Three days and counting before Opening Day and the Tampa Bay Rays will go down to the wire before making their final roster decisions.
The Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday morning made a couple of roster moves with manager Kevin Cash informing rookie right-handed pitcher Austin Pruitt that he had made the Opening Day roster, and as well informed veteran pitcher Chase Whitley and rookie Jaime Schultz that they would be opening the season at Triple-A Durham.
Pruitt will be making his Major League debut but not in his familiar role as a starter. The Rays will use him out of the bullpen most likely as a middle reliever as he can pitch numerous innings. Last year with Durham as a starter, Pruitt was 8-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 28 starts (162.2-IP) with 149 strikeouts, 27 walks and allowed 21 home runs.
The final spot in the bullpen is still up for grabs – according to Cash, that will not be made until Saturday following the game against the Phillies. Cash states that Jumbo Diaz is the leading in-house candidate, though Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times via Twitter reports that the Rays could go outside the organization.
However, speculation on my part is that the decision looms on his performance against the Twins on Thursday afternoon. Diaz, who the Rays claimed from the Reds on March 11, is out of minor league options, so if his scheduled outing Friday is decent, he will likely break camp – on the other hand, I suspect otherwise.
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There are three remaining spots with four players vying for bench roles – Nick Franklin, Mallex Smith, Peter Bourjos and rookie Daniel Robertson. Presumption is that Robertson will be the odd-man out and begin the season at Durham.
Bourjos will make the cut, for a couple of reasons – first, he bats right-handed which is filling a Ray’s need and secondly he plays centerfield, and will backup Kevin Kiermaier. Smith makes the cut, and will begin the season as the starting leftfielder, where he will split time with Corey Dickerson and the final cut belongs to switch-hitting Nick Franklin whose versatility playing second, short or the outfield is needed to give Brad Miller or Tim Beckham a day-off here or there.
Opening Day Roster Projection
DH: Corey Dickerson
Meanwhile, the status of Matt Duffy is that the MRI and the x-rays taken last week when he returned to North Carolina to see Dr. Anderson came back negative. Anderson performed the season-ending heel surgery last September and Duffy’s recovery from the surgery has been slow, so much so that he was unable to fully participate in many baseball activities, such as running and play in any games.
Duffy will begin the season on the DL and the timetable for his return is up in the air, which could mean a lengthy stay on the DL continuing his rehab before heading to Durham where would then begin a rehab assignment. I would assume that his return to the Rays could be late April to sometime in May. In the interim, Tim Beckham finally gets his opportunity as shortstop.
In other health news, Shawn Tolleson is headed to the DL to begin the season as he has been slowed down with back spasms. Tolleson last pitch on Mar. 23 against the Yankees and was lit up in his one inning of work in which he allowed two runs on two hits.
Therefore, the Rays will have Brad Boxberger, Shawn Tolleson, Matt Duffy, Colby Rasmus, Wilson Ramos, Kevin Gadea (Rule 5) and Nathan Eovaldi (60-day DL) all on the disabled list to open the season. No doubt, not the way they had hoped to begin year.