PORT CHARLOTTE — Certain segments of the Rays' lineup for today's spring opener are purely for exhibition and experimental purposes.
But the middle looks to be the real deal.
3B Evan Longoria will hit fourth, with INF Asdrubal Cabrera in front of him and 1B James Loney behind him, and that appears to be the plan for the regular season, albeit with OF Desmond Jennings fifth at times.
Longoria has preferred the No. 3 slot, but after talking with new manager Kevin Cash and team officials he said he will willingly hit cleanup.
"I've always said, and as far back as when Joe (Maddon) was here, if that's what makes the lineup better, if that's what gives us the best chance to win on a nightly basis, then I'll hit wherever you ask me to hit," Longoria said. "They feel that the way our lineup shapes up that that's the best way, and I agree with that."
For his career, with a similar number of plate appearances, Longoria has a .254 average and .830 on-base plus slugging percentage hitting third and .282 and .843 hitting fourth.
Longoria said he likes the look of the projected lineup overall, though he assumes there will be some adjustments in-season based on performance, and specifically having the switch-hitting Cabrera in front of him.
"I like that just because of his versatility," Longoria said. "I think they tried to hit (Ben Zobrist) in front of me quite a bit, too, or around me, just because of the versatility that he brought. And I think Cabrera is a very similar player in terms of his ability offensively and what he can do in certain situations driving guys in and stuff. He's a good guy to have in front of you."
LINING UP: Another major point of spring interest will be the middle infield alignment. Cabrera starts at shortstop in the spring opener with Tim Beckham at second, though Cash said there will be numerous combinations. … Also of note, the showcasing of likely-to-be-traded OF David DeJesus begins immediately with him starting in leftfield. … Starting players will get two at-bats and pitchers will work one inning apiece unless a starter has a very short one. … The posted lineup is Beckham, 2B; John Jaso, DH; Cabrera, SS; Longoria, 3B; Loney, 1B; DeJesus, LF; Brandon Guyer, RF; Kevin Kiermaier, CF; Curt Casali, C. … RHP Nathan Karns, one of the top candidates for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, will start.
FIRST-TIMERS: The game will be the first Cash has managed at any level, so there will be quite a bit new, from general things like having to focus on all aspects of the game on and off the field to specifics such as giving signs. Communication with the coaches will be a point of emphasis, even more so because 1B coach Rocco Baldelli and 3B coach Charlie Montoyo are new to their jobs as well.
PITCHING IN: With RHP Alex Cobb, RHP Chris Archer and LHP Drew Smyly set for the opening April 6-8 series vs. Baltimore, Cash said the Rays will consider several options for the second series at Miami after RHP Jake Odorizzi pitches the first game. That's in part because they don't know who their fifth starter will be, or if they'll skip him and bring Cobb back on regular rest as they are off April 9.
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SICK BAY: Bench coach Tom Foley said he was fine, except for a cold, a day after being carted off the field after going down to one knee due to dizziness and dehydration. … Cabrera was back after being sent home Tuesday due to stomach-flu symptoms.
MISCELLANY: The Rays have agreed to a minor-league deal and spring invite, pending a physical, with RHP Jim Miller, who has spent parts of five seasons in the majors and will add bullpen depth. … Longoria said he doesn't expect any major issues with the between-innings countdown clock that will be used as part of MLB's pace-of-game initiative, but he questions the practicality of requiring hitters to keep one foot in the batter's box. … Today is Military Appreciation Day at Charlotte Sports Park, with free T-shirts for the first 5,000 fans and a parachute team delivering the first-pitch ball. … Souza and pitching coach Jim Hickey will be guests on the Countdown to Opening Day radio show, 7-8 tonight on 620-AM.