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Rays think outside the box with five infielders, two outfielders

Kevin Cash gave the alignment a look for an inning during Thursday's intrasquad game.
Tampa Bay Rays centerfielders Kevin Kiermaier, left, and Manuel Margot, pictured here from camp last week, were both used in separate two-outfielder configurations on Thursday.
Tampa Bay Rays centerfielders Kevin Kiermaier, left, and Manuel Margot, pictured here from camp last week, were both used in separate two-outfielder configurations on Thursday. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jul. 16, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — No one can romanticize a good glove story like Kevin Kiermaier.

“I could sit here and talk defense all day,” the Rays centerfielder said.

But even Kiermaier’s incredible mitt and range may be tested when manager Kevin Cash deploys two outfielders and five infielders the way he did for an inning during Thursday’s intrasquad game at Tropicana Field.

“It’s interesting,” Kiermaier said. “I was out there with Hunter Renfroe, and they said, ‘Play where you think you give yourself the best chance against whoever was up,’ and we go off the pitcher as well. We didn’t get tested out there today. I always say we’re the Rays, we’re not afraid to get unorthodox or switch it up, and as long as we feel like we give ourselves a chance to win and maximize our potential, I’m all for it. …

“I put my skills up there against anyone. We have the right group as far as the outfielder standpoint to make something like that realistic and make it an actual option that we could use in a game.”

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Normally, five infielders are positioned on the infield grass only in an attempt to cut down a tying or winning run in the late innings. But because of a speedy outfield with Kiermaier and Manuel Margot, the Rays may be willing to stretch the limits of that defensive alignment at times during games.

Cash said he typically would have a ground ball-inducing pitcher on the mound when the Rays go to five infielders. But he wanted to try it with Oliver Drake or Sam McWilliams, a pair of fly ball pitchers.

“I just wanted to test the limits and see what it will look like,” Cash said. “If we considered doing it at any point, it won’t be with those two pitchers, but we’ll be getting a good sense of how much ground can we cover on fly balls. If we do get that ground ball hitter up, they will give more comfort to the guys out there than if they did it once or twice.”

Kiermaier and Renfroe weren’t tested, but with Margot and Brian O’Grady patrolling the outfield after Mike Brosseau moved from leftfield to become the fifth infielder, Daniel Robertson doubled home a run to straightaway centerfield in the final inning.

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“Super weird, right? Usually, when you see a five-man infield, I guess, more cases than not, it’s usually the infield is in,” Brosseau said. “... I don’t think anyone is uncomfortable with having two men run down balls in the outfield because we know we can. So, yeah, it’s just another weapon we can utilize and put ourselves in good situations when we need that big-time double play or have a sinking ball thrower.”

Shielded from the virus

Umpire Joe West began Thursday’s game behind the plate wearing a surgical-type mask but switched to a plastic shield that was late arriving to the Trop. “I know he was waiting for it right before the game started,” Cash said. “... It makes sense; it’s up to the umpires’ comfort. I don’t know, maybe we’ll see some catchers with it.”

Standing out

The Rays' Ryan Thompson throws during a team scrimmage Thursday at Tropicana Field.
The Rays' Ryan Thompson throws during a team scrimmage Thursday at Tropicana Field. [ MIKE CARLSON | Associated Press ]

Pitchers Ryan Thompson and John Curtiss were impressive during their couple innings of work. Thompson, with his submarine delivery, kept hitters off-balance. Curtiss struck out the side in his first inning and his first six outs all came on punch outs.

“They’re fun to watch. They were very much a highlight today,” Cash said. “When Thompson, obviously the delivery, where he releases the ball from, but he’s doing it at 92 mph, that’s not a fun at-bat. Even some left-handers commented, saying the sweeping breaking ball. And then Curtiss, he’s got some pretty electric stuff, sitting at 95 (mph), able to cut the ball.”

TV schedule released

All 60 Rays games will be televised live on Fox Sports Sun. There will be a 30-minute pre-game show before each game, which also will be streamed live on Fox Sports GO. Fox Sports Sun also will air the Rays’ intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Tropicana Field will serve as the location for all Rays broadcasts with play-by-play man Dewayne Staats and color analyst Brian Anderson calling games remotely. Doug Waechter and Orestes Destrade will serve as pre- and post-game analysts while Rich Hollenberg will be the host and Tricia Whitaker is back as the in-game reporter.