Rays ready to get spring games under way
Tampa Bay opens Grapefruit League action vs. Twins
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Time for the Rays to see some opposing uniforms.
The Rays open their Spring Training season Saturday with a game against the Twins in Fort Myers. Their 33-game exhibition slate will end April 4 at Tropicana Field.
"It's day one of games for Spring Training," said David Price, who will start against the Twins on Saturday. "So I feel good about it and I'm excited about it."
The Rays are coming off their third playoff appearance in the last four years. Accompanying those results are high expectations for the coming season, which are based on a standout starting staff, a talented group of defenders, and the arrivals of Carlos Pena and Luke Scott to help augment a fledgling offense.
Thus far in camp, the spirit of the group has been high and everyone seemed eager to start playing games.
"Practices are good, seeing some live pitching from our pitchers, but we don't really get it cranking until we see an opponent, somebody else that is trying to beat us," said Reid Brignac, who is in competition with Sean Rodriguez to win the starting shortstop job. "The days have been fine so far. I know everybody is excited to get the games going to see how we sit."
B.J. Upton smiled at the mention of playing games.
"Can't wait," Upton said. "The first couple of days at camp are fine. I think once it starts to be repetitive and you're doing the same things, you're ready to get the games started. It's not the same when the guys you are facing are wearing the same uniform."
Since it's the first game, Price is scheduled to throw just one inning. His approach will be simple.
"Throw strikes, that's the big thing," Price said. "You're not so much, I guess, worried about the result right now. You're going out there to get your work in. Make sure that you're healthy and you're getting your reps in. Sit down some a couple of times and get back up. Get your feet under you. I feel like that's what it's about."
Chris Gimenez is a newcomer to the team after signing a Minor League deal with an invite to Major League camp on Feb. 16.
"It's the excitement of getting a chance to go out there," said Gimenez about the prospect of heading into the first game. "It breaks up the monotony of either seeing your own guys or catching your own guys, facing your own guys.
"Just kind of really gets your blood going, knowing that Opening Day isn't too far away for whatever level you might play at. I think it's really just the excitement of the whole thing."
Gimenez finds himself in the competition for the backup catching job with Robinson Chirinos, Jose Lobaton, and Stephen Vogt. Since the games don't count, any excitement about results is tempered by the fact that said results are compiled during exhibition games. Thus, decisions regarding what players make the team can be highly subjective, leaving the players who find themselves on the bubble trying to please but sometimes unsure what exactly will determine the final decision.
"That's tough to tell," Gimenez said. "You'd like to think that [whatever you do] does count. But at the same time, if you are on the bubble to be at Triple-A or the big leagues, you're facing guys that might be High A or Double-A. If you go out during Spring Training and hit .500, it doesn't mean you will hit .500 during the season. It's about opportunity."
Joe Maddon has some definite ideas about what he'd like to see this spring.
"From the very first pitch, I want to see the attempt to execute what we want to get done," the Rays manager said. "I'm looking for execution on defense. I'm looking for guys to start working good at-bats. We've talked about the effort to first base, but we're not going to push that. Make sure your legs are in really good shape before we push that. But you can still take a good lead and a good secondary lead [on the bases].
"If you're a pitcher and there's a base to back up, you should be there. Things like that have to begin that very first day."
While a lot of things are subjective, there are negatives that can affect Maddon's assessment of any given player.
"A lot of it would have to do with maybe not getting signs, as an example," Maddon said. "I don't like that. Missing cutoff people, I don't like that. Just not being in the right place on a play, I don't like that.
"We go over everything slowly enough and clearly enough that that's one thing I'm a real stickler about. Everybody has a job to do on every play. Just be in your right spot. Be where you're supposed to be. Do your job. If everybody does their job, it makes everything a little bit easier."
The Rays are ready. Let the games begin.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.