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Rays hand catcher Luke Maile a chance to impress

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Luke Maile taking batting practice during an optional workout for Tampa Bay Rays players in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Thursday, July 14, 2016
Tampa Bay Rays catcher Luke Maile taking batting practice during an optional workout for Tampa Bay Rays players in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Thursday, July 14, 2016
Published Jul. 29, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Like the other Rays starting pitchers, Chris Archer is more than willing to discuss the assorted strengths rookie catcher Luke Maile has displayed in making a good impression during his limited time in the majors.

But Archer also suggests a visual.

"Have you ever looked at his hands? His actual hands? They are enormous,'' Archer said. "I think it allows him to be strong and present the ball really well. We've always had good receiving catchers, but on other teams you see guys get beat by the ball and then try to frame it. That doesn't happen to Luke, because his hands are so strong.''

Maile can't really hide the evidence — big, meaty paws, highlighted by a left index finger as round as a Cuban cigar — but tries to downplay the impact.

"A lot's been made out of it by the pitching staffs, they say I have really strong hands,'' Maile said. "I really don't know. There's a lot of guys that have really, really good hands. But they're definitely big.''

Big enough that Maile (MAY-lee) has to wear XXL batting gloves, reaching for XXXL on hot and humid days. Big enough that wiggling his wedding ring off for a game can be a 10-minute episode.

And big enough that he is known on occasion to perform a few tricks, such as being able to hold seven, yes seven, baseballs in one hand — four between the fingers, three in the palm — something Maile discovered he could do at age 15.

"There's usually something once a week that happens that's funny having to do with my hands,'' he said.

Maile, 25, has done a good job in taking advantage of the opportunity the Rays have given him since his All-Star break promotion from Triple A, starting nine of the 12 games.

"I just wanted to come up here and whenever I did get a chance to play my butt off,'' Maile said. "I wasn't anticipating anything except to try to help win games. The amount of action I've seen has been awesome. I'd have some experiences happen to me that didn't happen last year in September (during his 15-game, nine-start debut stint), big at-bats, guys stealing, things like that. It's been really useful and helpful to move forward.''

The Rays like a lot of what Maile — a 2012 eighth-round pick from the University of Kentucky — has done, throwing out 3 of 6 basestealers and posting a 2.37 catchers ERA, albeit hitting .214.

Archer starts with the "highly intelligent" way he calls a game. Matt Moore notes his determination to block balls — once with his bare right hand — and desire to talk baseball and discuss how to get hitters out, even reviewing over a postgame meal, adding, "He's what you would call a baseball rat.''

Blake Snell praises the way Maile, 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds, runs a game and delivers the proper message when he comes to the mound. Jake Odorizzi touts his overall game, from the "quiet" — thus strike-call-inducing — way he receives pitches to his game calling to "a stronger arm than most people give him credit for, especially other teams.''

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Manager Kevin Cash, a former catcher himself, also likes the total package, mentioning the "comfort" the pitchers have in throwing to Maile, the way he follows the game plan and his "impeccable" timing in mound visits.

With this season lost given a 39-61 record, Maile is one of the Rays' younger players who will get additional playing time to factor in 2017 decision-making.

"We'll get a good look at some guys for sure,'' Cash said. "We have some guys that are going to play the entire year for us, it's pretty difficult to uproot our everyday players. But Luke's in a situation where he can definitely benefit by the opportunity of getting some playing time.''

Hands down.

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

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