Kiermaier Not in Lineup Sunday

Kevin Kiermaier had the day off on Saturday and again on Sunday. Rays manager Kevin Cash explained why.

“K.K., just keeping him off the turf one more day. His legs are a little drained. He’s fine if we need him in there at some point today we’ll use him. But if it works out where he can get another day I think it will be pretty beneficial moving forward.”

–Bill Chastain

Road Warriors and Other Stuff

The Rays entered Sunday’s action with a Major League best 21-11 road record. Currently they own a five-game road winning streak.

Helping to fuel that success has been a Major League leading 2.82 ERA — compared to a 3.72 ERA at home. The Rays also own the Majors’ best road record dating back to June 4, 2014 at 51-29.

“It’s pretty impressive and I don’t think any of us have an exact reason why other than just the personalities in the clubhouse,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We say that all the time at home or on the road. We have played really good baseball on the road, but I can’t pinpoint a reason why.”

John Jaso has been taking batting practice with the team on this trip. He’s not holding back, but said he can still feel the left-wrist contusion that has sidelined him since Opening Day. “The question is, can I put up a competitive at-bat? Jaso said. “I think so.”

The Rays begin their 10-game homestand Monday with the first of three games against the Blue Jays, who entered Sunday with the Major Leagues’ best June record at 14-4.

“They’re swinging the bat really well,” Cash said. “They’re playing good baseball and getting big hits. They have some definite thump in that lineup. But we can pitch. We can really pitch. We’ll factor that in and it should be a good matchup.”

Steve Geltz has retired 25 consecutive batters, 18 of those coming since he was kissed by Paula Abdul on June 11 after catching her ceremonial first pitch. Technically, that leaves him two shy of a perfect game.

“PG right?” said Geltz when asked about his feat. “That would be unique. …It’s funny because I’ve been a little bit clueless. As a reliever you just want to have good outings and be consistent.”

Virginia and Vanderbilt will meet in the finals of the College World Series. Given that catcher Curt Casali went to Vanderbilt and outfielder Brandon Guyer went to Virginia, a bet of some sort seems to be in the making. The only question are the stakes.  One proposition focused on having the healthy-eating Guyer having to eat a cheeseburger if Virginia loses. If that becomes the bet, Casali would likely have to choke down some tofu in the event of a Commodores loss.

–Bill Chastain

Fond of Ramirez

Former Major League great Dennis Martinez has been at Progressive Field as part of a weekend honoring the Indians’ 1995 team.

That afforded the native Nicaraguan an opportunity to see his countryman, Erasmo Ramirez, pitch for the Rays. Ramirez, who had to leave the game with a strained-right groin, is currently the only native Nicaraguan in the Major Leagues. Prior to Ramirez’s injury, Martinez spoke glowingly about Ramirez.

“I was looking forward to seeing him pitch live, because I’ve only been watching him pitch on TV,” Martinez said. “I know what Erasmo was going through when he was with Seattle. I thought it was the best thing for him to be traded somewhere else. I’m glad it happened it was the Tampa Bay Rays, because Jim Hickey to me is the best pitching coach in baseball right now. He knows what it takes to get a pitcher in the right frame of mind.”

Martinez noted that he had talked to Ramirez and “he’s really happy.”

“He’s enjoying [himself] being around the guys,” Martinez said. “They’re all rooting for one purpose to win the ballgame every day. … I just watch his eyes and his face, I can see how happy he is. I said, ‘Hey man, have fun and keep pitching because this team is going to need you.'”

Martinez said it was great to see another Nicaraguan pitching in the Major Leagues.

“Erasmo is a great kid from a little town,” Martinez said. “He has done everything possible he can out of nowhere, because of his size and everything else. But that kid is so strong and so good, and so humble, that everything you see on him is a smile and it’s a pure smile. … He’s in the right place. He’s with the right team. And believe me, he’s going to help that team to win the division.”

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 26

On Opening Day the Rays will retire No. 66 , the last number worn by long-time senior advisor Don Zimmer. Zimmer died on June 4. Joe Maddon had this to say about Don Zimmer after hearing the news about his number being retired:
“Zim was unique. Zim was unique in the sense he could evaluate players, talk about strategy and still be 80 years old. That doesn’t happen very often. He was invaluable personally. He was a great asset for me. All those players and coaches benefitted from his presence.”

