PORT CHARLOTTE — A knee injury and surgery kept Rays OF Desmond Jennings out of all but 28 games last season, a fact he constantly tries to forget. Because now, Jennings said, he feels healthier than he has in a long time.
And in the third inning of the Rays' 5-1 win against the Pirates on Thursday, that positivity translated to the field.
After a single from 2B Logan Forsythe, Jennings sent the first pitch he saw over the leftfield wall for his first home run of the spring, the Rays' fourth.
Jennings' big hit was just a glimpse of the offensive success the Rays have had lately, something the outfielder attributes to a fresh approach for a fresh start.
"We've got talent. We've got pretty good hitters," Jennings said. "We've been trying to be more aggressive, taking a more aggressive approach, taking good swings on strikes. And whatever happens happens."
With Forsythe, who finished 3-for-3, leading off and Jennings in the two-hole, Rays manager Kevin Cash witnessed a lot of power in the top of his lineup Thursday.
"Both those balls those guys hit … they were just smoked," Cash said, referencing Forsythe's double in the fifth inning. "We've said it a lot. Desmond's a special player. We want him on the field. Now let us help him stay on the field."
Though it's still early in the decision-making process, Cash said Forsythe's leadoff spot could carry over to the regular season. Cash plans to try different guys there in the coming weeks, but getting Forsythe extra at-bats could be a good move for the offense, he said.
"It's more or less right now, let's find some comfort, get a sense of where he's at with it," Cash said. "The last thing we'd want to do with anybody is ambush them in a position — whether it's first, ninth or fourth, wherever they're hitting — and not let them kind of get somewhat acquainted with that spot."
RAISING THE COUNT: After a shoulder injury shortened his 2015 season, LHP Drew Smyly made his second start of the spring. And from the very first pitch, he seemed to pick up right where he left off.
Smyly, who pitched two shutout innings on March 5 against the Orioles, pitched 31/3 innings, giving up two hits and striking out three. After the game Smyly said his arm felt good, and he was happy to get deeper into the game — the plan was for him to throw around 50 pitches, Smyly added — than he did last week.
And though he started his comeback on the right foot last fall when he came back to close out the season, Smyly is ready to put the past — both good and bad — behind him.
"That's why we all play. We love the game. It stinks when you're hurt, but it's part of the game," he said. "It was a big boost to just go into the offseason knowing I'm healthy and the same guy, but I've already forgotten about last year, and I'm focused on this year."
Now that he's been reacquainted with what his lefty has to offer, Cash is, too.
Cash said they're thrilled with where Smyly is at this point in the spring, noting that opponents are having a tough time getting a barrel on his pitches.
"It was fun to see him out there. He was efficient, just kind of attacked the strike zone," Cash said. "It's exciting to envision having him healthy and what he's capable of doing, anchoring a big part of our staff."
GAME PLAY: The Rays had a good day at the plate against the Pirates, notching 12 hits in a 5-1 victory. In addition to Jennings and Forsythe, seven other Rays had hits, including 1B James Loney, who singled in the second and fourth innings. Smyly, who left in the fourth, was one of seven Rays pitchers. The staff had one walk and gave up one earned run, when OF Michael Suchy hit a first-pitch home run off LHP Adam Wilk in the eighth.
MISCELLANY: Before the game, Forsythe was presented with a framed print of his public service ad for the Taylor Hooten Foundation's "It's All Me" campaign, which advocates against performance enhancing drugs. Forsythe is a member of the foundation's active players advisory board. … On Wednesday, OF Steven Souza Jr. returned to the lineup for the first time this spring, but INF/OF Steve Pearce was scratched because of tightness in his right calf. Cash said it was mostly a precautionary move. "He's getting better," Cash said. "Still has some soreness in there, so we'll continue to take it slow."