The calm atmosphere of spring training is always a lot of fun. The sense of urgency isn’t there and instead it becomes baseball at its purest, the pitcher throwing the ball to the hitter and seeing what happens. You see players signing autographs before and after every game, and even if they are playing catch with a teammate, a simple shout of their first name is often enough for them to walk over to the stands. Spring training is in many ways less about the game and more about the atmosphere, the building excitement for another baseball season. But that doesn’t mean we want it to be like that all the time. Competition is what keeps us at the edge of our seats and careful not to miss a thing. On Wednesday versus the New York Yankees, Rays fans will get to see the three of the top contenders in the battle for the fifth rotation spot taking the hill and hoping to impress. Here’s the Rays’ lineup.
1. Ben Zobrist, 2B
2. Desmond Jennings, CF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Matt Joyce, DH
5. Ryan Hanigan, C
6. Vince Belnome, 1B
7. Jayson Nix, SS
8. Brandon Guyer, LF
9. Mikie Mahtook, RF
Starting Pitcher: Cesar Ramos
Ramos will be making the start, but also appearing in the game will be Jake Odorizzi and Erik Bedard with all three set to go multiple innings. We heard yesterday that Ramos is competing for the fifth spot and he will have to start dealing beginning today if he is going to join the class of Odorizzi and Bedard. Ramos has shown the past two years that he is more than just a lefty specialist, and now he gets the chance to prove that he is worthy of not a couple innings in blowout but a start every five days. At the very least, Cesar Ramos being considered for a rotation spot makes him seem like a heavy favorite to make the team in some capacity, although long reliever is still the likely outcome.
Jake Odorizzi attracted attention with his newfound changeup last time out, and if he makes it a consistent offering, the rotation competition will be over in short order. There is no chance Odorizzi is fazed by having another name in the ring for the fifth starter job–the rotation spot is his to lose. Look for Odorizzi to keep working on that changeup and mixing in some breaking balls as he hopes to keep pulling away from the crowd.
Erik Bedard’s first outing did not go nearly as planned as he allowed 3 runs in just an inning of work against the Baltimore Orioles last Friday. But that is well in the past and it’s spring training anyway, so Bedard will head to the mound as relaxed as ever and ready to get his quest for a roster spot started in earnest. Bedard will hope to keep pace with Odorizzi, but just as important is the secondary competition for a long reliever role. Like Ramos, Bedard is a lefty capable of throwing multiple innings and getting both lefties and righties out. The battle for the fifth spot is not winner-take-all–whoever finishes in second place will get the consolation prize of a bullpen slot. Bedard has every reason to be locked in as he hopes to stand out among his competitors.
In terms of the lineup, Zobrist takes the field for his second spring training game as he continues working his way back to 100%. He headlines a Rays lineup featuring major leaguers from one to five who hope to give the fans in Port Charlotte something to be excited about. Farther down in the lineup, we see Brandon Guyer, who has hit the ball hard a few times and played good defense, but it took him until yesterday to finally get his first hit of the spring. The fact that Guyer is out of options makes him the favorite for the Rays’ backup outfield job, but he has to show that he is worthy of the opportunity.
The game will start at 1:05 PM, and MLB.com Gameday Audio subscribers can listen to Neil Solondz and ex-Devil Ray Doug Waechter with the call. We will have the recap later today at Rays Colored Glasses.