FORT MYERS — Even before trading Ji-Man Choi to the Pirates in the offseason, the Rays were contemplating a possible future with Luke Raley at first base.
Raley, acquired from the Dodgers in spring training last year, had spent most of his time as a corner outfielder before the Rays began working him in at first base at Triple-A Durham. Raley ended up with 26 starts at first base with the Bulls, then continued working at the position in the offseason at the prompting of manager Kevin Cash.
“I’m feeling pretty comfortable over there,” Raley said. “It just moves faster than the outfield. That’s the biggest difference. It’s more reactionary than running stuff down and having time. That would be the biggest difference to me. And you’re more engaged.”
Yandy Diaz will spend a fair amount of time at first base, but could switch to third if the Rays are comfortable with Raley’s work around the bag. That could potentially give the Rays an extra left-handed bat along with Josh Lowe in rightfield.
“He’s better (at first base) than maybe I anticipated. He’s worked really hard,” Cash said. “Even in the outfield … he can cover a lot of ground. I think we’re seeing a little bit more athleticism than what was anticipated at the beginning of camp. Brady (Williams) saw him play 15-20 games over there and I think he described him as serviceable. I would go a notch higher with the work he’s put in this spring.”
Roster comings and goings
Right-handed reliever Trevor Kelley was added to the 40-man roster after RHP Andrew Kittredge was moved to the 60-day injured list Wednesday. Kittredge, who had Tommy John surgery in June, is not expected to be ready to return until the season’s second half. Kelley, 30, has struggled in brief major-league appearances with Boston, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, but has strong Triple-A numbers.
“Happy that he’s on the roster, I think he’s pitched deservingly this spring,” Cash said. “He’s unique. He’s worked on some things through (pitching coach) Kyle (Snyder) and (bullpen coach) Jorge (Moncada). Low arm slot, but shows the ability to get lefties out. Interesting to see how the rest of this spring plays out.”
No pressure, rook
Rule 5 draft pick Kevin Kelly, a right-hander with a sidearm delivery like Trevor Kelley and Ryan Thompson, was victimized by an error and ended up allowing one earned run in his only inning Wednesday. Kelly has made seven appearances this spring and has nine strikeouts in 7.1 innings, but also five walks. The Rays have a couple of weeks to decide whether to keep him on the big-league roster or offer him back to Cleveland.
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“I feel for Kevin Kelly,” Cash said. “Every pitch is 10 times more meaningful to him than maybe anybody else in camp. Just trying to get him to relax and trust throwing strikes … We like him, so we’ll keep running him out there.”
With a lineup of mostly non-roster players, the Rays dropped a 9-1 game against Corey Kluber and the Red Sox on Wednesday. Kluber, who won 10 games for the Rays last season and was just announced as Boston’s opening day starter, struck out the side in the first and went on to throw five innings of one-run ball … Vidal Brujan, one of a handful of candidates for a utility fielder position, had two hits but also got picked off second base and committed an error ... Left-hander Joe Belge, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the J.P. Feyereisen trade, made his first big-league appearance in a spring game, striking out two batters with one walk … Ben Gamel made an impressive diving catch in leftfield … The Rays will send a split-squad team back to Fort Myers on Thursday while also playing at Tropicana Field against the Braves and Charlie Morton. Triple-A manager Michael Johns will run the team in Fort Myers.
The Rays acquired right-hander Victor Castaneda from Milwaukee as the player to be named later in the Javy Guerra trade from November. Castaneda, 24, signed with the Brewers out of Mexico in 2018 and reached Triple-A for the first time at the end of 2022. He has an 18-22 record with a 4.57 ERA working mostly as a starter in pro ball. Baseball America listed him as the No. 27 prospect in the Milwaukee system, describing him as a pitcher who works off his sinker with a low-90s fastball.
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