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Rays Spring Training, Thursday Feb. 26

Infielder Eugenio Velez reported to camp on Thursday, bringing the camp total to 61 of 63 players overall, and 37 of 38 pitchers and catchers. Only right-hander Alex Colome (visa issues) and outfielder Boog Powell have yet to report.

Right-handers Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Ernesto Frieri were among those who threw bullpens Thursday.  Manager Kevin Cash was particularly impressed with how Archer looked. When asked about throwing so well so early, Archer credited his offseason training regimen.

“I’ve paced myself well because I realized what it feels like to throw 192 innings and make 32 starts,” Archer said. “In September, I had success but the body was tired. So I just paced myself better in the offseason. I feel really good now.”

While Cash singled out Archer, he noted that he has been impressed by all of the pitchers in camp thus far.

“Not to be bland, they all look in very good shape and crisp with their bullpens,” Cash said.

When a reporter asked Cash if he did not intend to be bland this season, Cash offered a chuckle: “No, I’m going to be bland.”

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training Feb. 24

Kevin Cash continues to look at ease in his new position as manager of the Rays.

Among some of his thoughts Tuesday:

–He doesn’t relish the idea of starting the season without Jake McGee in the bullpen, but he likes the pitchers the Rays have to fill in during McGee’s absence. When asked if Grant Balfour might re-claim the closing role, he answered: “I don’t see why not. He’s very motivated.”

–Cash called Curt Casali and Bobby Wilson — the candidates to win the backup catcher’s job — two quality individuals. He also commented about Casali: “He’s huge.”

–Evan Longoria reported Tuesday, prompting conversation about how the teams he played for planned for facing the Rays. Cash said their plan was always the same — and he forecast it will be the plan of opposing teams this season: “Don’t let Evan Longoria beat you.”

–Cash reported there is no news on right-handers Alex Colome and Ronald Belisaro, who are experiencing visa issues.

–Bill Chastain

Ryan Howard speculation

Speculation that the Rays might be interested in Ryan Howard continues, though I can’t see much logic in such a move taking place.

Howard, who lives in the Tampa Bay area, is still owed $60 million.  Would the Phillies eat most of that to move the once-great slugger?

Next, the Rays just acquired John Jaso in the deal that sent Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics.  Based on the fact that the Rays’ intentions for Jaso primarily deal with his offense, and not catching, adding Howard would seem to be redundant.

Finally, the Rays have had little success bringing in DH candidates in the past.  And that’s what Howard would be with the Rays, a DH candidate.

Matt Silverman, Rays president, baseball operations, does not address specific players, but when asked during the Winter Meetings about the prospect of the Rays acquiring a DH, he chuckled: “Given how successful we’ve been in selecting DH’s in the past, it’s somewhat of a dangerous proposition.”

Pat Burrell and Luke Scott both signed with the Rays to be DHs and neither performed up to expectations.

Last season, the Rays did not have a true DH, prompting Silverman to be asked if they planned on doing the same in 2015.

“Given our roster and especially its versatility, it lends itself to using every spot for players who can also play in the field,” said Silverman at the Winter Meetings. “It doesn’t mean we won’t go after a pure DH. But I think our roster function’s better when we’re using that DH spot for a variety of players given the way we like to match up against pitchers.”

–Bill Chastain

Farewell Zorilla

Players come and go on Major League teams.  When you cover a team, you click with some, others you don’t.  Then there are the special ones.  Ben Zobrist has been one of those during my time covering the Rays.

Zo came to the Rays in a 2006 trade and looked like a punch-and-Judy hitter, which seemed odd given the fact he had good size.  So the offense didn’t look so great at that point, but he was a solid shortstop.  Joe Maddon would later pay him a great compliment by saying he did not have any chrome.  In other words, he wasn’t a flashy shortstop, he just made all the plays.

He began 2007 as the team’s starting shortstop and lost the job early that season due to his lack of offense.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt worse for a player than when I flew home from that Baltimore series on a Southwest morning flight to Tampa and Zobrist was on the flight.  He’d been sent down and did not accompany the team to its next destination.  He looked bewildered about the move at the luggage carousel at Tampa International Airport amid the gawkers wondering who the guy was with the bags marked “Tampa Bay Devil Rays.”

Somehow Zobrist managed to re-invent himself.  By the end of the 2008 season, he had returned to the Major Leagues with a new look.  Punch-and-Judy had given way to a hitter who took a hack that fit his size.  Each year after that he seemed to get better, becoming an All-Star who played multiple positions.

Throughout all of it, Zobrist remained the same well-grounded individual he’d always been.  Devoutly religious, he never made that an issue as some do when they try and force their religion  on others.  But other players sought him for his wisdom.

Some snapshots I’ll remember.

One Sunday morning on a getaway day, I was walking around the team hotel and heard the piano playing.  The music sounded really good, too.  Finally I spotted a figure wearing a suit and sitting at a grand piano.  Of course, Zobrist was the man tickling the ivories.

And I happened to be out to dinner in Toronto last season with Roger Mooney, who covers the Rays for The Tampa Tribune.  Roger’s father had just died and he would leave for the funeral the following morning.  Zobrist knew about Roger’s father and happened to be dining in the same restaurant, accompanied by David DeJesus and Matt Joyce.  When we went to pay our check, our waiter told us they had already paid for us.

