PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays will get their first experience, today in Dunedin, playing under baseball's new expanded replay system.
Manager Joe Maddon — to the surprise of absolutely no one who knows him — already has been hard at work finding the first of what could be several loopholes, or as he prefers, nuances, in the program to exploit.
"I think the what-ifs are almost limitless," he said. "And that's the part people don't even understand. When you open Pandora's box, it's not as cut and dried as you think."
So that's why the Rays infielders were doing a drill Wednesday where, with a runner on second and a ground ball hit, they got what theoretically was the third out of an inning at first base, but they threw home anyway to potentially get another out.
Maddon's premise? That if the call at first was reviewed and that runner was ruled safe, that continuing the play to the plate could lead to the other runner being called out to still end the inning, or at least sent back to third when the umpires decide on placement since he would have been out.
When the Rays are on the bases, Maddon will have them go hard around third in that situation, trying to score or get close enough to be awarded home for the potential of an extra run.
"I know there's going to be some definites written down, but there's still going to be some gray that pops up that had not been thought about, or interpreted differently at the moment," Maddon said. "So it's not about 'gaming' anything, it's about doing it for the first time and trying to not leave anything up to discretion."
Maddon has been talking to umpires during each of the first six exhibitions — they were rained out Thursday — to get a sense of how situations will be handled.
The "extra out" play — which Maddon had to keep in-house until the situation arose in a game, and feigned ignorance when first asked about it Thursday — is an example of his approach:
Identify areas that will be subject to interpretation, determine if they can be exploited by forcing or furthering the action, then simplify them to the players so they can react appropriately.
In this case, his explanation to the Rays was that just because you expect the call to go a certain way, finish the play anyway.
Or as pitcher Alex Cobb put it: "If you need to make four outs sometimes, make four outs just to cover all the bases."
Third baseman Evan Longoria said it makes sense to take that approach, to find out what can work to their advantage. He, too, has been talking to umpires about how they will decide things such as placing runners, which is the key to the extra-out play. His sense is that umps don't have a specific spot between bases to determine whether to award an extra base but more on how they "feel" the sequence would have played out.
"The dynamics of the game, hypothetically speaking, changed based off the outcome of instant replay calls," he said. "So I think it's something that we'll probably talk more about on how we want to approach certain things."
Maddon is also soliciting ideas from players and staff, saying reliever Brandon Gomes came to him with a possible nuance he's eager to explore: "It was righteous."
The six Rays spring games in which replay will be used will, potentially, provide further edification and education. Maddon said he has to train himself to think immediately of replay possibilities and get a sense of how the process — which includes manager challenges — will work.
Cobb said he's glad to leave it in Maddon's hands.
"We're just playing the game like we always have, and let Joe take care of that," Cobb said. "And we're pretty fortunate to have a guy like Joe that probably enjoys this challenge."