Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Jennings' disciplined eye for Rays

DUNEDIN — The Rays know what kind of havoc speedy CF Desmond Jennings can create on the basepaths.

That's why Jennings' focus in the spring has been getting on base more often, using a disciplined approach at the plate. He had two walks in Friday's 5-4 loss to the Blue Jays, giving him four in four games, along with a single and two steals.

"I'm seeing the ball good," he said. "I'm being patient. I'm waiting for a pitch that I can hit."

Jennings said he got out of that mind-set a little last season, when he hit .246 with 120 strikeouts and a .314 on-base percentage while still racking up 31 steals. But in "zoning back in," Jennings has reached safely in seven of 11 plate appearances this spring, with no strikeouts and five steals.

"If he does that all season, heads-up," manager Joe Maddon said, "because he will hit for some really high numbers and score a lot of runs."

AIR UP THERE: RHP Jake Odorizzi was encouraged with his offspeed stuff in Friday's start, especially his slider, which he used for all three strikeouts, including Jays DH Jose Bautista in the first.

But Odorizzi, a key prospect acquired from the Royals in the offseason trade of RHP James Shields, said his fastball command is not where it needs to be. And that's a big reason he allowed three runs (including two home runs) in a "so-so" two-inning outing. With the wind blowing out, he wasn't dwelling on the long balls.

"The first one really surprised me, I thought it was a popup, and it kept carrying," he said. "I guess I should have looked at the flags beforehand. Once it got up, it kind of sailed out."

ON POINT: RHP Chris Archer threw three scoreless innings in the longest outing by a Rays pitcher this spring. Archer allowed one hit, struck out one and hit 98 mph with his fastball. "I just feel comfortable over the rubber," he said.

Maddon wasn't surprised, saying, "He's among the sharpest guys in camp right now."

LEANING LEFT: LF Matt Joyce had a couple of good at-bats against lefties, including a single off Jays LHP Mark Buehrle in the first inning. The Rays have said they'll continue to play him against certain lefties, sticking with the platoon approach during the season, but Joyce is trying to make his case.

"I'm happy with my approach, and I feel comfortable," he said. "I was telling someone, I feel like I have more at-bats against lefties at this spring training than I did all last year. It's a good thing, the more chances you get to prove what you can do."

AL BEAST: The Rays got their first look at the made-over Blue Jays, who are popular picks to win what Maddon calls the "wide-open," AL East: "Part of it for them is how quickly they can get it together as a group. And if they do, they can be very dangerous."

IN THE SWING: INF Sean Rodriguez's rough spring at the plate continued. He went 0-for-2 with a strikeout, making him 0-for-11 with four strikeouts in five games. He's not overly concerned, saying there's "still plenty of time" and he's working on things. "It's mostly timing and consistency," he said. "I feel like I'm getting it."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]

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