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Matt Baker, Times Staff Writer

Matt Baker

Matt Baker joined the Times as a sports reporter in 2011. In 2014, he started covering the Bucs, Rays and Lightning. He previously covered high school and college sports for the Tulsa World and minor league baseball for the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. His work has been honored by the Best American Sports Writing series and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is a Hoosier native and graduated from Northwestern University in 2008.

Phone: (727) 420-9087


Twitter: @MBakerTBTimes

  1. Success with Rays builds Boxberger's confidence

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — It has been more than a year since catcher Rene Rivera played regularly with reliever Brad Boxberger, back when they were both trying to stick on the Padres' major-league roster.

    And though Rivera hasn't caught Boxberger much in Rays camp this spring, he can already notice the change in the 26-year-old right-hander.

    "He's more confident," Rivera said. "You get better with confidence, with having the opportunity to know what you can do and learning yourself. I guess he did it last year."...

    “Definitely knowing that my stuff plays at the level, that’s probably one of the biggest things to feeling comfortable,” Brad Boxberger, who unlike this time last year has a job locked up.
  2. Rays' Cash worries visa issues may stall Colome

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — As the Rays prepare for today's first full-squad workout, manager Kevin Cash said he's concerned about the one player still absent — RHP Alex Colome, who is being delayed because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic.

    "It starts to be a concern already," Cash said. "Hopefully he's on track. We're getting reports he's throwing bullpens and stuff. Still, you want him here."...

    Rays pitcher Alex Colome is in the Dominican Republic thanks to visa issues.  CHRIS ZUPPA   |   Times
  3. Kevin Cash concerned over Alex Colome's visa delays


    PORT CHARLOTTE – A few quick notes from today’s spring training workouts….

    Manager Kevin Cash the visa issues with RHP Alex Colome are getting closer to a resolution, but the team is already “concerned” with his absence.

     “It starts to be a concern already,” Cash said. “Hopefully he’s on track. We’re getting reports he’s throwing bullpens and stuff. Still, you want him here.”...

  4. Boog Powell reports to Rays camp, only one still missing


    PORT CHARLOTTE – Outfielder Boog Powell reported to Rays camp this morning, leaving right-hander Alex Colome as the only one of the 63 players who hasn’t yet arrived. Colome is being delayed because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic.

    Powell, who came to the Rays in the Ben Zobrist trade, got in around 9 last night and said he was excited for the opportunity as a nonroster invite....

    WHAT NEXT? Rays pitchers take a break during spring training camp Friday in Port Charlotte. [MATT BAKER | Times]
  5. Rays' Chris Archer impressing Kevin Cash

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Kevin Cash singled out RHP Chris Archer as one of the most impressive Rays pitchers this spring.

    "He's game ready," Cash said. "He's ready to go."

    Archer's readiness comes from a winter geared more to the rigors of the season than it had been in the past.

    The 26-year-old threw a career-high 194 2/3 innings last season over 32 starts. Although September was one of his best months (a 2.97 ERA in five starts), Archer said his body began to tire. So in the offseason he focused on three or four weeks of intense training followed by a lighter week to let his body recover....

    Rays starter Chris Archer says he changed his offseason routine to better prepare himself for the rigors of the long season.
  6. Ex-Plant High standout Corey Brown bids for Rays spot

    The Heater

    PORT CHARLOTTE — The last time outfielder Corey Brown played regularly in Tampa Bay, he was starring at Plant High as one of the top prospects in the state.

    Eleven years later, the 29-year-old is back with a nonroster spot with the Rays and hopes of finally playing in a big-league game at Tropicana Field.

    "It's pretty cool, man," Brown said before Thursday's workouts.

    But Brown said his decision to sign with the Rays in December wasn't about a homecoming; it was about his best chance to make it back to the major leagues....

    Corey Brown, a second-team all-state pick at Plant High in 2004, has a nonroster spot in Rays camp as an outfielder. “I have to stay healthy … and I have to perform,” he says.
  7. Jameis Winston and me: The pain of covering the scandal

    Human Interest

    When the phone rang at my kitchen table, I had to follow the rumor wherever it led. I could never have imagined what would unfold next: That the star quarterback at Florida State University would wind up under investigation for rape. That Jameis Winston's accuser would be driven out of school. That a stream of national headlines and inescapable venom would still be following everyone involved more than a year later. "She is just not the same person she was," said the accuser's father at a campus hearing. "During this process," testified Winston, "I have learned how vicious this world can be." In my own way, so have I....

    Jameis Winston, right, was never charged after three separate investigations. But two of them didn't fully vindicate him, either, at least not in the eyes of some. [AP photo]
  8. Lightning sends goalie Vasilevskiy to AHL for spot start

    Lightning Strikes

    The Lightning sent goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy back to AHL Syracuse for a spot start Wednesday against Rochester, a 4-3 loss, and said after the game he was returning to Tampa Bay.