Saturday’s game against the Red Sox is Community Day at Charlotte Sports Park, where the Rays will recognize the team’s community partners in Charlotte County and the important work they do locally. Recognized will be Charlotte County Family YMCA and Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity. Employees and volunteers from each organization will attend as special guests. During the pregame on-field presentation, each group will receive a $5,000 donation from the Rays Baseball Foundation and deliver a ceremonial first pitch.

Drew Smyly’s (left-shoulder tendinitis) bullpen went well on Thursday according to Rays manager Kevin Cash, who added: “Smyly was all good,”

Rene Rivera, who had been nursing a tight left calf, caught on Wednesday and will DH on Friday. If all goes well, he’ll catch back-to-back games over the weekend.

Nathan Karns will start in the Rays’ game against the Red Sox on Saturday and will pitch to Rivera. Meanwhile, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer will each pitch in a Minor League game. Bobby Wilson and Curt Casali will catch Odorizzi and Archer.

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 25

Kevin Jepsen will start Thursday’s game against the Yankees. What gives, right?

Seems the Rays wanted to have a “bullpen day” according to manager Kevin Cash.

“We talked about that,” Cash said. “Getting the bullpen guys facing early lineups. Spring Training early lineups. But I don’t know what we’re going to get simply because New York is coming down here. But it was just kind of a thought. We might have another one here, too. Get those guys facing some guys they’re going to face during the season.”

Cash allowed that “ideally” they would like to get their relievers into more game-like situations, though he wasn’t sure they would be able to facilitate said situations.

“…It’s becoming much more difficult now,” Cash said. “There will be a couple of games where we’ll say, ‘Here’s whose on the card, be ready to pitch.'”

First base doesn’t appear to be in the future of Steven Souza Jr. just yet. The Rays have looked at him playing the position some this spring, but for now, Cash maintained he “would look at that more if we were in a pinch.” Logan Forsythe is earmarked as the backup first baseman.

Rene Rivera caught and hit second Wednesday.against the Twins after nursing a tight left calf for the past several days. He homered in his first at-bat against Kyle Gibson.

Rivera will not play Thursday.

“We’re shooting for two days in a row [at some point],” Cash said. “But not right now. He will catch again on Friday. Not sure about Saturday, see how he feels.”

Forsythe and Brandon Guyer each played in a Minor-League game in Port Charlotte on Wednesday. Cash said both hit the ball well.

Alex Colome, who is trying to get back to form after a bout with pneumonia, threw a 25-pitch bullpen on Wednesday. Now he’ll take two days off.

Cash called Matt Andriese “outstanding” for the work he did while starting Wednesday’s game.

“Looks like his pulse is extremely low,” Cash said. “That’s a good thing. Made some good pitches and kept pounding the zone.”

Steve Geltz recorded the final three outs of Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Twins.  In the process, the right-hander struck out two.

“I thought Geltzsy, that’s the best I’ve seen him all spring,” Cash said.

The Rays manager also lauded the performance of Brandon Gomes, who struck out two and did not allow a run in 1 1/3 innings.

“Gomer’s been outstanding all spring,” Cash said.

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 21

Kevin Cash told reporters they were not yet ready to make a decision regarding Asdrubal Cabrera’s position. Looking forward, Cash said the decision on whether the veteran will play shortstop or second base could come by Tuesday’s off day.

Grant Balfour will make his first game appearance on Monday against the Pirates.

Nathan Karns, who came to camp earmarked as a possibility for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, is now the leader in the clubhouse to be the team’s No. 3. The right-hander will pitch in a Minor League game on Tuesday afternoon, the team’s final off day of Spring Training.

According to union chief Tony Clark, the union shares Major League Baseball’s “concern” over the Rays’ unsettled stadium issue.

Drew Smyly was scheduled to throw off a mound on Saturday morning, marking his first stint off a mound since experiencing shoulder tendinitis following his March 6 bullpen.

Friday night’s seventh annual BaseBALL Gala, held at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center, raised $55,000 to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Charlotte County. That brings the seven-year total to approximately $380,000. Rays coaches and several players attended.

