on a minor-league deal) are candidates for the final one or two bullpen spots.
'WALK' OFF FOR MOORE: After allowing no walks in his three previous official spring starts, LHP Matt Moore issued three in Friday's second inning against the Tigers, his only glaring blemish this spring. Moore walked RF J.D. Martinez and 3B Nick Castellanos to open the second, retired the next two, then surrendered a three-run homer to No. 9 batter Anthony Gose on an 0-and-2 quick pitch he left over the middle. Moore did retire Detroit's the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 batters — Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez — in order in the third. "I lost myself there for a second in the second inning but was able to find it there in the third," said Moore, who entered the day with a 1.74 spring ERA in 101/3 official innings. "So just being able to make the adjustments on the fly this early in camp does feel good. I'm in a better spot than I have been in a couple of years."
GAME DETAILS, LAKELAND: The Tigers, using their projected opening day starting lineup, battered RHP Jhan Marinez during their five-run fourth in a 9-4 triumph. Marinez allowed a home run to Nick Castellanos on his second pitch, then issued four singles and a walk before being yanked. … The Rays took a 3-0 lead in the second on Steven Souza Jr.'s sacrifice fly and a two-out, two-run homer by Tim Beckham — his second in as many days.
GAME DETAILS, DISNEY: The Rays had only one hit in the first four innings against the Braves but had three in the fifth, with 2B Logan Forsythe getting a sac fly to score minor-league OF Dayron Varona. … SS Brad Miller had a wide throw in the first, his team-high fifth error of the spring. Daniel Robertson, who replaced him in the sixth, had a fielding error in the eighth but followed with a double play. … Minor-league OF Johnny Field's RBI single in the ninth helped the Rays salvage a 2-2 tie.
Contact Joey Knight at [email protected]