ST. PETERSBURG — Opening day is within a week, and while there is clarity regarding some of the Rays’ roster-spot battles, decisions likely won’t be announced until the final day or two.
“That’s how we’ve done it for many, many years,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ll try to take as long a look as possible. Certainly want to respect the situations of the players that are involved in it and want to give them as quick a heads-up as possible. But there are still some decisions to be made.”
Also still to be announced — Friday in a coordinated, league-wide effort — is the obvious choice of Shane McClanahan for the March 30 opening day start against Detroit.
It’s a little tricky setting up the rotation after, given the schedule. The Rays are off March 31 and April 6 but then have stretches of 23 games in 24 days, 36 in 38, and 52 in 55.
More pressing, new starter Zach Eflin’s wife, Lauren, has an April 3 due date for twins, so there are contingencies built into the Rays’ plans.
But based on the end-of-spring schedule, the team appears set up to have Eflin pitch Game 2 on April 1 and lefty Jeffrey Springs on April 2. Then for the quick, and potentially chilly, trip to Washington April 3-6, they would have Drew Rasmussen, whoever initially wins the No. 5 spot (replacing injured Tyler Glasnow) and McClanahan.
The fifth-starter battle is between right-handers Yonny Chirinos and Luis Patino, and lefty Josh Fleming, and each has had good and bad moments. Given the schedule and the Rays’ plan to be cautious with all starters early, each is likely to get a chance at some point.
Also to be decided are two spots on the bench and in the bullpen, with the 26-man roster not due until March 30 at noon.
Outfielder Luke Raley’s strong spring at the plate (.324, five homers, 1.204 OPS), apparent comfort at first base and lack of options seem to make him a lock for one spot. Josh Lowe is looking like the likely choice for the other, over Vidal Brujan and Jonathan Aranda.
Calvin Faucher seems in line for one of the open reliever jobs, with rookie Kevin Kelly — who as a Rule 5 pick otherwise would have to be offered back to Cleveland — likely ahead of Trevor Kelley, Heath Hembree, Kyle Crick and the rest of the remaining arms for the other.
Pinto provides good Triple-A depth
With top catchers Christian Bethancourt and Francisco Mejia returning healthy from the World Baseball Classic, the Rays made the expected move of optioning Rene Pinto to Triple-A.
But that didn’t make it easy, given how the 26-year-old this spring looked to have improved his hitting to go along with his stellar work behind the plate.
“We’re fortunate to have him to go to Triple-A,” Cash said. “He’s a really, really good catcher defensively. Offensively, I think he’s continuing to make strides.
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“They’re all tough conversations, but when you get a guy that you know is going to contribute quite a bit to your roster, they’re always tough to sit down and talk about. … I don’t know how many better options are out there that are starting their season at Triple-A.”
Decisions likely are coming soon on two veteran non-roster invitees who have out clauses in their minor-league contracts that they can invoke Sunday: infielder Charlie Culberson and outfielder Ben Gamel. … Outfielder Randy Arozarena, who played for Mexico through Monday’s World Baseball Classic semifinal; and reliever Jason Adam, who pitched for Team USA in Tuesday’s championship game; are expected to rejoin camp Friday. … The Rays on Thursday showed off some of the updates to Tropicana Field (a checkout-free concession area, new video boards), 25th anniversary season merchandise and new food offerings, including from Little Greek, Daddies Donuts and Omaha Steaks.
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