PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays have four spots unclaimed in their bullpen, seven pitchers competing and six days until their opener.
Final decisions on the 26-man roster won’t be made until closer to Thursday’s noon deadline, but it seemed quite clear by the end of Friday’s 7-3 win over Boston that right-hander Andrew Kittredge and lefty Josh Fleming are strong candidates.
Kittredge was added to the 40-man roster Friday when high-leverage reliever Nick Anderson was placed on the 60-day injured list, which seems like a good sign he will be part of the nine-man bullpen. But Kittredge does have an option remaining, so there is a chance, albeit small, he could be sent to the minors.
Kittredge worked his way back this winter from a 2020 season-ending elbow ligament tear, and manager Kevin Cash said the Rays were impressed with how he’s thrown despite allowing 10 hits in 7-2/3 innings and posting a 7.04 ERA.
“He worked really hard to get himself back in shape, the arm healthy, and we’ve seen that,” Cash said. “The velocity and the break to the slider, the sharpness of it, has been outstanding.”
Fleming furthered his case with a strong 3-2/3 inning relief outing against Boston, allowing one hit, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out five, his fourth official outing of the spring without an earned run.
“He’s had a really good spring,” Cash said. “His stuff’s good. He can really pitch. See how this shakes down here in the next couple days, certainly, but he’s made every strong impression possible.”
Fleming, who pitched in seven games for the Rays last year, said that was his plan.
“I thought I’ve done a pretty good job,” he said. “Every game I threw in, I thought I pounded the strike zone, all my pitches were working pretty well. … Just trying to force their hand and hopefully can break with the team.”
The other candidates are right-handers Chris Mazza, Trevor Richards and Ryan Thompson, and lefties Ryan Sherriff and Jeffrey Springs. The Rays will consider handedness and if a pitcher is better working one or multiple innings. Another factor is the schedule, as the Rays have off days after the first two three-game series, then play 13 straight days and 30 of 31. The calendar also will come into play, as players can’t be optioned the first 10 days.
Five relievers seem set: right-handers Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, Collin McHugh, Chaz Roe and lefty Cody Reed.
Game details: Rays 7, Red Sox 3
Yandy Diaz, Mike Zunino, Willy Adames and minor-leaguer Tristan Gray homered for the Rays (9-15). … Diaz’s shot, which hit above the back wall of the rightfield bullpen, came after Cash challenged him to not ground out again, so Diaz had fun looking into the dugout as he rounded first. “The words that Cash had gave me some energy for that at-bat,” Diaz said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. … Zunino’s blast, his third of the spring, went over the tiki bar beyond the left-centerfield fence. … Infield prospect Xavier Edwards made two errors (fielding and throwing) on the same sixth inning play. … Reed had his fifth scoreless outing and allowed his first hit of the spring. … The Rays made a late lineup change because they wanted to get Brandon Lowe a game in rightfield before the end of spring.
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• Outfielders Randy Arozarena and Kevin Kiermaier, who last played Monday, are slated to return to the lineup Saturday. Kiermaier was away for the birth of his second son, Arozarena sidelined with a sore left wrist.
• The Rays put tickets to their first 15 games on sale to the public Friday with a capacity of around 9,000 at Tropicana Field. As of late afternoon, only a limited number for the April 9 home opener remained, and in seating pods of four and five.
• A drive-through version of the annual team Fan Fest will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in the Tropicana Field parking lots. Fans who didn’t reserve tickets in advance can enter for a $10 donation to the team foundation. See raysbaseball.com.
• Catcher Kevan Smith was reassigned Friday morning, which actually was a good thing as he got an encouraging report from the doctor on his sore back and can start resuming baseball activities.
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