As much as Zobrist is a really good baseball player, he’s a much better person.  He respects people, he’s a family man, and while baseball means a lot to him, he understands there’s more to life than hitting a ball.

Trading him to Oakland made perfect sense.  The Rays are an efficient machine that needs to stay true to its model to continue to be successful, even though sentimentality is often a casualty of that pursuit.  So don’t fault the Rays, the deal appears to be a good one.  But never forget Ben Zobrist.  He’s one of the special ones.

–Bill Chastain

Myers definitely appears to be in play

Sounds like Wil Myers is definitely in play.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported that the Rays were in discussion with the Padres about sending the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year out west for “some of the Padres’ better young prospects” and that report later was validated by others as being legitimate.

One baseball source told me the Padres were “all over the place” in what they were trying to do in regard to obtaining an outfielder and he added that the Rays wanted a player in return who was of the magnitude the 2013 Myers model rather than what the 2014 model showed. Another source simply reaffirmed that the “scuttlebutt” within the industry said Myers was in play.

Since then, this rumor has grown additional legs, suggesting the Mariners and even the Nationals are involved in what could become a complex deal involving many players.

Stay tuned. Could me an interesting day.

–Bill Chastain

Manager decision looks close

Figuring out who will succeed Joe Maddon as the Rays manager has been a lengthy process for the organization that began early in the offseason. That decision now appears to be drawing near. Don Wakamatsu was interviewed Tuesday and I expect the team to interview the other two candidates, Raul Ibanez and Kevin Cash, today and tomorrow.  That adds up to a press conference announcing the new manager on Friday.  What do you think?

From the looks of these guys, I think all bring interesting qualities to the table and each appears to be a solid candidate to become the fifth manager in team history.  I’ve heard a lot of skepticism about the direction the Rays have been headed this offseason, but all the moves made by new Matt Silverman, the new team president of baseball operations, make sense to me.  I still think the most difficult decisions they will have to make — or have already made — is the evaluation of each player from last season’s team.  Which of those players that had below-par seasons will rebound and which of those players won’t?  After that determination (which I’ll assume has been made) the Rays can move forward with finalizing the 2015 group.

–Bill Chastain

Hellickson in play?

According to Joel Sherman (via Twitter) of the New York Post, the Rays are “moving toward” trading Jeremy Hellickson to a National League team.

The 27-year-old right-hander began this past season on the disabled list while recovering from elbow surgery to “remove loose bodies” from his right elbow.  Hellickson, who earned 2011 American League Rookie of the Year honors, went 1-5 with a 4.52 ERA in 13 starts this season.

If the season began today, the Rays would have Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Nathan Karns and Alex Colome to chose from for their rotation with Matt Moore due back around June.  Of that group, Hellickson will make the most money and he is headed for arbitration.

–Bill Chastain

Kudos to Kap

Kudos to Gabe Kabler for being hired by the Dodgers to become the team’s new farm director.

The former Rays outfielder should have a smooth transition since he is smart, a leader and has a good relationship with Andrew Friedman, the former Rays GM hired by the Dodgers after the season.

Good luck Kap!

–Bill Chastain


Ron Wotus is the Giants bench coach and a candidate to become the Rays’  next manager. Here’s what Giants manager Bruce Bochy had to say about Wotus, as provided by’s Chris Haft, who covers the Giants:

“Ronnie has done such a great job for me. … He sees different ways to do things. Very well-prepared. He’s going to bring a lot to any team [that hires him]. He’s the guy who really runs our defense here and he’s the guy who helps me quite a bit before the game, during the game. He’s the one who runs Spring Training. So [given] his knowledge and experience, he’s ready. There’s no question about it.”

Haft noted that Bochy also cited Wotus’ work under managers Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou. “Two guys I really revere and respect.”

Haft pointed out that it’s significant that while Baker brought Wotus to the Majors as a coach, both Alou and Bochy saw fit to keep him on the staff.

–Bill Chastain

30 for 30 On Livan Hernandez

I got a kick out of watching ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary on Livan Hernandez and his stepbrother, Orlando Hernandez.

How does this pertain to the Rays?

Well, the “Devil Rays” entertained the Cuban defector back in 1996.  Hernandez, just 20 at the time, fellow defector Osvaldo Fernandez and their agent, Joe Cubas, were wined and dined by then general manager Chuck Lamar and owner Vince Naimoli.  Following a dinner at the Columbia Restaurant — which virtually everybody in the Devil Rays’ organization attended — Hernandez at breakfast at the Vinoy in St. Petersburg while answering questions by Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times and me (I worked for The Tampa Tribune at the time).

In the documentary they speak about the Cuban economy that tanked in the early 1990s after losing their backing from the Soviet Union.  They segued from that to explain how dire everyday life became in the aftermath of losing that support.  That made the most memorable thing from out meeting understandable.  Hernandez ate like a prisoner on death row.  After one heaping mound of food on his plate, he ate another.  Hernandez’s weight is mentioned in the documentary.

He did not sign with the Devil Rays, who did not begin playing until 1998, but they were on the right track.  Hernandez had a decent Major League career.  A career that saw him fight his weight the entire time.

— Bill Chastain


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