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Matt Duffy's slow recovery from heel surgery puts him in doubt for Rays opener

Rays shortstop Matt Duffy’s recovery from left heel surgery has been slower than expected.
Published Mar. 9, 2017

PORT CHARLOTTE

Here is what the Rays said Wednesday about the health of shortstop Matt Duffy:

There has been slower progress and more pain than anticipated in his recovery from September left heel surgery, and while not ruled out, Duffy's readiness for the April 2 opener is now in question.

"We're trying not to put a hard date on it and just let the thing take its course," Duffy said. "If I have to take an extra week, then so be it. They've been pretty good in communicating that to me, not pushing it unnecessarily. The goal is to be healthy throughout the whole year, not to push it for opening day and then two weeks in I've got to go on the DL because it's just so sore. That's kind of the goal."

While insisting there was no major setback, Duffy — acquired Aug. 1 from the Giants with some level of injury — said that last week they had to back off from taking ground balls at full speed due to soreness afterward that caused him to have to limit ensuing workouts. "It's still a little bit behind strength-wise,' he said.

As a result, Duffy said he won't be ready to play in exhibition games as targeted by next week and might not be ready for game action until early April.

Though rest and a focus on strengthening has helped, Duffy acknowledged that until he resumes the "more intense" workouts, he won't know for sure how much better it is. Still to come are tests of running on the field, then the stops, starts and turns on the bases. And once he is ready, there will be the challenge of the hard Trop surface that led to some issues last year, though a new turf is being installed.

Manager Kevin Cash said he was not ready to rule Duffy out for opening day, adding he looked "noticeably better" in Wednesday's workout than previously.

Here's what it means: The Rays are wise to take it slow after giving up left-hander Matt Moore to get Duffy (and two prospects) with the idea to move him back from third to shortstop, at least as a placeholder until prospect Willy Adames is ready.

Assuming Duffy only will be a couple of weeks behind, at most, expect Tim Beckham to fill in as the primary shortstop. Having moved Brad Miller from short to first in August and now to second, the Rays don't want to disrupt that transition by moving him back to short temporarily. Prospect Daniel Robertson could be another option.

Here is what the Rays said about the health of reliever Brad Boxberger:

Per Cash, Boxberger "had a little bit of a setback with his lat. We're not overly concerned. It grabbed him playing catch a little bit. We're going to take it slow, slow with him."

Boxberger, who missed much of last season due to core muscle repair surgery and a left oblique strain, said this issue was unrelated, mostly in the right back/side area, and was not worried it could lead to bigger problems.

"I've been throwing bullpens and live batting practice and am just a little more sore than I would like to be coming off those," he said. "No concern at all. Just taking it slow right now."

Here's what it means: At the least, Boxberger won't make his spring debut until the end of next week, which, at best, would give him 16-17 days before the opener. Boxberger said that's "plenty of time to get ready and be ready to go for opening day."

But given how much the Rays are counting on Boxberger to join Alex Colome — who will be away for the World Baseball Classic for up to two weeks — as a late-inning force, and given Boxberger's injury history, you know they are going to be cautious and not push him for April 2. Even more so now that DL stints are shortened to 10 days.

Here is what the Rays said about the health of outfielder Colby Rasmus:

Cash said Rasmus, recovering from hip and core muscle surgery, has been doing "really well" and has taken batting practice on the field and done some running: "We're still shooting for that opening day date to be ready."

Here's what it means: Of four key Rays coming off surgery, Rasmus has been considered the least likely to be ready for opening day, given the extent of his injuries. That he's just at the stage of doing "some running" suggests he, too, won't be rushed for April 2 and will benefit from more time.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

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