Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Roster expansion will bring another catcher into the Tampa Bay Rays' mix

TORONTO — Of the four Rays being added with today's roster expansion, C Chris Gimenez could get the most meaningful playing time.

Manager Joe Maddon said Gimenez "definitely" could end up starting, based primarily on his impressive offensive performance at Triple-A Durham, specifically a .375 average, and 1.120 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, against left-handers.

"He's a very confident guy, and I'm confident he would step in and play well," Maddon said. "I'm not afraid to use him."

Of the others, SS Reid Brignac will be used as a defensive replacement for new starter Ben Zobrist and could get a start if Zobrist needs a day off. OF Rich Thompson will be used as a pinch-runner, and LHP Cesar Ramos as a long reliever.

Gimenez, 29, hit .191 during six weeks with the Rays, then "kind of scrapped" his batting stance when he went back to Durham, and overall hit .310 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs in 71 games. Current Rays C Jose Molina is hitting .207, with five homers and 22 RBIs, and Jose Lobaton is at .230 with two homers and 19 RBIs.

"When I went down there it was kind of a clean slate, a chance to start myself back over and get back on the right track," Gimenez said.

Brignac, who was anointed the starting shortstop last season and lost the job, began this season with the Rays as the backup to Sean Rodriguez, then was sent down in late April and stayed with Durham, hitting .231 with eight homers and 46 RBIs in 99 games.

"A lot of adversity this year I had to go through, but I took a lot of positive things away from it as well, getting back and playing every day and figuring out myself again, and my swing," Brignac said. "I'm really happy where I'm at from an offensive standpoint."

FURTHERMORE: Maddon said another two or three players could be added after Durham's season ends Monday. … Rodriguez technically was called up Friday, and then put on the 15-day DL. Assuming his broken right hand heals, he would be eligible for the postseason roster.

LONGOria UPDATE: Evan Longoria was to DH on Friday, but he told Maddon he felt good enough to play third, so he made his first back-to-back starts in the field since his Aug. 7 return from the DL, but went 0-for-4. Longoria likely will be the DH today, with a day game after a night game. He is 6-for-9 with three homers against Jays starter Henderson Alvarez.

BACK TO THE SCENE: When RHP Jeff Niemann first heard he might make his return from the DL in Toronto, where he was pitching when his right leg was broken by Adam Lind's line drive May 14, he could only shake his head.

"I was like, 'Are you guys serious? I've got to go face the dragon the first time out? I've got to see the demon?' " he said. "But that's baseball."

Niemann made four rehab starts, though he didn't get through the fifth inning or throw more than 77 pitches. Maddon said he should be good for 90-100 pitches today, though it's not a coincidence that Ramos is here just in case. Niemann officially will be activated from the 60-day disabled list today, and the Rays will have to make a 40-man roster move.

MINOR MATTERS: Montgomery SS Hak-Ju Lee and utilityman Omar Luna were named to the Double-A Southern League postseason All-Star team. … Short-season Class A Hudson Valley qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1999. … The Rays extended their deal with Class A Bowling Green through 2014.

MISCELLANY: The Rays lost for the major-league most 11 times when allowing one or two runs. … Zobrist went 0-for-4 and his streak reaching base in 13 straight games came to an end. … Maddon said he picked Jeff Keppinger to play first based on his overall experience as an infielder over Luke Scott, who was the DH.

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