Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays finish spring in slump

ST. PETERSBURG

Expectations for the Rays are at a high, boosted by several national media selections as the American League rep in the World Series.

But the Rays will enter the season on something of a low, having won only one of their last 11 spring games, and after a 13-7 start closing 2-10-2.

Manager Joe Maddon said after Saturday's tie that he wasn't pleased, but he wasn't too concerned, either, as some of the games were lost late by minor-leaguers, there was considerable individual progress, and the philosophies and messages were delivered.

"Do not deny, yes, I would like to have finished better regarding winning games, getting into that winning atmosphere and attitude, never deny that," he said. "You never want to play a game and not win. But I'm not upset, either, because there's so many good things."

Still, they would have to feel better going into the season with momentum. It has been noted that all three seasons they made the playoffs, they had winning spring records.

Other areas of concern:

• As much as they built up their position depth, it is being tested immediately with Luke Scott's injury. The quick fix looks to be more playing time for OF Sam Fuld and, if he gets called up, 1B/OF Shelley Duncan, neither of whom are considered frontline players. Also weakened is the depth of their lineup, which Maddon had built with Scott protecting 3B Evan Longoria.

• Both Maddon and executive VP Andrew Friedman have acknowledged their primary concern is getting enough innings from the starters. After ace LHP David Price, there are fair questions about each of the starters, with three 25 or younger and the other a veteran (Roberto Hernandez) who hasn't had a winning season since 2008.

• The bullpen could lack flexibility, with demoted starter RHP Jeff Niemann available on a limited basis and LHP Cesar Ramos and RHP Jamey Wright also slated for multi-inning use. Also, none of the relievers have options, meaning if the pen gets overworked, a fresh arm can't just be subbed in, and they would have to consider sending down a position player (INF/OF Sean Rodriguez the likely candidate) to have some maneuverability.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: The boar's head that was attached to the side of Scott's locker in Port Charlotte has been mounted inside the locker adjacent to his at the Trop. … Was good, great actually, to see senior adviser Don Zimmer at the Trop and in his element standing around the batting cage telling stories. … Tickets are said to be still available for Tuesday's opener, though a sellout for the eighth consecutive year is expected. … Maddon would like an MLB-wide agreement to play only night games the last week of spring training, eliminating some wear and tear, simplifying scheduling and to acclimate to the regular-season schedule. … The Trop is among the stadiums that will offer Fetzer wine in a new Zipz single-serve disposable wine glass. … Friedman said Ben Zobrist's value is "incredibly difficult to quantify" because of his versatility, but he "is one of the most underrated players of the last decade, or as long as I can remember back." … RHP David Price is on one of the regional covers of the Sports Illustrated baseball preview edition, and former Ray James Shields is on another.

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