PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays OF Dayron Varona's return to Cuba could be in question.
Varona's unexpected opportunity to play again in his home country has been one of the more touching story lines for next week's trip to Havana, but the Rays were still waiting Friday for final approval from the Cuban government that Varona, who defected in 2013, will be allowed into and — more importantly — out of the country. Of note, a planned media availability with Varona has been dropped from the revised schedule of events.
Varona's status was one of several issues still being worked out as the team preps to leave Sunday for the trip, which culminates with a Tuesday exhibition against the Cuban National Team. First pitch has been moved up to 1:50 p.m.
Though U.S. President Barack Obama will attend the game, along with a dozen U.S. senators and other politicians, there were indications Friday that he will not be involved in first-pitch ceremonies as initially planned.
And though the parties agreed to have MLB umpires Angel Hernandez and Laz Diaz as part of the six-man crew, there has not been a final agreement that Hernandez would work the plate, as MLB anticipated.
What has been agreed to is that the teams will play no extra innings, that there will be a DH and that wood bats will be used. Also, tickets to the game at Estadio Latinoamericano, which seats in excess of 50,000, are being distributed by invitation only.
The Cuban team will be comprised mostly of players from the four teams competing in their league playoffs — which are being delayed for this game. After seeing the roster released Friday, Baseball America international expert Ben Badler called it "the worst Cuban national team" in a while, noting the absence of potential star OF Alfredo Despaigne.
The Rays don't plan to replace injured RHP Brad Boxberger on their 34-man travel squad, from which they will pick a 28-player active roster.
KNUCKLED UNDER: Dan Johnson's bid to convert from 1B/DH to knuckleball pitcher in minor-league camp has been delayed due to a sore arm.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays (8-9) rolled to a 5-1 win over a Red Sox split squad before a sellout crowd of 6,876. … SS Brad Miller homered to center and made several accurate throws on tough plays, alleviating some earlier spring concerns. … C Rene Rivera had two hits, making him 7-for-21, in showing off his new approach. ... Non-roster LHP Dana Eveland worked two innings as the starter on a bullpen day as six other relievers got work.
TV TIME: Fox Sports Sun announced a TV schedule of the usual 150 games and, as previously reported, the return of its seven-person on-air crew, with Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson in the booth, and pre-, in- and postgame coverage by Todd Kalas, Orestes Destrade, Rich Hollenberg, Emily Austen and Doug Waechter. The Rays also have three national games: April 3 vs. the Blue Jays on ESPN 3, June 4 vs. the Twins on FS1 and Sept. 10 vs. the Yankees on Fox.
PITCHING IN: RHP Erasmo Ramirez, the No. 5 starter, threw five innings in a minor-league game against the Orioles rather than face the Sox, throwing 68 pitches. … RHP Matt Andriese, in his first outing since being scratched from Sunday's start due to abdominal muscle tightness, "felt good" working three innings, and 38 pitches, in a minor-league game. … No. 2 starter LHP Drew Smyly will work in a minor-league game Sunday rather than face the Orioles, with RHP Jhan Marinez starting.
MEDICAL MATTERS: OF/DH Corey Dickerson is due back in the lineup today, not having played since Sunday due to a blood blister on his right ring finger. … 3B Evan Longoria is also expected back today, at least as DH, after fouling a ball off his left shin Thursday.