Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Sean Rodriguez will be Tampa Bay Rays' primary shortstop

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays still have some decisions to make before opening the season Friday, from how they'll fill the open spot in their bullpen created by Kyle Farnsworth's elbow strain to how they'll arrange their lineup given the injury-affected makeup of the 25-man roster.

But they did come to one significant conclusion Wednesday, naming Sean Rodriguez the primary shortstop.

Rodriguez, 26, held off former starter Reid Brignac to hold on to the job he claimed in the second half of last season and will have the opportunity to play on a somewhat everyday basis.

"Sean will get most of the starts," manager Joe Maddon said.

The Rays set their roster by placing catcher Robinson Chirinos (concussion) and outfielders Sam Fuld (wrist surgery) and B.J. Upton (lower back soreness) on the 15-day disabled list as expected.

Farnsworth is expected to join them — given an MRI exam he said showed a strain and a plan "to give it some time to calm down" — but the Rays held off, including him on the active roster submitted by Wednesday's 5 p.m. deadline.

Most likely, that was a maneuver to buy additional time in considering one of several potential trades for a reliever, with the fallback of promoting one of their own before Friday's game, with right-hander Josh Lueke considered most likely. Other possibilities could include Brandon Gomes, Cesar Ramos and nonrostered Romulo Sanchez.

Farnsworth could need up to six weeks of rest but said he was confident he would return and be able to pitch effectively, relieved that the problem — occasional discomfort, similar to what sidelined him at the end of last season — was in the flexor pronator and not the ligament.

Still, missing the start of the season is disappointing.

"I feel like I let the team down," said Farnsworth, who turns 36 this month. "The goal is to get up to steam, hopefully sooner than later."

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the Rays knew there was "a risk element" when they picked up Farns­worth's $3.3 million option, but they were confident that if there were additional problems, he wouldn't miss "a significant amount" of time.

Maddon didn't commit fully to the right-handed hitting Rodriguez, saying Brignac, a lefty swinger, and Elliot Johnson, a switch-hitter, would get some time at shortstop. Also, that Rodriguez at times could slide over to second as a defensive replacement for Jeff Keppinger, with Brignac stepping in at short.

But Rodriguez will get the most time, the Rays apparently more comfortable with his improved defense than Brignac's improved offense. (Plus there is uncertainly of Brignac playing with a plantar fascia issue in his right foot.)

Maddon said Rodriguez's impressive play last season and this spring gave the Rays "an entirely different perspective" on him.

"I've always felt Reid was the best defensive shortstop we had in the organization and I still probably would have to give him the edge overall, but Sean's really close," Maddon said. "Sean has really closed the gap on the actual defensive play."

Offensively, the Rays expect big things, though Rodriguez hit only .223 last season, with eight homers and 36 RBIs.

"I think there's a lot of people in this organization that believe very strongly in his offensive upside," Friedman said. "He's worked very hard to get where he is right now. … We're anxious to see him get a lot of plate appearances this year."

Rodriguez, supremely confident in his abilities, said he should only get better.

"Anybody given an opportunity to play every day is going to have more feel and more comfort level out there on the field," he said. "And I definitely see that happening."

Maddon still has to decide on the outfield alignment with the addition of Stephen Vogt, the batting order, and how best to manipulate their personnel as he is likely to often pinch-hit and pinch-run for catchers Jose Lobaton and Jose Molina.

"There's a whole bunch of moving parts going on," Maddon said. "I've been thinking about all these different things."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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