Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

New Ray Matt Duffy ready to readjust to shortstop

ST. PETERSBURG — When Matt Duffy comes off the disabled list, likely next weekend in New York, to take over at shortstop for the Rays, it won't be the first time he has played alongside Evan Longoria.

Duffy was a high school freshman in Southern California thrilled to be getting some infield pointers from a coach at the local college when one of Long Beach State's star players asked if he could join in to get some work on turning double plays.

"I was like, 'You can do whatever you want man, you're a stud,' " Duffy recalled Wednesday. "That was pretty cool for me. And my dad came over afterward and I was like, 'Dad, you know who that was?'

"So it's kinda cool that it's come full circle like this."

Getting reacquainted with Longoria — who understandably doesn't recall the meeting — will be the easiest part of Duffy's transition since being acquired from the Giants in Monday's deal for left-hander Matt Moore.

Getting used to a new team and teammates, a tricky new home playing surface and less-charged stadium environment, and a new league of opposing pitchers all will be factors.

But the biggest challenge will be getting readjusted to playing shortstop, having learned third base in spring training 2015 to prep for utility duty, then being shifted there full time in May — and excelling.

Duffy, in the final stages of returning from a left Achilles strain sustained, coincidentally, during a June 19 game at the Trop, will start the process tonight when he resumes his rehab assignment with the advanced Class A Stone Crabs in Port Charlotte, feeling he is healthy but wanting to feel "100 percent confident" at game speed.

He took some ground balls at short at the Trop on Wednesday, feeling more comfortable than he expected. But he said that more than the angles and additional responsibilities, the toughest part will be recalibrating his timing as you have more time to get to the ball and less time to throw it.

"The footwork is going to be a little quicker, and I guess my mental clock is going to have to be sped up a little bit," Duffy said, "so there's going to be a little bit of an adjustment period."

Acknowledging he was disappointed to leave the Giants, where he had the chance for a second World Series ring after being part of the 2014 team, and surprised to be dealt, Duffy, 25, said he will embrace the assignment to move back to his college and minor-league position.

"Being where I was in San Francisco, I was committed to be the best third baseman I could, and that was kind of my focus, and I really just kind of bore down on that," said Duffy, who will keep his No. 5. "So now it's shifting gears and changing mind-sets and trying to become the best shortstop I can be."

Manager Kevin Cash said the Rays don't expect Duffy to have any issues adjusting "whatsoever" back to short, and they are thrilled with the well-rounded work he does at the plate, showing off his flat, line drive-producing swing during a Wednesday batting practice session.

"It's definitely not a bad thing to go back to shortstop," Duffy said. "I think it's going to be a fun challenge. I think there's going to be a little bit of a kind of relearning period there, but I'm definitely excited, and I'm going to embrace it just as I did the move to third base."

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

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