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Rays set for spring opener — with fans

Many of Tampa Bay’s frontline players are in the lineup for a game that will be limited to 7 innings.
The Rays take batting practice before their spring opener against the Braves Sunday in Port Charlotte.
The Rays take batting practice before their spring opener against the Braves Sunday in Port Charlotte. [ MARC TOPKIN | Times ]
Published Feb. 28
Updated Feb. 28

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays open their exhibition schedule today against the Braves and are excited to not only be playing their first game, but also the first in front of local fans in nearly a year.

“It’s definitely an exciting thing,” Rays infielder Mike Brosseau. “I woke up with some butterflies in my stomach this morning, for sure.”

After spring training was shut down in mid-March due to the pandemic, the Rays played the delayed and abbreviated 2020 season with no fans in the stands and then a limited number at the World Series in Arlington, Texas.

Capacity for spring games at Charlotte Sports Park is limited to around 1,100, and what tickets were available sold out quickly.

The Rays are starting several of their frontline players. The game, as part of league-wide protocols, will be limited to seven innings to limit the number of players needed and used. That includes postseason star Randy Arozarena, who turned 26 on Sunday.

Arozarena played mostly leftfield last season, but he is in rightfield today. Manager Kevin Cash said Arozarena will play both during the season.

The pitching will be handled by a large group, with those scheduled including Chris Ellis, Hunter Strickland, Andrew Kittredge, Joey Krehbiel, Jeffrey Springs, Stetson Allie, Yacksel Rios, Brian Moran and Tyler Zombro.

Cash said the managers agreed to play seven full innings during the week, with the home team batting in the seventh even if it is ahead. But if the visiting team is running low on pitching, that could change.

Here is the Rays lineup:

Meadows dh

Arozarena rf

B. Lowe 2b

Brosseau 1b

Diaz 3b

Tsutsugo lf

Adames ss

Margot cf

Smith c

Ellis p

And here is the Braves lineup:

Inciarte cf

Swanson ss

Riley 3b

Sandoval 1b

Kipnis 2b

Almonte rf

Jackson c

Heredia lf

Ball dh

Wright p