Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays see benefit to pitchers from offensive upgrades

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays brought in Corey Dickerson, Steve Pearce, Logan Morrison, Brad Miller and Hank Conger to try to bolster an offense that ranked 14th in the American League in runs.

The idea is the additions will strengthen and lengthen their lineup and make the returning hitters, such as Evan Longoria, Logan Forsythe, Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier and Desmond Jennings, better as well.

But they also made the moves to help their pitching staff.

Think back to how many times a good pitching performance turned out bad, or at least became more difficult, due to a lack of support, and how manager Kevin Cash had to make moves in response. In theory, scoring more runs should keep starters in the game longer and make outings less taxing for relievers.

"We played a ton of one-run games last year," baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "It was so often that it was the fifth or sixth inning and it was a tie game or we were up one or down one. One of the reasons we focused on upgrading the offense was to be able to score more runs and give ourselves a little more breathing room and distance.

"That allows Kevin and the coaches to manage the game differently. When we're playing in one-run games every night, it's tough. It's tough to piece together the innings and make sure that we keep everyone fresh."

His premise has validity, as the Rays were 26-30 in 56 one-run games, third-most in the majors and matching the team record, and 46-48 in an MLB-most 94 games decided by two or fewer runs.

EARLY BIRDS: Cash has been impressed with the large number of players who reported in advance of today's first official workout of the spring. All 40 pitchers and catchers are expected today, with C Justin O'Conner limited by a sore back.

HOLA, CUBA: Adding to the complications of the Rays' planned trip to Cuba for a March 22 exhibition: the Rolling Stones are reported to be playing in Havana on March 20, when at least part of the Rays contingent is expected to fly in, and President Barack Obama is scheduled to arrive March 21 and possibly attend the game. … George Pappas, a coordinator in the communications department, is slated to fill the new MLB-mandated role of clubhouse interpreter for Spanish-speaking players.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: New chief business officer Jeff Cogen told the staff he expects 10 sellouts this season, which would be quite an accomplishment. … Cash was 19th, and last in the AL East, in Nick Cafardo's annual Boston Globe rankings of managers; ex-Rays skipper Joe Maddon was No. 1 with the Cubs. … With his hair now sticking up 3½ inches, RHP Chris Archer is curious to see how his spring cap stays on while pitching. He is also sporting cleats with gold trim. … While Baseball Prospectus projects the Rays to win 91 games and the AL East title, fangraphs.com's numbers favor the Red Sox, with the Rays targeted for 82 wins and fourth place. … Since St. Petersburg native Doug Waechter had a Waechterville fan section at the Trop, maybe new Pinellas product Ryan Webb could be cheered from Webb's City in honor of the famous former drug store. … ESPN's Keith Law moved the Rays from 23rd last year to 14th in his ranking of farm systems, calling them "quietly deep" and "light on potential stars but full of potential regulars and back-end starters." … One opinion on a nonroster invitee to watch this spring: RHP Jaime Schultz, a 5-10, 200-pounder who had 168 Ks in 135 innings at Double A. … LHP Drew Smyly is a big fan of Pro Football Hall of Famer and TV host Michael Strahan, having attended his show in New York and tweeting to him about reading his new book.

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