Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Minor-league callups Chris Gimenez, Will Rhymes find opportunities with Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon calls the Rays the "land of opportunity."

Catcher Chris Gimenez and infielder Will Rhymes are grateful to be the latest examples.

When the two signed as minor-league free agents in the winter, accepting invitations to spring training, it didn't make for headlines. Gimenez, 29, competing for the second catcher spot, and Rhymes, 29, hoping to land as a utility infielder, often played late in exhibitions, when the regulars had already hit the showers.

Neither made the opening day roster, starting the season riding buses in Triple-A Durham.

But Gimenez and Rhymes were on the Rays team charter to New York on Monday to start an eight-game road trip, having made some unexpected early impact due to injuries to catcher Jose Lobaton and star third baseman Evan Longoria.

Gimenez and Rhymes said they chose Tampa Bay because of its track record of giving non-roster invitees a shot in the majors, from Carlos Peña in 2007 to Eric Hinske in 2008, Joaquin Benoit in 2010 and Juan Cruz last season. And the Rays are reaping the rewards of that reputation.

"We've had a lot of guys sign to minor-league contracts … that have gone on to help this team along, and we speak to that when we talk to guys," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We don't try to sign 50 minor-league free agents, we're very selective to what we do. And we hope that reputation spreads like wildfire, that what we say is genuine, and the opportunity is very real."

• • •

Gimenez was in limbo at the absolute worst time, the beginning of spring training.

He had reported to Mariners camp, unpacked and moved into an Arizona rental with his wife, Kellie, and 3-month-old son, Jace. But on Feb. 7, Gimenez was designated for assignment, and had to wait 10 days to be traded or clear waivers. He couldn't go to the complex, so he threw and hit at an area high school, anxious because he knew it was one of the tougher times to find a job.

"It was chaos," Gimenez said. "I just felt like, it's the worst thing that could have happened to me."

Gimenez was grateful to have a couple of options, but the Rays were No. 1 on the list, sealed by a phone conversation with Maddon. Maddon told Gimenez, who had played sporadically in parts of four big-league seasons, that he wouldn't ever go four or five days without playing.

"That's like, No. 1, the best thing ever," Gimenez said.

Gimenez has gotten his shot, splitting time with veteran catcher Jose Molina, playing 12 games since getting called up April 15. He's hitting .229, but Friedman has been impressed with his play defensively and how he works with the pitching staff.

Gimenez loves the loose and welcoming clubhouse atmosphere, saying he has never been on a team that has had so much fun.

"If I could stay here the rest of my life, I'd be the happiest man ever," he said.

• • •

Rhymes, the Tigers' opening day second baseman last season, thought he'd be back in Detroit, at least at Triple A.

But after spending parts of two seasons in Detroit, he was non-tendered at the deadline last fall, which, as Rhymes said, turned out to be a "great thing."

Friedman had liked Rhymes for his "elite contact ability" and versatility defensively. Rhymes said he had a few options, but he sought advice from his Houston childhood buddy, Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann, who told him he'd get a "fair shake" in Tampa Bay.

"It was a tough decision," Rhymes said. "You never know, trying to weigh what's going to happen in spring, who are the guys in the mix? You don't really ever know what's going to happen. You just try to pick where you think profile best."

Having Rhymes play some third base in spring was fortuitous, as he has made his first three-big league starts there since getting called up last week when Longoria got hurt. He has hit .294 in five games, and he has showed his defensive ability, making a diving stop up the middle Sunday.

"So far, it's been incredible," Rhymes said. "I'm happy here."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Live blog: Rays open spring training season against Pirates, Orioles

Live blog: Rays open spring training season against Pirates, Orioles

The Rays open the exhibition season with not one, but two games today.Non-roster pitcher Vidal Nuno will start against the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. in Port Charlotte. Denard Span, Matt Duffy, Kevin Kiermaier, Wilson Ramos, Mallex Smith and Adeiny Hechava...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays’ Honeywell has torn UCL, headed for Tommy John surgery

Rays’ Honeywell has torn UCL, headed for Tommy John surgery

The Rays got the worst-case news they were dreading, that top prospect RHP Brent Honeywell has a torn UCL and is headed for Tommy John  surgery.Honeywell said he plans to have the surgery as soon as possible to expedite his return sometime in th...
Updated: 5 hours ago
For starters: Split squad opener for Rays – vs. Pirates and at Orioles, 1:05

For starters: Split squad opener for Rays – vs. Pirates and at Orioles, 1:05

With 15 teams training in Florida,  there usually has to be either be at least one team off or one team playing two games. And with today the official opening day of spring training, the Rays had the bad draw of having to play split squad games....
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays spring training info: Friday – vs. Pirates and at Orioles

Rays spring training info: Friday – vs. Pirates and at Orioles

Friday's games:Vs. Pirates1:05, Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte. Pitchers: Rays – LH Vidal Nuno; Pirates – RH Taylor Eppler.Radio: raysbaseball.com, MLB At Bat app (free with mlb.com account)Tickets: raysbasebal...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays holding their breath

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays holding their breath

Rays top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell left practice Thursday after throwing a handful of pitches, and the fear (now confirmed) is he might need Tommy John surgery, ending his season before it begins.In his lastest podcast, Rick Stroud has the la...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Brent Honeywell injury could be worst Rays news yet

Brent Honeywell injury could be worst Rays news yet

PORT CHARLOTTE — It might have seemed that things couldn't get worse for the Rays after an opening week of spring training that included the dumping of two veterans to harshly negative reviews, including from their own players; to the trade of ...
Published: 02/22/18
Updated: 02/23/18

How the Rays’ DFA of Dickerson paid off, with a reliever and a prospect from Pirates

PORT CHARLOTTE – The Rays' surprising and controversial decision to designate for assignment 2017 All-Star OF/DH Corey Dickerson to prompt a trade paid off Thursday in a deal with the Pirates.Assuming you consider it a good return to get vetera...
Published: 02/22/18
Rays find taker for Corey Dickerson, get Daniel Hudson, prospect from Pirates

Rays find taker for Corey Dickerson, get Daniel Hudson, prospect from Pirates

The Rays found a taker for OF/DH Corey Dickerson, trading him Thursday to the Pirates for veteran reliever Daniel Hudson, minor-league INF Tristan Gray and $1-million cash.Hudson, 30, will compete for a spot in the Rays bullpen, coming off a rou...
Published: 02/22/18
New pitcher Anthony Banda already “loving the vibe” with Rays

New pitcher Anthony Banda already “loving the vibe” with Rays

Acknowledging the "whirlwind" that comes with being traded, LHP Anthony Banda said he is excited to come over from Arizona because he figures to have a better opportunity with the Rays.And he already likes the fit."I'm very excited to be here and con...
Published: 02/22/18
Spring is in the air as games start today

Spring is in the air as games start today

After a week of players stretching, doing mundane drills and practicing practice, spring training moves to the next phase today with the start of exhibition games.Ah, baseball in the sunshine.Consider it a soft opening in this part of the state, with...
Published: 02/22/18