Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays designate Hideki Matsui for assignment, ushering in Ryan Roberts

BALTIMORE — The Rays welcomed newest addition Ryan Roberts on Wednesday and started him at third base. And in doing so, they said goodbye to struggling veteran DH/OF Hideki Matsui, who was designated for assignment to make room and now is contemplating his future.

"I still see a life in him," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I don't think he's done."

Roberts, 31, acquired from the Diamondbacks on Tuesday for Double-A INF Tyler Bortnick, will play primarily third but also get time at second and "dabble" at short, according to Maddon. Roberts, a right-handed hitter nicknamed "Tatman" for all his tattoos, gives the team another option until 3B Evan Longoria (partially torn left hamstring) gets back.

"He's a very interesting player," Maddon said. "I think he definitely fits into our culture."

Maddon said Matsui was the odd man out because with Sam Fuld back, the outfield is pretty set, as are at-bats at designated hitter; INF Brooks Conrad, on the other hand, provides defensive versatility and is a switch-hitter.

The Rays gave Matsui, 38, who signed a minor-league deal in late April, plenty of chances (95 at-bats), but he struggled, with a .147 average that included a 1-for-16 skid. The team has 10 days to trade, release or put him on waivers.

Maddon gave Matsui the news after Tuesday's game, saying the two-time All-Star and former World Series MVP was stoic but handled the moment in a classy way. Maddon said Matsui understood the decision, was grateful for the opportunity and was upset he didn't contribute.

Maddon thanked Matsui and said he feels fortunate he got to manage the "Hall of Fame-caliber player based on the body of work that he's done, had he done all that in the United States."

"Beyond that, he's always had this way about handling himself that I've always found desirable," Maddon said.

Maddon said the team is amendable to what Matsui wants to do, and it wouldn't close the door on him remaining in the organization somehow. "You never know," Maddon said.

STAYING PUT: James Shields enters today's start with his name still swirling in trade rumors, the latest an ESPN report that had the Angels including CF Peter Bourjos and C Hank Conger in a deal for the Rays right-hander.

Maddon said he doesn't anticipate anything happening.

"Starting pitching is still probably our most strongest point," Maddon said. "To not have James in that mix would be very difficult to get back to the promised land."

Shields, 30, said he's not worried about any of the talk nor is he thinking about whether today could be his last start as a Ray. "I've been in the game long enough to realize this is a business," he said. "You just never know what's going to happen, so you just have to let it go."

Shields is focused on continuing the momentum from his last outing, when he allowed three runs over 7⅔ innings against Seattle. Maddon liked the way Shields pitched off his fastball, with the pitcher saying the key was his location.

"I felt really good," Shields said.

Shields, who might be pitching in 106-degree heat this afternoon, said he has had experience in high temperatures.

"In high school I pitched in 126-degree heat in El Centro, Calif., which is basically on the border of California and Mexico," he said. "That was probably the hottest ever."

MISCELLANY: Maddon said DH Luke Scott (rear external oblique strain) still is expected to have a minimal DL stint, due to come off Aug. 5. "Haven't heard anything contrary to that," Maddon said. … The team will have another Zim Bear giveaway Sept. 3 game against the Yankees.

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