Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays plan to play mix-and-match with catchers

ST. PETERSBURG — Hank Conger started opening day behind the plate for the Rays and is likely to be back there tonight. Curt Casali had the assignment Monday and probably again Wednesday.

As much as the Rays want to have some stability in their lineup, manager Kevin Cash plans to use the catchers on a mix-and-match basis.

"We're going to keep going back and forth quite a bit with Hank and Curt Casali," Cash said.

The decisions will be based more on the matchups with the opposing starter, Cash said, than pairings with their own pitchers. Conger, being a switch-hitter, provides the opportunity to add another lefty bat against right-handed starters.

But Cash said the internal matchups also can be a factor, acknowledging Monday that LHP Drew Smyly and Casali seem to work well together.

"It will be kind of a balance," he said. "We're going to try to avoid locking into specific pitcher-catcher matchups, but we do know there's some comfort there with Drew and Curt. I think if you ask Drew, he'd be totally comfortable with Hank back there, also, but it's more of a matter of getting Curt in there Game 2, and balancing that as it goes."

Casali was excited to make his first opening day roster, calling it the next step in his progression after making it to the majors in 2014 but with "much more important stuff to come after that."

ODO OKAY: After putting a bad finish on a good spring (allowing eight runs in one-plus innings Thursday), RHP Jake Odorizzi is eager to make his first real start tonight.

"I'm not worried about that," he said. "I threw a really good bullpen the other day. Not that that really matters all that much, but it was considerably better than the other day and everything felt normal."

Odorizzi is planning to make more use of his curveball and cutter, along with his fastball, by relying less on his splitter/changeup.

"I used it too much last year in a lot of situations," Odorizzi said. "But I worked really hard in spring on using my other three pitches, so now I'm more of a complete pitcher as opposed to a two-pitch pitcher who has two other pitches that don't translate. I really put a lot of emphasis on that, and I'm really happy with how everything feels going into the season."

ARCHER WITH A K: RHP Chris Archer on Sunday became the fourth pitcher in modern history (since 1900) to log 12 strikeouts in five or fewer innings, per Elias. He joined teammate Alex Cobb (13 in 42/3 vs. San Diego in 2013), San Diego's Andrew Cashner (12 in 42/3 vs. the Mets in 2015) and Los Angeles' Zack Greinke (13 in five vs. Seattle in 2012). Archer also was the first pitcher to have 12 or more strikeouts on opening day and lose since St. Louis' Bob Gibson in 1975.

MINOR MATTERS: INF/OF Taylor Motter won the Al Lopez Award for the most outstanding rookie in spring training. Motter, who will start the season at Triple-A Durham, played six positions and hit .250 with a long home run. … Rosters for the four full-season teams are expected to be announced today, with play starting Thursday.

BOXED IN: RHP Brad Boxberger has started playing catch in his recovery from March 17 core muscle surgery and said he remains on track for a mid May return to the team. "Everything is going as planned right now," he said. "Feeling stronger and stronger every day, and feeling better each day."

MISCELLANY: Rays players gave good reviews to the new healthier food options in the clubhouse after the addition of a restaurant-style kitchen and hiring of a pro chef. "It was a good opening day in there," Odorizzi said. … Steven Souza Jr.'s homer off R.A. Dickey was his first at the Trop since last June 11. … INF/OF Steve Pearce could make his first start tonight.

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