Changes coming after Rays lose third straight to Yankees (w/video)

Rays rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. climbs the wall but can’t come close to catching Aaron Hicks’ home run in the first inning.
Rays rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. climbs the wall but can’t come close to catching Aaron Hicks’ home run in the first inning.
Published April 14, 2017

NEW YORK — There are certain plans teams hatch during the winter and spring, over either suds or spreadsheets, that they are determined, even to a stubborn fault, to stick with for weeks if not months into a season.

Then there are plans they are forced to change.

The Rays, for different reasons, seemed headed toward several such decisions by the end of the night Thursday after losing, for a third straight game, to the Yankees, this time 3-2, the bullpen blowing it after a strong start from Matt Andriese.

Working from worst to first for the 5-5 Rays:

• They need to be looking externally for left-handed relief help.

That's because previous dependable Xavier Cedeno has been neither.

Especially Thursday, when he came in in the seventh and cost them the game by giving u up a two-run homer to Aaron Hicks, his second blast of the night.

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"Hanging curveball," Cedeno said. "It just takes one bad pitch and one good swing, and it goes the other way."

Going with one lefty reliever, and having changeup-throwing righty Danny Farquhar functioning as a pseudo-other, seemed like a flawed plan, and it looks worse now with Cedeno struggling.

In five appearances, Cedeno has faced 10 batters and gotten three outs, allowing three hits, three walks and a man to reach on his throwing error.

(That was the one Wednesday after he made the mental error of not checking to see that the infielders behind him were not at double-play depth, leading to the rushed and errant throw.)

"I felt great (Wednesday) and (Thursday), my arm is in good shape," Cedeno said. "Obviously my pitches are not where I want them. I'll probably get better, it has to get better, in the next few days."

Manager Kevin Cash insisted there was no concern based on Cedeno's claim of feeling good. "Just one of those little funks right now," he said. "He's been so steady for us for two years now. He'll work through it. It's unfortunate it's kind of clumped together right now at the beginning of the season"

The only internal option the Rays seem to have at Triple A is Justin Marks, who has much more experience as a starter and would have to be added to the 40-man roster.

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• The outfield is about to be shuffled.

Outfielder Mallex Smith left Thursday's game with right hamstring tightness, and though they'll have a better read on the severity today, it's not likely, and definitely not wise, to push a quick return with a player whose game is all speed.

Smith's departure put righty-swinging Peter Bourjos in the lineup against right-hander Luis Severino, who was on his way to a dazzling 11-strikeout night. And all Bourjos, who was acquired just to face lefties, did was crush a home run to leftfield.

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Smith seemed likely headed to the minors next week when Colby Rasmus returned from the disabled list. If Smith is out for a while, don't expect the Rays to rush Rasmus back. They may have to get creative given the limited number of position players on the 40-man roster, but the initial result may be that Bourjos, who has been an everyday player in previous stops, more opportunity.

• Rookie Daniel Robertson starting at short ahead of Tim Beckham, who had physical and mental errors Wednesday to go with his .154 average and .377 OPS, may be a sign of what's to come.

Asked how much to read into the change, Cash said, "Not too much."

His answer was more about wanting to see more of Robertson, the rookie who has had limited opportunities but started Wednesday at second, than less of Beckham, who inherited the starting shortstop job when Matt Duffy was setback in his recovery from heel surgery.

"Just for Robby, for a young player, it's tough to play, sit three days, play, sit three days," Cash said. "I think it makes the most sense today to give him back-to-back days. And we'll revisit it tomorrow."

In other words, he's saying there's a chance.

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Cash also praised praise Robertson for being something Beckham is not, which is consistent.

Though Beckham looked good for the most part during the spring, it was going to take significant improvement for him to handle the everyday role. The physical error he made booting a ball when there was an easy out at third Wednesday was annoying but part of the game. But the mental error in not being properly positioned at second on a bunt play they've practiced probably 100 times since February was galling.