ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Rays spent much of the offseason revamping an anemic offense that undermined the club’s chances of making the playoffs the past two seasons.
Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, Hank Conger, Steve Pearce and Brad Miller all are capable of adding some thump to a lineup that has struggled to score runs, and second-year manager Kevin Cash will spend spring training trying to determine how all the new bats fit best.
The Rays thrive on making use of the entire roster, so Cash and president of baseball operations Matt Silverman are not concerned that an abundance of moves this winter has created a glut of outfielders, catchers and candidates to be the regular first baseman and designated hitter.
‘We use our bench and bullpen as much as anybody in baseball. … I think that’s part of what attracts players to come here,” Cash said.
“If you look at the types of lineups that we can run out versus right-handed pitching, versus left-handed pitching, it’s a lot more dynamic. There’s a lot more power,” Silverman said. “It’s a more intimidating lineup than we’ve had in the past, and that was one of our goals in the offseason … to enhance the offensive side while maintaining the defensive skills that we have.”
The Rays envision Dickerson, who hit .304 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs for Colorado while appearing in just 65 games because of injuries last season, bolstering the middle of the lineup.
Morrison and Pearce could wind up sharing playing time at first base, where James Loney is the incumbent; Miller replaces Astrubal Cabrera at shortstop, and Conger adds depth at catcher, where Curt Casali and Rene Rivera also are on the roster.
Cash’s task this spring is to determine how the new pieces fit around projected No. 3 hitter Evan Longoria.
“I don’t think you put expectations on anything. But I think the biggest thing is it lengthens us out a little bit,” the manager said.
“There were plenty of times last year where we fell short,” Cash added. “That’s not discrediting any of the players we had out there, but we’ve got some established hitters now that are going to lengthen and balance out our lineup.”
Silverman is confident, too, that he’s constructed a roster deep enough to protect the team in case of injuries.
“There’s going to be issues that come up, and we feel like we’re covered and will be at full strength come opening day,” Silverman said. “The exact mix is to be determined.”
Some things to know about the Rays as they head to spring training in Port Charlotte, Florida:
STRONG ARMS: Starting pitching remains the heart of the Rays, who could have one of the best staffs in the AL, even with right-hander Alex Cobb beginning the season on the disabled list while recovering from Tommy john surgery that sidelined him all of 2015. All-Star Chris Archer leads the way, with Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly and Earsmo Ramirez filling out the projected rotation.
BULLPEN QUESTIONS: Although AL saves leader Brad Boxberger returns, setup man Jake McGee was dealt to the Rockies in the trade that landed slugger Corey Dickerson, leaving a hole that won’t be easy to fill. Right-hander Alex Colome is a possible candidate for the eighth-inning role, and Steve Geltz and offseason addition Danny Farquhar figure prominently in plans, too.
JUST A LITTLE MORE OFFENSE: One of the key to re-emerging as playoff contenders will be improving the team’s record in close games. The Rays were 46-48 in games decided by two or fewer runs last year. They were 26-30 in one-run games and a major league-worst 2-13 in games decided in extra innings.
YOUNG CASH: At 38, Cash is the youngest manager/head coach in any of the four major professional sports leagues. With a year of experience under his belt, he understandably feels more comfortable heading to camp this time around. “The comfort is because of the relationships you built all year long,” he said.
NEW SURROUNDINGS: The Rays are counting on Dickerson, who thrived at hitter-friendly Coors Field with the Rockies, to also produce nice numbers at Tropicana Field. The OF/DH batted .312 with 24 homers and 76 RBIs two years ago, hitting .355 at Coors Field compared to .249 on the road. Silverman is confident he’ll perform well at the Trop, too. “We’ve done our homework, and we believe in the skill-set that Corey has and that it will translate to our ballpark and will play in any ballpark in the whole league.”
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