Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Maddon, Rays figuring out roster for wild-card game

CLEVELAND — After enjoying the benefits of using nearly their full 40-man roster for a month, the Rays have to cut back to 25 for tonight's AL wild-card game.

But because the roster is just for tonight and will be reset if they advance to the best-of-five AL Division Series, it won't be the standard setup, likely with only two starting pitchers and heavy on extra position players.

Manager Joe Maddon, coaches and team officials were meeting Tuesday night at their hotel to address, assess and analyze the options, weighing, for example, whether the better combination is 16 position players and nine pitchers or 17 and eight. The roster has to be submitted by 10 today.

A core group of 14 position players seems easy to identify, with DH Luke Scott potentially the most prominent name on the bubble as Delmon Young is likely to be the DH.

The Rays will decide on the final spots from a group that includes Scott, third C Chris Gimenez, pinch-runner OF Freddy Guzman, rookie INF Tim Beckham and defensive specialist OF Kevin Kiermaier, who made his unexpected debut Monday.

Similarly, the bulk of the pitching staff is easy to identify with their top five relievers — RH Fernando Rodney, RH Joel Peralta, LH Jake McGee, RH Jamey Wright and LH Alex Torres — plus starter RH Alex Cobb, with RH Chris Archer likely in reserve in case of emergency or extra innings.

The Rays will fill the remaining spot or two based on their strengths and matchups with the Indians, who will have at least six lefties in the lineup, including three switch-hitters. A final decision could be between RH Brandon Gomes and LH Wesley Wright.

READY FOR MORE: CF Desmond Jennings came through Monday's game with no issues in his previously strained left hamstring and said he will play again tonight. "I'll be in there," he said.

FOR THE DEFENSE: SS Yunel Escobar and 2B Ben Zobrist's chances to win Gold Glove awards will come down to the votes of league coaches and managers and a statistical formula, but both did finish with the top fielding percentages at their positions. Escobar had a major-league best .988 at short after making only seven errors. Zobrist edged Boston's Dustin Pedroia, .9928 to .9927 in making four errors. The 11 errors were the third fewest for a double-play combination on record.

MORE NUMBERS: With seven walks Monday, the Rays surpassed the Reds to lead the majors with 589. Since 2007 the Rays have a majors-most 4,216. … 1B James Loney's 0-for-3 Monday cost him a .300 season. He finished at .2987. … Tuesday was the Rays' first off day after playing 21 straight.

PITCHING IN: As they did Sunday against Toronto's Todd Redmond and Monday vs. Texas rookie Martin Perez, the Rays will push to break on top early tonight against Cleveland starter Danny Salazar, a 23-year-old in his 11th big-league game.

Indians manager Terry Francona, naturally, is confident Salazar is up for the challenge. "Believe me, we wouldn't pitch him if we didn't think it put us in the best position to win," he said.

"For a young kid, he's so poised. I remember the first game he pitched against Toronto and he really pitched a good game. And I asked him after the game (about it) and he said, on the mound, regardless of where it is, he goes, 'That's where I'm more relaxed than any place in the world.' And I believe him."

MISCELLANY: Archer went into Maddon's office before Monday's game and told him he was ready and willing to pitch in relief. … 3B Evan Longoria and CF B.J. Upton are the only players to appear in all 25 Rays postseason games.

Times sports columnist Tom Jones contributed to this report.

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