ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays talk a lot about depth.
During the winter, when they typically seek a plus-one in trades and stock up on minor-league free agents. During the spring, when they take looks at minor-leaguers in their system beyond the touted prospects. And definitely early in the season, as they plan for just about every contingency, times two.
And here they are, two weeks into the season, and they’re deep into that depth.
Starting first baseman Ji-Man Choi and reserve outfielder Brett Phillips were sidelined in mid-March. Going back to reliever Nick Anderson’s injury the last week of spring training, the Rays already have lost six more players they were counting on going into the season.
Five were placed on the injured list: Anderson and reliever Chaz Roe are expected to miss more than half the season, reliever Pete Fairbanks a couple months, and outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and starter Chris Archer at least a few weeks. Reliever Ryan Sherriff took an undetermined length leave to get away from the game and was placed on the restricted list.
When pitcher Trevor Richards was called up Monday, he was the seventh player the Rays have had to summon from their alt site/minor-league camp. Josh Fleming is set to the be eighth, added to the taxi squad Tuesday with plans for him to start or work behind an opener in Wednesday’s game.
“We are living it,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I don’t think any of us like it, we don’t feel that great about it. We would have rather lived it maybe a little deeper into the season. But we do talk about it. And we are seeing it.”
The thing is, this isn’t new for the Rays.
Last year, in the delayed and abbreviated season, they dealt with a slew of injuries and a long list of player moves. At one point, they had a single-game record 13 players on the injured list (Sept. 1), and over the 60 games used 44 players (plus another, Shane McClanahan, in the playoffs).
And they still won a league-high 40 games and went to the World Series.
“I think that’s what makes us good,” shortstop Willy Adames said. “The guys that we have down there, they can come up and do a tremendous job. You saw last year we had a lot of guys in the big leagues making their debut and everything, and they were really, really helpful for the team. … I’m really confident about the guys that are down there and the guys that can come up and help the team.”
And it isn’t particularly concerning.
“You obviously don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” top starter Tyler Glasnow said. “But as far as like the panic goes, it’s pretty low heartbeat, just because there are so many options …
“Just normal Tampa Bay stuff. It’s just ‘as usual.’ I’ve been talking to a lot of guys at the (alternate site) and they’re saying how good we are, just the depth we have as far as offense and defense.”
The Rays not only collect players who can step in, but build their confidence so they feel good about stepping up.
That already has played out, as they’ve had big innings handled by cast-off relievers such as Chris Mazza, Cody Reed, Jeffrey Springs and Hunter Strickland; minor-league Rule 5 draftee Ryan Thompson; and Andrew Kittredge, who has been moved off and on the roster.
“(Recent games) have really showed us what we feel we have throughout the organization,” Cash said. “What our front office does in the offseason acquiring guys. What we do on the player development side of bringing guys up and developing them. And just creating that belief that on a given moment that you can be that guy, in that situation, in that moment, pitching when the game is on the line. …
“There’s been so many guys. … It’s one thing to feel good about them coming out in a spring training setting. But to see them do that in the regular season, albeit early, it’s been refreshing. It’s helped. It’s helped ease our mind and the tension of some of these injuries.”
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