PORT CHARLOTTE — After all the talk about how important good health will be coming off a painful 2015, the Rays couldn't get through the first day of camp without an injury to a key player.
OF Steven Souza Jr., one of the 19 position players who reported early, strained an intercostal muscle on the left side of his rib cage while taking swings in the batting cage Sunday. Souza said the injury wasn't serious and he just wanted to be careful. Rays officials were relieved the strain wasn't in the more damaging oblique area, which could lead to an extended absence.
The Rays won't know for a few days how severe the strain is and whether Souza will be ready for Friday's first full-squad workout.
"I'd rather be precautious with it not being that serious than trying to battle through," Souza said. "It's nothing crazy. I've got plenty of time."
AND ANOTHER: Minor-league C Justin O'Conner likely will miss spring training due to a slight herniated disc that flared up while driving from Indiana to Port Charlotte.
"They said it had to have happened slightly before that, but that 16-hour drive down here, my leg just kind of tightened up and started burning," he said. "They said that it pinched my nerve."
O'Conner's on the 40-man roster and would have had a chance to show the staff his skills to be in a position to provide minor-league depth. He played last year at Double-A Montgomery.
"It's disappointing for anybody, especially a young player that's coming in," manager Kevin Cash said. "(O'Conner) does a lot of things you hear about, a lot of really good things he's capable of doing, and this is an opportunity for him to kind of showcase that."
He is projected to miss four to six weeks.
ALEX THE GREAT: RHP Alex Cobb said his recovery from Tommy John elbow ligament surgery in May has gone well. He is throwing at a distance of 120 feet, with plans to get on the mound in mid March and make a late July return to the team.
"I feel as good as I think I can be right now," Cobb said. "The ball is coming out really good. Obviously it doesn't feel completely normal, like it would if I was in spring training leading up to a season before. But I can't expect anything more out of myself than where I'm at right now."
RAISED UP: Optimism abounds in all 30 camps this time of year, but RHP Chris Archer is confident the Rays have a real shot to return to the postseason after a two-year absence.
"Anybody who's legit and looks at our team, you have to see a contender," Archer said. "You have to see the ability, how we pitch, and the new pieces to our lineup, that's just added what we've been needing as long as I've been here.
"A lot of factors come into play, the major one being healthy. And the other one (is) people playing to their normal standard. I think we have upside and the ability to compete right now. There's a lot of guys who haven't reached their potential who are still going to be working toward that, and there are a lot of guys who are established, so that's nice."
MISCELLANY: The Rays have tentative travel plans for the March 20-22 exhibition trip to Cuba. An official announcement of the trip from Major League Baseball could come today. … 1B James Loney, whose future with the team is in question given other acquisitions, joined the early reporting position players. Only five have yet to make it to the complex: 3B Evan Longoria, OFs Desmond Jennings and Kevin Kiermaier, and nonroster INF Juniel Querecuto and OF Dayron Varona. … All 33 pitchers were on hand. Cash said the 15 who threw bullpen sessions were said to be in good shape and did well. … Even on the first day, MLB drug testers were in the clubhouse waiting for several randomly chosen players to provide samples.