By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — It doesn’t matter what the calendar reads or what Punxsutawney Phil might say.
Tuesday was the real first day of spring, as Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catchers had their first workout of the 2017 season at Charlotte Sports Park.
“It was nice to get onto the field and it was nice to see the pitchers and catchers in the clubhouse before,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s always good to see the teammates come in and hugging each other. They’ve probably talked and text, but they haven’t seen each other too much.”
Pitcher Ryne Stanek says the day feels similar to the first day of school.
“You get a little anxious coming in from the offseason because you’re so ready to go the last couple weeks, where you get that itch to get the cleats back on,” Stanek said.
A bit of news coming out of the early part of the day was the official announcement of the signing of Nathan Eovaldi, who had Tommy John surgery last August. Eovaldi was with the Yankees last season, but says he picked the Rays because of their history of success with elbow injuries in the past.
“I’ve always heard of their training staff being so well at getting guys healthy from Tommy John,” Eovaldi said. “They’re one of the teams who reached out, and they really wanted me to join the staff. It made the decision easy.”
Cash pointed out that if Eovaldi weren’t injured, the Rays might not have been able to sign him.
Eovaldi’s deal is for one year with an option for the 2018 season, with the exact details still to be released. Eddie Gamboa was designated for assignment to make room for Eovaldi on the 40-man roster before the newcomer is expected to land on the 60-day disabled list.
One of the pitchers who Eovaldi might look to for experience is Alex Cobb. The right-hander is faced a slew of injuries over the last two seasons, and is coming off an offseason where he was at 100 percent for the first time in a while.
“I anticipate I’ll be feeling great. We haven’t really got started yet, but this offseason was tremendous,” Cobb said. “All those little things add up and make you feel like you had a normal offseason and feel like you can prepare well for the upcoming season.”
Cobb found that simple relaxation was the one thing he missed in previous winters when he was working back to get healthy.
“The biggest thing was the four weeks off,” Cobb said of the difference between a healthy offseason and a rehabbing offseason.
“I take a month off to do nothing in the beginning of the offseason. I got to take that time to go on my honeymoon. I got to relax and get baseball as far away from my mind as possible.”
Cash singled out Kevin Gadea as a player who grabbed his attention on the first day of camp.
Gadea, a rule-5 draft selection of the Rays, must make the 25-man roster unless they’re willing to give him back to the Mariners organization.
“Without putting too much weight on it, Kevin Gadea (caught my eye),” Cash said. “I think, given his situation, there’s not too many guys who go through a big-league rule 5 and parameters of how that works.”
Jake Odorizzi won his arbitration case with the Rays on Monday to determine his 2017 contract.
The deal for Odorizzi is worth $4.1 million, up from the $3.825 the team was offering.
“I’m kind of overjoyed. It’s a process where you never know which way it could go, even when you feel good about it,” Odorizzi said. “It’s good to get the verdict. We worked really hard on the case, and we worked hard the three-four seasons leading up to it.”
Late in the day, it was announced Gamboa was traded to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
NOT THERE YET
Wilson Ramos was the lone pitcher or catcher not to report to camp. According to manager Kevin Cash, he’s not concerned about it and the delay is just due to a non-emergency family matter.
Ramos is coming of ACL surgery, and isn’t expected to be ready by Opening Day, leaving room for a catcher to make the initial roster.
More than half (13) of the 23 position players have reported to camp prior to Friday’s official report date. Some notable names who have not yet come to Port Charlotte are Evan Longoria, Kevin Kiermaier and Brad Miller.