On March 23 at noon, the Rays and the St. Petersburg Police Department will launch a new partnership–PARK, WALK and CHEER!–to reward good citizenship with a chance to attend a Rays baseball game at Tropicana Field. Rays president Brian Auld and St. Petersburg police chief Anthony Holloway will announce jointly at John Hopkins Middle School.

Steven Souza Jr. left Friday’s game due to right forearm tightness and is listed as day-to-day.

Cash said Rene Rivera — who is day-to-day with left-calf tightness — could have a stint as a DH in the next day or two. Cash does not expect Rivera to be back behind the plate until after Tuesday’s off day.

Jake McGee will throw bullpens on Tuesday and Friday. The left-hander is returning from elbow surgery and continues to make solid progress toward returing to the team by early May.

Alex Colome is expected to play catch Saturday for the first time since returning from a case of pneumonia.

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 20

Evan Longoria started for the fourth consecutive game Friday against the Blue Jays.

“He’s feeling good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re going to keep him playing. Play in every game from here on out if he wants, as long as he feels good.”

When a reporter teased Cash that Longoria wanted to manager Saturday, Cash quipped: “That’s fine, too.”

Grant Balfour 38 pitches during a live batting practice on Friday. The veteran reliever will now take two days off before pitching in a game Monday against the Pirates. Balfour, who missed 18 days of camp leading up to his father’s death in Australia, said he felt fine Friday and noted: “I’m under the radar this year.”

As part of the Fifth Annual St. Petersburg International Baseball Series, a team of Rays prospects will host the Canadian Junior National Team at Tropicana Field on Sunday afternoon at 1:05.

The Rays entered Friday’s game on a 7-1 stretch that has seen the team hit .291 with 45 runs scored and 14 home runs. That golden road came to an end with an 11-5 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday that Cash called “probably our first ugly game” of the spring.

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 18

The Rays showed some power on Wednesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium against the Blue Jays. Evan Longoria, James Loney, Richie Shaffer and Curt Casali all homered in the Rays’ win. That’s seven the past two days, six of them solo shots.

Brandon Guyer returned to game action, starting in center field and going 1-for-2.

Chris Archer started for the Rays, allowing no runs on one hit and three walks in four innings. The right-hander sounded pleased with his changeup, which he plans to incorporate more into his repertoire this season.

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 15

Monday will be the Rays’ first of two off days this spring, the other will come on March 24. However, Jake Odorizzi will pitch in an intra-squad game that begins Monday morning at 10.

Kevin Jepsen, Ernesto Frieri, Brad Boxberger, Brandon Gomes, and Jeff Beliveau pitched in an intra-squad game at the Charlotte Sports Complex Sunday morning and came away fine.

Grant Balfour is scheduled to throw to hitters on Tuesday and Brandon Guyer (oblique) will be one of the hitters he faces. Hoping to prevent any further irritation of Guyer’s injury, Kevin Cash opted to change Guyer’s plans for the day. Originally he had been scheduled to play against the Phillies in Clearwater.  The Rays manager decided it would be best for Guyer to not take the long bus ride from Port Charlotte.

Allan Dykstra and Juan Francisco hit back to back home runs in the seventh inning of Sunday’s 8-4 win over the Mets at Charlotte Sports Park; Francisco’s was a particularly epic blast.

Cash commended pitchers Matt Andriese and Burch Smith for “competing well” in the three innings each pitched. He also noted that both were “pretty well gassed toward the end” in the sunny 84 degree day.

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 12

Corey Brown continues to hit. The outfield hopeful had two singles in two trips to the plate in Thursday’s 10-3 win over the Blue Jays. He’s now hitting .538.

“He rakes,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s hitting everything. Right, left, slider, change-up, fastball. It doesn’t matter.”

The Rays scored eight runs in the fifth inning. Of that inning, Cash noted: “That inning was fun to watch. We were due for one of those breakout innings. Seemed like everybody was squaring up balls. Any time you bat around you’re doing something right.”

Count Cash among those impressed by Steven Souza first home run of the spring, a towering shot onto the boardwalk in left.

“I know it’s impressive how hard he hit it and how far he hit it, but it was a first-pitch breaking ball,” Cash said. “You generally don’t see guys this time of the season adjusting to 0-0 curveballs. I’d say he adjusted pretty well.”

–Bill Chastain