The big thing in the Tampa Bay Rays’ first few spring training games has been the season debuts of their starting pitchers. All the key position players were getting in any every other game or so, and only the starting pitchers stood out as being something new and excited. Today, Matt Moore will make his first start of 2014, and that is certainly exciting. But after missing time with a back injury, Ben Zobrist will also make his debut, making for a fun game to watch as the Rays take on the Philadelphia Phillies at 1:05 PM. Here is the Rays’ lineup.
Of all the Rays’ starting pitchers, Moore might be the most important to watch as we wonder where his velocity is at in the game. Moore had trouble getting his velocity up last spring training, and it never came all the way back the entire year. If Moore can avoid that this season, that breakout year we have been waiting for could finally be coming.
Zobrist will leadoff in his first game, reminiscent of when a big leaguer leads off for a minor league team in a rehab game. With that in mind, don’t be surprised if Zobrist sticks around a little longer than the rest of the starters and gets a third at-bat. Zobrist has time, but the Rays want to get him in the swing of things as quickly as possible, and that starts today.
Evan Longoria is back in the lineup one day after launching a 2-run homer for his first hit of the spring. With ex-Ray Roberto Hernandez on the mound for Philadelphia, don’t be surprised if he does so again. The entire top five of the Rays’ lineup is most certainly major league-quality, and it will be interesting to see how they do against their former teammate.
After Moore, we will see Heath Bell, Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes, Kirby Yates, Merrill Kelly, and Victor Mateo. Lueke and Gomes will go right at it as they hope to compete for bullpen roles, but the trio of prospects should also be fun to watch. Yates flashed good movement on his fastball and a sharp slider in his spring debut, and he will hope to continue catching the Rays’ eyes. Mateo, meanwhile, pitched in the 10th inning of the Rays’ tie versus the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday and looked very good, racking up a pair of K’s on his solid changeup. Mateo had a big second half in 2013, and after re-signing with the Rays as a minor league free agent, he hopes to crack the Triple-A Durham roster this spring. Finally, we have Kelly, who will be making his spring debut. After promotions to the major leagues depleted the Bulls’ rotation, Kelly came up and pitched extremely well to finish the year. The Rays did not protect him on their 40-man roster and he was not selected in the Rule 5 Draft, but if he proves his performance was not a fluke, he may finally get some recognition.
The game will be broadcast on MLB.com for Gameday Audio subscribers. Listen if you can, but if not, come back to Rays Colored Glasses for our recap after the game ends.