PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays are taking it slow with centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier to make sure some hip tightness doesn’t turn into a bigger issue later.
Kiermaier has been on the field for the first four days of full-squad workouts but has been limited to light activity. He likely will start full workouts early next week and make his exhibition debut around March 10 in what sounds more like a precautionary move than any real concern.
“We’re probably going to slow-play him just a little bit,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Both of his hips were just a little tight coming into camp, and we’ve got time on our side. We know K.K. We just want to make sure he’s ready for when it matters most.
“With his thoughts and also Joe (Benge and the athletic training staff), just to give him the extra days to not do anything that’s going to tweak it. He worked really hard this offseason, he probably just felt his hips tighter than usual.”
Kiermaier has been swinging his bat, and on Friday shagged some balls in the outfield during batting practice. But Cash said Kiermaier hasn’t participated in outfield drills or taken live BP yet.
Hard-throwing rookies Shane McClanahan, who debuted during the playoffs, and Luis Patino, acquired from San Diego in the Blake Snell trade, were impressive during live batting practice.
“What’s not to like?” Cash said. “It’s 97-98 (mph), filthy breaking balls. We’ve talked about Shane’s slider that (pitching coach Kyle Snyder is) really excited about. With Luis, it was just the constant strike-throwing. It seemed like he didn’t throw a ball until a change-up went up and away on his second-to-last pitch, and then he came right back in and threw a breaking ball for a strike at the end.
“But to show that type of commitment to the zone for both of those guys this early in their careers is really, really impressive. If you can continue to repeat that mindset of just constantly pounding the zone, they’re going to be special pitchers.”
Lefty Josh Fleming, who made his debut last season, also threw, and said afterward he is focused on earning a spot in the rotation (as a starter or working bulk innings) in the crowded field. Cash also praised him and said he is one of the Rays’ toughest competitors.
Thirteen Rays spring games will be shown by Fox Sports Sun (soon to be Bally Sports Sun), starting with Wednesday’s matchup with Pittsburgh. Ten games will be Rays hosted, three will be picked up from the Twins production. ESPN is showing Tuesday’s game vs. Boston. ... Nine weekend games, starting with Sunday’s opener, will be broadcast on the Rays Radio Network, and nine other weekday games on raysbaseball.com.
Field coordinator/catching coach Paul Hoover joined the workouts for the first time Friday, having been sidelined due to COVID-19 protocol issues. Also returning in recent days were pitchers Phoenix Sanders and Drew Strotman, and minor-league coaches Brady Williams and Michael Johns. Absences due to protocol issues do not necessarily mean that person tested positive for the coronavirus. ... Chris Ellis, a non-roster invite, will start Sunday’s spring opener, with Hunter Strickland, Andrew Kittredge and Stetson Allie among others scheduled. Tyler Glasnow starts Monday vs. Minnesota.