Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' slump shouldn't — and won't — cost Kevin Cash his job

BALTIMORE

Sure, Kevin Cash is as much to blame as anyone for a Rays losing streak that has grown to 11 after Sunday's 12-5 drubbing by the Orioles.

When a team is going as bad as the Rays are, it's obvious the manager needs to manage better. Just like the pitchers need to pitch better, the hitters hit better, the coaches coach better, the athletic trainers train better, the team executives executive better, and so on.

But this mess is not Cash's fault. There really isn't much he can do about it. And, if you were actually wondering, there is no chance he will pay for it with his job.

The injuries that have decimated the starting lineup, with four front-line players sidelined plus their closer, and the inconsistencies that turned the once-touted rotation into a daily dilemma are much more the reason for their 31-43 record than Cash's usage — and, yes, over-usage — of the bullpen or occasional strategic stubbornness.

"It's definitely not his fault," team leader Evan Longoria said. "I've always said, good manager or bad manager, you're always defined by your players. Usually the quote-unquote 'good' managers have good teams and have good players. We have good players. We have a lot of good players hurt.

"There's absolutely nothing he can do in regard to that. … When you don't have the players, it's tough."

On the other side of the clubhouse, rotation leader Chris Archer said much the same thing, noting injuries, specifically to their top starters, were also a contributing factor in Cash's 80-82 debut season in 2015.

"It's tough to manage a team with 50 percent of your opening day starting lineup out," Archer said. "It really is. You put anybody in that seat and I don't think there's much better you can do."

When the Rays took a leap after Joe Maddon bailed following the 2014 season to hire Cash to manage for the first time at any level, they committed to much more than a season-and-a-half of injury-marred play, 111-125 thus far.

This is an organization that tends — perhaps to a fault — to be more deliberate in decision-making than knee-jerk reactive. And one that typically doesn't scapegoat.

When they gave Cash a five-year, approximately $5 million deal — even though they didn't announce the terms — the message was clear that he would have an extended run to prove himself.

How the Rays are playing and how Cash, 38, is handling it publicly, with his straight-faced expression in the dugout and calm, somewhat bland media sessions, seem to rankle some fans — at least among those who care enough to share on social media.

"I don't think he's to blame," Longoria said. "And I don't think the fans should jump off board with him for the simple fact that he just doesn't have the players accessible to him right now."

Those around Cash know how rough the losing has been on him, even more so since the Rays had won nine of 11 before the streak, getting back to within a game of .500.

And those who know Cash say he's just not the type to go all Lou Piniella — whom he played for briefly — and start calling out players, much less his bosses, in frustration or slamming doors.

Actually, Archer, Longoria and other players said they feel the patient and positive manner in which Cash is handling the situation is pretty much pitch perfect. In the few team meetings Cash has called, the message preached has been similar, though perhaps a tad more colorful.

"That's what you want from a leader," said first baseman Logan Morrison, who has played under eight different managers. "Someone who's going to be the same person whether you've won 10 in a row or lost 11 in a row. I think he'd done a good job of that. He's always looking after us, making sure we're all right."

Cash acknowledged the extended skid is a test but emphasized that they are in it together. A win will help, just to reduce the pressure of the streak, four shy of the franchise record for ineptitude. A couple, more so. But better will be getting outfielders Brandon Guyer and Steven Souza Jr. potentially back this week, and getting their starters straightened out.

"There's no doubt it's tough," Cash said. "We all work so hard, our players, our staff, our organization works so hard to get positive results, and we're not getting them right now. …

"We've got the support of our front office, no doubt. They listen and hear everything. We just have to grind through it a little bit. You do what you can to stay positive, but it's difficult to do. We're losing ball games in so many different ways right now."

As the manager, he deserves the blame. But not the fault.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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