PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg didn’t accuse the Astros of cheating against his team during their 2019 playoff series. But he said Wednesday that they still had an advantage because the Rays had to be concerned about potential improprieties.
“The truth is our eye was off the ball because a lot of our baseball staff and upper staff were really focused on that, and seeing if it was going on,’’ Sternberg said.
“We had to deal with changing signals and things. They changed our normal course of business. So in retrospect, it hurt us. But we lost. Any which way you slice it up, we lost. And that’s what it is. But I do know we did everything on the up and up and will continue to, and we always have.’’
Suspicions were certainly raised in the fifth and final game of the AL Division Series when the Astros jumped on starter Tyler Glasnow in the first inning. The Rays said later that the problem was Glasnow tipping his pitches rather than the Astros stealing signs. Glasnow said he still isn’t sure but is moving forward.
In his annual spring training media session, Sternberg discussed the plans to split future seasons in Montreal, their new ticket plans and myriad other topics:
The AL East race: Bringing back the core of a 96-win team has Sternberg feeling pretty good about their chances, maybe, he said “a little too optimistic,’’ given they’ll be battling the big-bucks Yankees. “The division is going to be hard because we probably have the best team or second-best team in baseball (behind the Dodgers) that we’re competing against, which is usual for us,’’ he said. “But I think we’re going to give them a run for their money.’’
The Rays team: He sees their biggest strength as being “thick,’’ especially in arms. “To me, it’s all about the pitching,’’ he said. “This group top to bottom, I’m going to talk about 20 pitchers, through and through is the greatest group we’ve had since we’ve been here.’’ His primary concern, as usual, is the bullpen.
Adding Japanese free agent Yoshi Tsutsugo: The signing “will be helpful” in increasing the team’s presence in Japan from a marketing and recognition standpoint “but won’t move the needle much,’’ Sternberg said. There will be some signage at the Trop, and thus on game telecasts, from companies in Japan.
The Astros’ punishment: Sternberg said he was “thrilled” players around MLB have spoken out against the Astros’ actions and the discipline, but he “would have loved” to hear them speak out during the investigation rather than “a little Monday morning kind of quarterbacking.’’
Asked if the Astros were punished enough, he said “the franchise has suffered a good amount” and “is going to be living with this for years.’’ Also, that it should be a deterrent for other teams: “At the end of the day, that franchise is going to be feeling a dramatic amount of pain for a number of years, and any other franchise that is going to think about even contemplating the possibility of the idea of doing something like this is going to have to wear that stain and that stink.’’
Should the Houston players have been disciplined?
“It’s just hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube a few years later,’’ Sternberg said. “Those players are going to be wearing this for the rest of their careers, and they’re going to be wearing it real loudly these couple, few years. So maybe that’s worse than suspending somebody for a number of months. … Maybe it’s worse to always have to be looking over your shoulder.’’
A Glasnow changeup?
Glasnow had been working on adding a splitter as a third pitch in place of his changeup, which he felt might have led to his forearm issues last season. But when he threw his first live batting practice Wednesday, he was back using his changeup, albeit with a slightly different delivery, and getting good results. “I’m dabbling here, dude,’’ he said. “I’ve got no concrete answers for you yet. I’m fiddling around with both of them.’’
The Tsutsugo report
Tsutsugo’s second day of full-squad workouts started with an early morning session taking ground balls at third base, then live batting practice against Glasnow, who looked to be in midseason velocity. Tsutsugo will work in the outfield through the weekend, tentatively slated to start in leftfield Sunday, then next week get more intense work at third, manager Kevin Cash said.
The Rays have their third full-squad workout Thursday at 11 a.m. at Charlotte Sports Park (2300 El Jobean Road), with Charlie Morton and Blake Snell among the pitchers slated to throw live batting practice. … Chaz Roe also will be facing hitters for the first time since December arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Roe said he pitched with the injury since late July but now is “feeling great.’’ … Trevor Richards, Jalen Beeks and Pete Fairbanks will be the major-league pitchers facing the Red Sox in Saturday’s exhibition opener. … Ryan Yarbrough, Andrew Kittredge and Colin Poche are slated to face the Yankees on Sunday. … Thursday is the annual Rays Idol clubhouse singing competition, with 2018 winner Willy Adames the potential favorite. … Cash noted good work Wednesday from Yonny Chirinos, Poche and Richards among pitchers, and hitters Daniel Robertson, Tristan Gray and Brian O’Grady, “who smoked a ball off our new building” well beyond rightfield on Field 4. … Cash also said that Yandy Diaz “looks really good” at third, “his footwork, his hands.’’