PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays have full faith and considerable optimism that indefatigable head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield and his staff will get four key players coming off surgery, and the handful of others dealing with other woes, ready for opening day a month from today.
But what if they're not?
Though OF Steven Souza Jr. (hip surgery) started playing in games last week, SS Matt Duffy (heel), 1B Logan Morrison (wrist) and OF Colby Rasmus (hip, core muscle) have not, and with no hard dates set.
The Rays have made it clear they are more concerned with getting the players healthy for the bulk of the long season than ready for the April 2 opener or the first week or two of games.
So what could that mean?
Can you say, opening-day shortstop Tim Beckham?
Having decided to move Brad Miller, who previously manned short and first base, to second, the Rays are likely to keep him there for now. So if Duffy, eyeing a mid-March spring debut at best, needs more time, they seem more apt to look first to Beckham, then possibly prospect Daniel Robertson, who has more experience than higher-ceilinged Willy Adames.
If Morrison isn't ready, Rickie Weeks, slated to play primarily against lefties, would get additional opportunity at first, assuming he continues to adjust defensively. Beckham could also help there, as could C Luke Maile. But another option is nonroster C Michael McKenry, whose offensive profile (.332 OBP 2012-15) has some appeal though he played his first game at first on Saturday.
The logical replacement for Rasmus would be OF Mallex Smith, though he had a side issue of his own that delayed his debut until Friday and could make the team anyway, perhaps in place of Nick Franklin pending final roster configuration.
So if they needed another outfielder, and with more experience than in-camp options Shane Peterson or minor-leaguers Johnny Field or Dayron Varona, they're likely to look to the waiver wire. Corner outfielders can often be had in late March, so names such as Bryce Brentz (Red Sox), Chris Colabello (Indians) or even ex-mate Justin Ruggiano (Giants) could be in play.
Word among scouts is the Rays are already looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder, plus a lefty reliever (to join Xavier Cedeno) and more help behind the plate, where the wait-till-Wilson-Ramos options are Curt Casali, Maile and Jesus Sucre.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: The old turf has been pulled up at the Trop, but installation of the new Shaw Sports Turf — darker and supposedly easier on the players — can't start until after a March 10-12 boat show. Tick, tick. … Hard not to think of the new mandate for base coaches to be in their boxes before each pitch as the "Charlie Montoyo Rule," given how far the Rays third-base coach strays. … Fox officials declined comment on the reversal of field to bring back Rich Hollenberg as pregame/postgame TV host after telling him he was done, so it seems either a deal with someone else didn't work out or they suddenly changed their minds. … It's now six of the top 12 picks from the 2011 draft that are gone as second-round RHP Lenny Linsky was recently released. … Seven games not being televised this season (five midweek matinees, two late West Coasters) still seems like too many. … The documentary Cuba: Baseball's Final Frontier screens at 10 a.m. Monday in Ybor City as part of the Gasparilla Film Festival, with Fox Sports Sun's Orestes Destrade hosting a Q&A after. … Pitching coordinator Dick Bosman, who threw a no-hitter during an 11-year career in the majors and coached another 11, is working on a book.