Saturday, June 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Forsythe penciled in as Rays' leadoff hitter

PORT CHARLOTTE — Taking the team MVP and second-leading home run and RBI guy from the middle of a runs-challenged lineup and making him the new leadoff hitter generally would not seem like a prudent thing to do.

But the Rays consider themselves pretty smart, and they are doing exactly that, manager Kevin Cash on Sunday unveiling what likely will be their opening day and primary (read: vs. right-handers) lineup, with Logan Forsythe planted clearly at the top.

Why?

Well, because with the offseason infusion of offense — adding lefty swingers Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller and Logan Morrison plus right-hander Steve Pearce — they feel their lineup is longer, deeper, more power-packed and clearly better, and they have other bats to slot in the middle.

And, because with Evan Longoria's predilection for hitting third and Cash's preference to alternate right- and left-handers to make it tougher for the other manager to deploy relievers late, they needed a right-handed hitter.

Plus, because doing so provides more of the stability they seek as Forsythe is an everyday player and also will be at the top against lefties.

"It was tough because Logan had so much success last year hitting in the five-hole and then fourth against some lefties," Cash said. "But we like the way Logan has approached it. And I guess the biggest reason is it allows one of our best hitters to get 75 more at-bats on the year.

"So we want him up there as much as possible. And this is the best way to do it."

After Forsythe, the Rays have Morrison second, a middle of Longoria-Dickerson-Desmond Jennings, then Miller, Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier and the catcher, primarily Curt Casali. Against lefties, look for Brandon Guyer second and Pearce fourth, with Tim Beckham, on some but not all occasions, playing for Miller.

After finishing last in the American League in runs last season, they feel they will be more diverse and more dynamic.

"We've got more thump this year at the top, and then we've got some speed looking toward the back end of the lineup," Cash said.

For example, part of the thinking in keeping Kiermaier eighth is to try to maximize his speed and ability to make things happen, batting with fast runners ahead of him and to serve as a de facto second leadoff hitter with run-producing hitters behind him.

Forsythe, who was rewarded for his 2015 success with a new contract that could be worth $20.25 million over three years, came to camp figuring one of the lefties would bat cleanup and he likely would be fifth.

Though Rays brass kicked his name around with others as leadoff candidates this winter, they started the spring looking elsewhere, such as at Souza. Then a couple of weeks ago, Cash first mentioned the possibility to Forsythe.

He had some initial concerns, such as how it would affect his preparation for his first at-bat and whether he would consciously, or subconsciously, change his approach.

Forsythe said Sunday that he is getting more comfortable, though "the routine is still trying to become a thing."

He is okay on the road, with enough time after the anthem to get properly prepped. But he still feels a little rushed at home, knowing that he has to hustle off the field and immediately get his gloves, helmet and bat ready and that he will get to see the other starter throw but a few warmups rather than face several batters as he is used to.

"I think I've gotten better at it," Forsythe, 29, said. "There's not a whole lot of time wasted for that first at-bat. But after that first one, the game kind of plays like it plays."

Not changing from the aggressive approach that led to his breakout season — a .281 average, 17 homers, 68 RBIs, .804 on-base plus slugging percentage — is a more challenging, and less controllable, matter.

"I can very well see myself as a leadoff guy going deep into counts and seeing pitches and stuff like that," he said. "That will run through your mind. It hasn't in the games yet, and I think we're past that. I just need to not think about being too passive by being confident in my approach, and it's going to be successful."

The Rays are counting on Forsythe to again be a hit. Right from the top.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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