The Tampa Bay Rays feature one of the most talented starting rotations in all of baseball, but the pitcher fans are most anxious to see could very well be not David Price, not Matt Moore, but Alex Cobb. Cobb was incredible when he was healthy last season, going 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA and a 134-45 strikeout to walk ratio in 143.1 innings pitched, and he hopes to keep up that level of performance across a full season in 2014. His quest to do just that starts today as Cobb makes spring debut against the Minnesota Twins at 1:05 PM at Charlotte Sports Park. Here is the Rays’ lineup:
We will get to see quite a few regulars in this game, but the one in the most interesting position right now is Desmond Jennings. Jennings batted 7th in his first spring training game, but now he is back at leadoff despite the Rays facing off against the righty Ricky Nolasco. Jennings has always had the skills to be a leadoff man, but every year, he has to be moved down in the order at some point. With the experienced leadoff hitter DeJesus on the team for the entire season, will Jennings keep batting first against right-handed pitching? The results may not matter in spring training, but Jennings has to show the Rays the right combination of patience and aggressiveness in his approach at the plate as he hopes to continue leading off.
Brandon Guyer is getting a rare opportunity in this game: to take the field alongside the player he is hoping to platoon with, David DeJesus. Guyer went 0 for 2 in his first game, but the Rays still love his all-around ability and he has what it takes to make the team if he shows that he is healthy. Last spring training, Guyer made waves by stealing home in one game. Will this be the game where Guyer bursts onto the scene with another exclamation point?
Cole Figueroa is a player the Rays really like, but as an infielder more comfortable at second base than shortstop who lacks power, Figueroa faces an uphill battle to crack the Rays’ roster at any point this season. Figueroa hopes to show the Rays that strong defense whenever he plays, excellent plate discipline, and great instincts on the basepaths make him worth a chance nevertheless.
Jeremy Moore has to feel lucky just to be in a big league camp right now. Hip surgery took out his 2012 before 2013 in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization turned into a disaster, and Moore entered this offseason desperate to turn his career around. But now the Rays are giving him a chance, and Moore will hope to take advantage. Moore will start the season at Triple-A Durham, but if he can recapture the impressive power-speed combination that helped him make his major league debut in 2011 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Rays or some other team could give him a chance.
Behind Alex Cobb, we will see Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta, Adam Liberatore, Steve Geltz, Braulio Lara, Sam Runion, and Santiago Garrido come out of the bullpen. It will be a lot of fun to have Balfour back, and he hopes for just an ordinary appearance and no sign of the supposed injuries that scared the Baltimore Orioles away from him. Peralta will also hope to take it easy, and after pitching much less in Winter Ball, he hopes to be strong the entire season. The lefty Liberatore and the righty Geltz both had big seasons at Triple-A in 2013, and they will hope to impress. Lara can reach the high-90’s with his fastball, but it would be great if he could show us that he has any idea where it is going. Runion and Garrido, meanwhile, are trying to earn spots in the Durham bullpen after coming in on minor league deals. The big story on the pitching side is the trio of big leaguers, but Liberatore and Geltz are underrated minor leaguers who should be interesting to see.
The game is available on 620 WDAE and make sure to listen in. You can also find Rays tickets at the link. It should be another exciting contest, and you never know which players will make their presence felt.