I have to admit I was concerned about Kevin Cash‘s ability to manage prior to the start of this season. The new Tampa Bay Rays skipper was young–in fact, he is the youngest manager or head coach in the four major sports–and had never managed before at any level. The Rays have tried some unorthodox things, but I didn’t think that hiring Cash would be among the ones that worked.
I didn’t like that Cash published his lineups against right-handers and left-handers prior to the season. It seemed like he was looking for ways not to manage, and would not be able to adapt to events. I thought he was making a mistake planning to sit Kiermaier against lefties. I was afraid his team would play stolidly, one base at a time, while he was trying to figure out everyone’s role.
At this point, it appears that my fears were unfounded. The Rays could have given up when injuries claimed three-fifths of their starting rotation and took out James Loney and John Jaso after game one. Yet the Rays haven’t given up. This team that many experts said could not score runs fought back from big deficits against the Orioles and Marlins. They didn’t win those games, but they did show grit and determination.
I was concerned about Cash’s personnel decisions in conjunction with the Rays’ front office. In particular, they awarded shortstop to Asdrubal Cabrera, whose fielding skills appeared to be declining, and gave Steven Souza the right field job. However, Cabrera has made the plays he has needed to make at short. Souza, meanwhile, showed what he is capable of Tuesday night in Toronto when he hit a massive homer and then started the winning rally with a bunt single.
Cash has the team playing aggressively on the basepaths. To his credit, he quickly noticed Kevin Kiermaier‘s ability to turn singles into doubles, and is playing him regularly. You might think that any manager would have noticed a player with a .385 average, but I’ve seen several managers whose minds can’t be changed. Cash, like his players, is looking for every advantage in a game.
Cash has also taken chances. For example, last Friday night’s game against the Marlins unfolded like a spring training game, with every bullpen pitcher getting a turn. It didn’t work out the way he hoped would it would, but I was glad to see he was willing to try something.
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Cash’s Rays take advantage of every opportunity. They won Monday night in Toronto through plate discipline, scoring both runs on bases-loaded walks from R.A. Dickey. Dickey looked distracted by Desmond Jennings‘ leads in the inning. This year’s Rays can’t sit back and expect to hit a bunch of three-run homers. They have to take every edge in the game, whether it’s letting the opposing pitcher walk in the winning run, or taking an extra base when the opposing outfielder is napping. Cash’s Rays hustle–they come to beat you.
Getting a team to hustle every game is more important for a manager than always making the right substitution or knowing how to use the double switch. With his willingness to adjust his plans according to players’ abilities and to try stuff to see what works, Cash has demonstrated a flexibility that might just push the Tampa Bay Rays Rays to achieve more than anyone expects this year.