    The move — with no corresponding player brought up — gave Vasilevskiy a chance to stay fresh and gain a little more experience during the Lightning's four-day break.

    The Lightning returns to action Friday against the Blackhawks. The game is sold out, the team said Wednesday....

    Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stops a shot by Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar in the second period of Tampa Bay's 3-2 loss.   Associated Press
  9. Andrei Vasilevskiy back to Syracuse, but probably not for long


    The Lightning has sent goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy back to AHL Syracuse for what will likely be a quick stint.

    The team confirmed the move Wednesday morning, with no corresponding roster move. Vasilevskiy is expected to start tonight in Syracuse’s game against Rochester.

    The Lightning is in the middle of a four-day break after a long road trip and won’t play again until Friday night. The move gives the 20-year-old Vasilevskiy a chance to stay fresh and gain a little more experience while the rest of the Lightning rests....

    Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stretches his leg to make a toe-tip kick save against Predators center Mike Ribeiro in the first period Feb. 10 in Nashville, Tenn.
  10. After strong trip, Lightning prepares for sprint to finish

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — The Lightning returned from its 10-day road trip confident that it has answered one of the biggest questions surrounding the team.

    "I think we proved that we can play on the road," defenseman Mark Barberio said of a five-game trip where the team earned six points.

    Now, with a few days of rest before Friday's home game against Chicago, Tampa Bay can start to figure out some answers to other questions in the buildup to a playoff push....

    Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates an empty-net goal against the Arizona Coyotes with teammate Ondrej Palat (18) Saturday in Glendale, Ariz. [AP photo]
  11. Lightning gets back to work after long road trip


    BRANDON – After a day off from its 10-day road trip, the Lightning returned to work Tuesday morning with a practice at the Ice Sports Forum.

    “We were above .500 on the trip, and that was a big trip for us,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ll take that.”

    Cooper still seemed disappointed about Sunday’s 5-4 loss at Colorado but was otherwise pretty pleased with the Western swing....

  12. NFL Mock Draft Monday: Jameis Winston still leads Marcus Mariota after combine


    A busy combine week in Indianapolis hasn’t done much to change mock drafts just yet.

    Expect more updates in the next few days, as pundits reevaluate with the additional information of 40 times and workouts. But since it’s Mock Draft Monday (not Thursday), here’s where everything stands.

    But first, a quick poll update from you, the reader. With almost 3,000 votes, 45 percent of you want the Bucs to pick Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Florida State’s Jameis Winston is closing in (40 percent), with the rest wanting someone else (1.7 percent) or a trade (13 percent). Remember, you can cast your vote here....

    Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Saturday in Indianapolis.
  13. Jeff Gordon's last Daytona 500 ends with last-lap wreck

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — Jeff Gordon had plenty of reasons to hope the final Daytona 500 of his career would end better than a 33rd-place finish.

    Yet even after leading a race-high 87 laps and wrecking on the final two miles, Gordon didn't sound disappointed.

    "For some reason, I'm still smiling and enjoying every moment of it," Gordon said.

    Gordon was the center of attention before the first race of his final full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup season. He drew the loudest prerace crowd cheer, and fans wrote him good luck messages on the wall before the green flag....

    Jeff Gordon, in his final Daytona 500, accepts kudos from the crowd during driver introductions. He led a race-high 87 laps.
  14. Joey Logano wins Daytona 500 for first time

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — After two other Ford engines blew during Sunday's Daytona 500, Joey Logano had a quick request for his Team Penske crew.

    "Say a prayer," Logano said.

    Whatever they said, it worked.

    Logano's No. 22 Ford held together long enough for him to hold off Kevin Harvick and the rest of the field in a green-white-checkered finish and win the 57th Daytona 500. At 24, Logano is the second-youngest champion in the race's history (behind Trevor Bayne, who was 20 in 2011) and lived up to the lofty expectations heaped upon him long before he arrived in NASCAR....

    Joey Logano takes the checkered flag after leading six times for 31 laps and holding off the pack in a green-white-checkered finish.
  15. Carl Edwards hopes change leads to fast results

    Auto racing

    DAYTONA BEACH — Carl Edwards was nervous.

    The 35-year-old driver has won 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup races and been the series' runnerup twice. But he entered Daytona International Speedway last month without a guaranteed spot in Sunday's Daytona 500 and as the new face at Joe Gibbs Racing.

    "I believe that change in itself is good because it puts a lot of pressure on you," Edwards said. "I feel that right now, and I'm actually nervous, and I think that's good. That's a motivator, and for me it's an opportunity right now. I'm way outside of my comfort zone, and that's good. Hopefully it yields good results."...

    Carl Edwards leans in the car window as he talks to Tony Stewart after a practice session for the Daytona 500 Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway. [AP photo]