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Shortened spring games are a long-term play

Rays Tales | With less help on hand, the changes were made to protect pitchers.
Tyler Glasnow, in sleeveless shirt, listens to a teammate on the field during training camp last month at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.
Tyler Glasnow, in sleeveless shirt, listens to a teammate on the field during training camp last month at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Mar. 6
Updated Mar. 6

PORT CHARLOTTE — Baseball-starved fans have been getting shortchanged so far this spring, paying hefty prices and dealing with myriad protocols while getting to see mainly seven-inning games, and sometimes less.

But there are reasons why Major League Baseball arranged for games to be shortened at least the first two weeks of spring, and why the Rays have embraced the change.

It’s to protect the pitchers.

Teams, in general, have fewer pitchers available this spring to cover innings.

With minor-league spring training delayed, they don’t have that extra group of early reporting pitchers able to fill out late innings or finish off an inning if a rostered pitcher gets extended too far. (Which is why MLB also is allowing innings to be rolled, or cut short, as the Rays did Friday when Rich Hill threw 27 pitches without getting an out.)

“We were able to back-fill innings with those guys,” manager Kevin Cash. “That’s not available this year.”

Due to distancing guidelines, fewer pitchers are sticking around for home games or being taken to road games, where, for example, locker room space is being “expanded” to tents in the parking lot.

Also, teams are being extra cautious in handling many of the pitchers they do have, such as holding back veteran starters and experienced relievers.

Related: Rays' "Pied Piper'' is here to help teammates, even you know who

A major concern for this season is the impact on pitchers going from an abbreviated schedule back to a full 162-game workload and the increased injury risk. Teams don’t want to find out in spring training that there is a problem.

“Without a doubt,” Cash said.” We want to make sure that we’re doing everything (we can). We’d rather be slower than too fast.”

Pitchers say they like the plan.

“I think it’s really smart,” Ryan Yarbrough said. “We don’t have the numbers that we normally do in spring training. … You’re trying to just get built up, and that’s the biggest, most important thing. … You’re trying to get in rhythm and timing, and as long as you’re able to get your work done, I think it’s a great idea. So it’s been really good so far.”

Starting March 14, most games will be planned for nine innings, with the option of shortening them to seven. At that point, innings can no longer be rolled and the three-batter minimum will be enforced.

The decision revisited, again

Now-Padres pitcher Blake Snell, after being asked again this week about being pulled from World Series Game 6: “Hopefully, it goes away. Will it? Who knows?” …. Cash, who did the pulling, got the same question Tuesday from the ESPN crew. …. Former Cy Young and World Series MVP winner Frank Viola, to USA Today, on the decision: “It’s a shame what happened to that kid that night. Tampa Bay was trying to revolutionize the game. I don’t get it. It’s crazy.” In the same piece, Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said, “I still don’t understand it.”

Rays rumblings

Single-game tickets are likely to be available the week of March 22, starting with presales for those with season memberships. … Tyler Glasnow is one of six players taking turns co-hosting a new twice-weekly podcast, The Chris Rose Rotation. Glasnow’s first episode drops Monday via the Jomboy Media Network. … The Rays were 12th on mlb.com’s list of World Series possibilities, behind the Yankees, White Sox, Twins, A’s and Blue Jays in the AL. … Jim Bowden gave the Rays a B for their total offseason moves in The Athletic, projecting the Snell trade to end up “a win-win,” noting, “There hasn’t been a better front office in baseball over the past 10 years in terms of wins per team payroll, and they still have one of the best farm systems. They’ll be just fine, like they always are.” … Interesting word choice, given Cash’s September comments, by new Yankees reliever Darren O’Day: “We have a great stable of arms here.” … Rays officials scouted several options (Eckerd College, the former Naimoli complex, IMG) to create a much-desired change of scenery for players headed back to alternate site workouts but couldn’t find a spot to beat Port Charlotte in terms of facilities, control and secure access. … Pre-spring workouts at Tropicana Field were extra fun for reliever Ryan Thompson, a “low-key WWE fan,” who peeked in at the ThunderDome set and is now angling for an invite by tweeting at wrestler Baron Corbin. … There’s an “8th Wander of the World” T-shirt available on 1771designs.com. … Ex-Ray Greg Vaughn is launching a wine line, with benefits to his Sacramento-based Vaughn’s Valley Foundation; see 23wines.com. … Four Rays staffers made a site visit last week to Charleston, S.C., checking out the new digs for the Class A affiliate, relocated from Port Charlotte. ... To reduce crowding on buses, the Rays waived the rule requiring players to have a year in the majors for the option to drive to games and are encouraging them to take their own cars, but to ride alone or with their spring roommate.