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Rays hope little things lead to big success

HOPING FOR A CARRYOVER: James Loney high-fives manager Joe Maddon after a homer against the Red Sox this spring, during which the Rays went a Grapefruit League-best 16-7-4.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

HOPING FOR A CARRYOVER: James Loney high-fives manager Joe Maddon after a homer against the Red Sox this spring, during which the Rays went a Grapefruit League-best 16-7-4.

MONTGOMERY, Ala.

The Rays, by almost any measure, had a good spring.

They finished with a 16-7-4 record that was the best in the Grapefruit League — and noted that when they did so previously, in 2008 and 2010, they won the American League East.

Manager Joe Maddon raved often about the process, how they focused on little things, such as improving on both sides of the running game, and simple things such as adapting to the new home plate collision and instant replay rules.

And they got through the six weeks relatively uneventfully, with no major injuries or issues.

But what can really matter going forward is what players have learned, what they are doing better or differently. That said, here are some things to watch:

Jake McGee's curveball: McGee worked often on the curve to develop a trusty complement to his blazing fastball, and he believes he might have found it. Consider one spring sequence where he threw a curve at 77 mph followed by a fastball at 98.

Matt Joyce's approach: Joyce has seemingly bought in to the idea that the best way to beat the shift is to drop a few bunts down third, and with that, hit more to leftfield when possible.

Jake Odorizzi's "Cobber": Odorizzi quickly picked up the hybrid splitter-changeup from teammate Alex Cobb to have an additional weapon vs. lefties, and it's a big reason why he won the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

Brandon Gomes' cutter: He learned it from Jamey Wright at the end of last season, and he believes it gives him a much more damaging weapon vs. left-handers. Similarly, RHP Josh Lueke is making more, and better, use of a splitter he got from Joel Peralta.

• More bunts: Maddon still doesn't care much for sacrifice bunting, but he has encouraged several players, specifically Desmond Jennings and David DeJesus, to look for spots to bunt for hits, noting it impacts how the infielders will be positioned for future at-bats.

LES RAYS? Chatter about the Rays and the potential for a move to Montreal is sure to grow after exhibition games at Olympic Stadium drew 46,121 Friday and 50,229 Saturday.

Two top MLB officials were at the games, and executive VP John McHale Jr. — who worked for the Expos and, briefly, for the Rays — seemed impressed, based on comments to foxsports.com.

"The continued enthusiasm for Major League Baseball here is remarkable. I think all of us in the commissioner's office need to take notice of it," McHale said.

Asked about the crowds in Montreal compared to the Rays situation in terms of stadium and attendance, McHale declined comment beyond saying, "You can draw whatever juxtaposition you think is right based on the facts known to you."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Per Forbes annual estimates, the value of the Rays franchise rose from $451 million to $485 million, though still last among the 30 MLB teams. The franchise was valued at $209 million in 2006, the year after Stuart Sternberg gained majority ownership. … One-time Rays phenom Toe Nash, recently released from an extended jail stay, will be the subject of an upcoming feature on ESPN, tentatively airing April 27. … RHP Chris Archer took issue with a lengthy feature on his life story by noted author Pat Jordan for sportsonearth.com, tweeting that "certain parts" of the piece "did not portray me accurately." … Maddon ranked first in a New York Post anonymous poll of executives as the game's best manager, Andrew Friedman second among GMs. … For a May 4 Star Wars night, Triple-A Durham players will wear R2-D2-styled jerseys. … 3B Evan Longoria will be the guest for the Tampa Bay Times next Lunchtime Live video chat on April 18. … Maddon said sports psychologist/performance consultant Ken Ravizza's first assignment after rejoining the team was Lueke. … Friday night's trade worked out well for INF Jayson Nix, as it appears he made the Phillies' opening day roster at the expense of former Ray Reid Brignac.

Rays hope little things lead to big success 03/29/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 29, 2014 9:51pm]
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