Tampa Bay Rays: Spring Training News and Notes

Feb 18, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Rickie Weeks Jr. (8) posses for a photo during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Rickie Weeks Jr. (8) posses for a photo during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

One-third through the Grapefruit League schedule, the Tampa Bay Rays continue to evaluate their personnel as the competition heats up.

As the World Baseball Classic is about to get underway, the Tampa Bay Rays said so-long to pitchers Chris Archer (USA), Alex Colome (Dominican Republic) and Jose Alvarado (Venezuela) as they left to join their respective teams. USA manager Jim Leyland, who came out of retirement for this prestigious honor, has named Archer as the opening starter against Colombia.

In addition to the players above, pitchers Jake Odorizzi (USA) and Jose De Leon Puerto Rico) are on the reserve list for their respective teams both are eligible and can be added for the second and or third round of play.

Back in camp, Ray’s pitchers continue to dominate and have set a few records along the way. One record in particular that was set and then broken was their single-game spring strikeout record. On March 3 against the Tigers, Ray’s pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts in their 5-2 win which set a record, and then on Saturday against the Orioles, Ray’s pitchers broke that record when they recorded 16 strikeouts in their 1-0 loss.

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Through 11 games, the pitching staff has allowed just 24 walks in 98.2 innings pitched while striking out 109. Heading into Thursday’s game, the staff is trails the Red Sox for the most strikeouts (115) in the majors and trails only the Mariners (23) for the least walks. Over their last four games, the Rays have allowed just two walks while striking out 51.

Because of the WBC, the pitching staff has been on a slower schedule allowing for a lighter workload. With that, starters and relievers have thrown an average of just two innings per game. Austin Pruitt has logged the most innings (6) while appearing in three games (1 start). He has allowed three runs (all earned) on seven hits while striking out eight and walking none.

However, the Rays defense is a different story as they have committed 14 errors through 11 games are tied for the second most in the Grapefruit League – the Yankees sit atop of this category with 19. A daunting note is that they have committed at least one error in 10 of their 11 games, which has also included four multi-error games.

While the errors are of concern, they have been committed mostly by their minor league players manning down shortstop. Daniel Robertson (2), Willy Adames (1), Jake Cronenworth (1), and Andrew Velazquez (1) have combined for five of the errors with Tim Beckham adding one.

Matt Duffy has yet to make his debut on the diamond, so manager Kevin Cash has been giving Robertson and Adames plenty of playing time as each have logged eight and six games respectively, with Robertson logging the most innings (37, 22-SS) among all the players in camp.

One of the major areas that Cash wanted to work on this spring was the Rays situational hitting. If you recall, the Rays hit a franchise high 216 home runs in 2016 but the majority of them were solo shots for a mere 37 percent.

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Through 11 games, 15 homers have been hit and nine of them have come with runners on base (60 percent) and the Rays are locked in a tie for third with 42 XBH in the Grapefruit League. Corey Dickerson, Jesus Sucre and Rickie Weeks Jr. are tied for the team lead in home runs (6), with Weeks Jr. driving in a team leading six.

Additionally, Weeks Jr. and Nick Franklin are tied for the team lead in batting average (.538) and once again, Weeks Jr. the non-roster invitee, signed to a minor league deal is tops with three extra-base hits and leads in most offensive categories.

As for competition, right now, Weeks Jr. seems to be a lock in making the Opening Day roster – he has done everything and more to make a case as to why he should make the cut. He has played 23 innings at first base and could be the answer as the right-handed bat they have been looking for.

Between Weeks, Franklin and Beckham the competition couldn’t get any stronger than what it is right now. All three players are vying for two spots, and if it was up to me, I would go with Weeks and Franklin.

On the health front, the Rays are being cautious with Matt Duffy (heel surgery) and Colby Rasmus (core muscle and hip surgery/groin pull) as both remain out with no timetable set for their return.

According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, although he has had no setbacks in his recovery from heel surgery, Duffy’s recovery has been slower than expected and it could put opening day in jeopardy.

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Dickerson is being given the opportunity to bat leadoff, the lineup spot that had previously held by Logan Forsythe. Dickerson has the ability to fulfill that role as he has the power, but there are two caveats that he must improve on – his strikeouts and the ability to hit left-handers.