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Rays Spring Training March 5

Alex Colome has still not been able to report to camp due to visa problems. Kevin Cash was asked if this has become a problem at this juncture.

“Colome is getting his work in [in the Domican Republic],” Cash said. “We know that. … As I’ve said the whole time, we’d like to have him here, but I don’t think it’s fair to punish a guy for being held up.”

Colome is competing to earn the No. 5 spot in the Rays rotation.

Cash explained that he talked to the umpires during the game about the variations of when the time clock starts between innings. There is less time on the clock when pitcher leaves the dugout to take the mound as opposed to coming in from the bullpen.

Cash on Kevin Kiermaier’s throw from center field that nailed Chris Parmalee in the second inning: “Kiermaier’s throw. That was, wow!”

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 3

Kevin Cash noted that everybody on the team is ready to begin games.  Wednesday morning’s abbreviated workout will be conducted in shorts before the teams heads for the annual golf outing.  The Rays Charity Golf Tournament to benefit Rays Baseball Foundation will take place at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club in Bradenton. All players and coaches are expected to attend.

Cash made a point to compliment Brandon Gomes and Jeff Beliveau for what he saw from both during Tuesday’s workout.

The Rays manager said he exchanged texts with Grant Balfour, but the reliever’s status has not changed while he remains with his father in Australia.  Balfour’s father has been battling pancreatic cancer.  Cash also said there was no new information on Alex Colome.  The right-hander, who is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, has still not reported due to visa issues.

Pitching coach Jim Hickey and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. will be guests on Thursday’s Hot Stove radio show, airing on WDAE620 AM from 7-8 p.m. live from Hooters (1360 Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte). Hosts Dave Wills and Andy Freed will be joined by Neil Solondz.

Prior to Friday’s Rays-Twins game, Rays players, coaches and front office staff will shave their heads for a fourth straight year as part of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s “Cut for the Cure” event, to pay tribute to chidren fighting cancer. PCF’s 2015 campaign will be kicked off by this event, beginning around 11 a.m. To show support for a player or participant, the public is encouraged to text “PCF” to 20222 to make a $10 donation or visit pcfcutforacure.org.

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training March 3

After Monday’s workout, Kevin Cash said the pitchers are getting antsy and want to move past the live batting practice portion of Spring Training.  “They want to see some feedback,” Cash said.

In other words, they’re ready to pitch in games.

Tim Beckham did provide some feedback during coaches batting practice when he hit a ball that cleared the left-field fence and broke the windshield of Drew Smyly’s BMW.

The Rays worked on run downs.  The goal according to Cash: “Basically [get the out] with one throw.”

Cash complimented Minor-League pitching coordinator Dick Bosman for doing a good job instructing the pitchers on holding runners on.

Grant Balfour remains in Australia to be at his ailing father’s side. Cash said Balfour continues to follow a workout program, but “his situation is still very status quo.”  Cash added that he hasn’t gotten the sense that Balfour would be in any jeopardy of not being able to begin the season with the team.

Alex Colome continues to have visa problems, but he is throwing in the Dominican Republic and has thrown to hitters.

–Bill Chastain

Rays March 1 at Spring Training

Kevin Cash cited Mike Montgomery for throwing “really” well on Sunday. He went on to say of the left-hander, whom the Rays acquired from the Royals in the James Shields trade, that Montgomery will be looked at in a relieving role this spring, noting that would be his “quickest way to impact us.”  Cash likes the fact that Montgomery is 6-foot-6 and left-handed. He did not want to compare him to Andrew Miller, but he allowed that Montgomery’s leverage and deception played well.

Cash could be seen hitting ground balls to some of the young infielders in camp, including highly thought of prospects Ryan Brett and Daniel Robertson.

Brett, who came up through the Rays system, is a second baseman who hit .303 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs for Double-A Montgomery last season. “[Brett] stuck out turning the double-play,” Cash said.

Robertson came to the Rays in the trade that sent Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics. He plays shortstop and hit .310 with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs for Triple-A Stockton. “Robertson looks the part,” Cash said.

–Bill Chastain

Belisario out for two weeks/Don Zimmer Way

Right-hander Ronald Belisario will be out for two weeks due to a fracture of his left shoulder.

The veteran reliever injured his shoulder in an accident that occurred prior to his arrival to training camp. Once he arrived, he had difficulty going through drills, which brought to light the injury.

He will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

The Rays will designate a path at Charlotte Sports Park as Don Zimmer Way during a Saturday morning ceremony.

–Bill Chastain

Rays Spring Training Feb. 27

Saturday will see the Rays conduct their first full-squad workout of Spring Training.

Friday brought photo day to camp.

“Good to get it over with,” said Kevin Cash of the day. “They put you through the gauntlet a little bit. This might’ve been the best photo day I’ve ever been a part of. It was quick.”

Cash talked about the way the catchers threw the ball during Friday’s workout.

“They all threw the ball really well,” Cash said. [Justin O’Connor], if that was 75-80 percent effort level–that’s what we asked of them–I can’t wait until the 100 percent level comes out.”

Cash and bench coach Tom Foley met with MLB officials regarding the pace of play.

“Major League Baseball is doing a really good job of informing us,” Cash said. “I’ll take some time here in Spring Training–that’s part of what this is for. We’ll be on board. Everybody will get on board with it. … MLB sent a group in to talk [Friday morning]. It was very informative. There’s not many rule changes, but the pace of play is something that is being talked about. We went over the ideas with Major League Baseball, how they’re going to improve it, stuff they’re going to implement. Nothing was alarming at all. It’s pretty common sense stuff.”

Alex Colome is now the only player who should be in camp, but is not due to a visa problem. Cash was asked if there comes a point where he gets concerned.

“I think we’re concerned now,” Cash said. “…It’s getting closer every day, but sure, it starts to be a concern already. Hopefully he’s on track. We’re getting reports that he’s throwing his bullpens and everything. But you want him here. And you want our guys with him and around his teammates with Hick, with our trainers, stuff like that. Doing his maintenance and stuff like that. Hopefully it’s not that much longer. … I’d definitely say we’re counting on him to be right in the mix of everything that’s going on.”
 –Bill Chastain

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

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