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What to watch for as Rays start spring games

Start with Jose Alvarado’s confidence, then include Tyler Glasnow’s third pitch, Yoshi Tsutsugo’s information gathering.
Tampa Bay Rays Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo in the batting cage during batting practice on the Rays first full-squad workout at the Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Rd, on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 in Port Charlotte. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

PORT CHARLOTTE — For the first time since the bang-bang ending of their season in Houston last October, the Rays will be back on the field to play a game Saturday.

It won’t count, nor will any of the 31 other exhibitions they’ll have over the next four-plus weeks. But that doesn’t mean they won’t mean anything.

Here are 10 people to watch closely over the next month that could be telling in how much success they have during the ensuing six:

Jose Alvarado

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

We said it going into camp and will keep saying it — Alvarado is the player who could add the most if he shows this spring he is ready, physically and mentally, to return to top form after a lost 2019. He will work into games a bit slower than others, given that he was sidelined in late August. The Rays will be watching. “Mannerisms, exuding confidence, filling up the strike zone, that’s all going to matter with Jose,’’ pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “One day will take you to the next. As long as he can comfortably get back in the strike zone before two strikes, confidence should just build from there.“

Kevin Cash

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

The new rule requiring pitchers to face at least three batters or end an inning goes into effect March 12 so managers (and umpires) can get some familiarity. Though Cash doesn’t make many situational changes in spring games, he will have the opportunity to get more comfortable with the thought process.

Pete Fairbanks

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

The hard-throwing righty showed enough last season to get the Rays excited. The spring question is if he is ready, and has the confidence, for a key role in the bullpen at the start. Strike-throwing is the key, specifically executing two-strike pitches.

Tyler Glasnow

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

Armed with a dominating fastball and devastating curveball, Glasnow is working on deciding on a third pitch. Going into camp, he was focusing on adding a splitter. Then he went back to the changeup, though with a slightly different delivery (less pronation) than he used in 2019, when he felt it could have led to his forearm issues. “I’ve got no concrete answers for you yet,’’ he said.

Aaron Loup

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

The 32-year-old veteran reliever hasn’t pitched in a game since April due to an elbow injury he says he is now fully over. A return to his past stuff, combined with his deceptive delivery and experience, could make him an intriguing addition. Showing he is healthy, and can eventually bounce back, is the key. “I don’t have any limitations for myself,’’ he said. “I feel great. I haven’t pitched in almost a year, so the games are going to be me getting back in the groove and tuning things up.’’

Manuel Margot

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

There were questions when the Rays added the defensively elite centerfielder to an outfield that already included three-time Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier. The answer may come when they put Margot, Kiermaier and the slick-fielding Hunter Renfroe together to get a look at what could be an airtight alignment. “They can cover some ground,’’ Cash said.

Hunter Renfroe

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

New additions Renfroe, Jose Martinez and Margot have had years of success in the majors. But Rays coaches need to learn about them now, more initially on how they prepare and what works than dissecting mechanics. “It’s more of me asking questions, Why are you doing this? What is happening? And I really have to reinforce that I’m not questioning what you’re doing, I’m just trying to learn your language, learn your thoughts, let you have some input before I give you my input,’’ hitting coach Chad Mottola said.

Kevan Smith

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

The one obvious position battle is for the backup catcher spot. Michael Perez has experience with the staff and is a lefty hitter. Smith, though a righty like starter Mike Zunino, could offer more offensively. He will have to show he can be good enough behind the plate for the pitching-and-defense-first Rays.

Blake Snell

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

A combination of health, weather and scheduling decisions limited Snell to just three innings in two games vs. big-league teams last spring. He came in this year focused and driven, working to refine his curve and expand use of his slider against righthanded hitters. Keeping him on a regular routine should work better.

Yoshi Tsutsugo

[JOHN BAZEMORE | AP]

Among the myriad adjustments the outfielder/third baseman has to make in coming from Japan is getting a sense of what to expect from his new opponents, getting his first look at pitcher’s repertoire and strengths, and a read on how players hit, run and defend. “So I think I have a lot to learn during these games,’’ he said, via interpreter Louis Chao. Tsutsugo is slated for 45-60 at-bats but will get more if wants.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTImes_Rays.

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