Tampa Bay Rays: An Interesting Weekend of Events

Apr 2, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) celebrates with manager Kevin Cash (16) after defeating the New York Yankees 7-3 at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) celebrates with manager Kevin Cash (16) after defeating the New York Yankees 7-3 at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Roster moves and an impressive victory for the Tampa Bay Rays highlighted the weekend with some interesting thoughts on both areas.

The opening weekend of the baseball season is always interesting and fun. Rosters are honed down to the 25 players that will go north with the team. The season opening game is filled with festivities and anticipation. A victory means that your team will play perfect baseball for at least one game. And the Tampa Bay Rays gained that victory in impressive style. I followed both the roster moves and the game and here are some of my thoughts on both.

The opening day roster moves were highlighted by the choice of Derek Norris and Jesus Sucre as the teams’ catchers as Curt Casali and Luke Maile were sent to Durham. Maile being designated for assignment followed up those moves. Whether the Rays made the right choices will remain to be seen but it does indicate that for all intents and purposes, the Rays have given up on Casali and Maile. The deeper issue is that the Rays still have no answer to their long term catching needs.

The next strange move was designating Nick Franklin for assignment. Franklin was obtained from Seattle in the David Price deal and was seen as the second coming of Ben Zobrist. Unfortunately, Franklin had a terrible 2014-15 with the Rays but seemed to come around offensively and defensively in the latter part of 2016 and during spring training. He seemed to be in line for a utility job with the Rays but was dropped at the last minute in favor of Daniel Robertson. I have never been a great fan of Franklin but it seems they should have given him one last chance.

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Finally, the Rays rounded out their bullpen by keeping Jumbo Diaz and sending Chase Whitley to Durham. This wasn’t a shocking move accept for the fact that the Rays have no idea what they have in Diaz.Released by the Cincinnati Reds, one of the worst teams in baseball, Diaz features a huge fastball but not much else.

On top of that, he spent most of spring training pitching in the World Baseball Classic and only pitched a few innings for the Rays. We’ll see how long he lasts.

The opening day 7-3 victory over the Yankees was much less of a mystery. Solid pitching and timely hitting usually means a win. However, some interesting strategic moves did take place. First of all, Chris Archer went seven innings for the win. The fact that Archer pitched well was not a surprise but the fact that Kevin Cash let him pitch into the seventh and throw over 100 pitches. A year ago he would have been out of the game after five innings and 75 pitches.

To me, it was more of a mystery that was Corey Dickerson was leading off and Mallex Smith batting eighth. The Rays had tried this a bit in spring training but I thought it was to get Dickerson more at-bats. Maybe I’m too old school but I like speed guys leading off and power guys further down in the order. Dickerson was one-for-five with two strike outs. Smith was one-for-four with a bunt single and drove the Yankees crazy with his speed. Based on one game, it seems like Smith and Kiermaier at the top of the order is a better choice.

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Finally, in the top of the ninth with the Yankees behind by five runs and in need of base runners, Chase Headley led off. Twice in the game Headley had gotten hits going to the opposite field against the shift. So what did the Rays do? The put on the shift again and Headley promptly punched a single to right. What was Cash thinking?

Overall, the Rays’ defensive play was smooth with only Brad Miller looking a little uncomfortable at second base. Smith looked very good in left field and his speed ran down every ball hit near him.

Norris seemed to call a good game for Archer and framed several important pitches well. The hitting was timely and a good combination of small ball and power. Every one in the lineup contributed in one way or another.

Next: Casey Gillaspie Already Being Passed By

It’s only the first game game of the season but you have to like what you saw. Norris looked good behind the plate and, hopefully, Robertson and Diaz will contribute when their time comes. Cash’s handling of Archer bodes well for the entire pitching staff. New hitting coach Chad Mottola seems to be having a positive influence on the hitters. Now if we can get that speed to the top of the batting order.