By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays entered spring with a plethora of injuries.
For the most part, players have been progressing as expected, but it appears as if a pair of bats are a little slow to get back to 100 percent.
Shortstop Matt Duffy and outfielder Colby Rasmus are two projected starting players who have yet to see the playing field.
Duffy, who had off-season heel surgery, says he feels good most days, but then when he pushes himself too hard, the injury doesn’t feel quite right.
“I certainly have not ruled out opening day,” manager Kevin Cash said.
Rasmus has been working his way back slowly from a groin injury.
What makes the two injuries interesting, is that the back-up plan if either isn’t ready for opening day is the same person.
Tim Beckham would fill in for Duffy or Rasmus if either are still hurt.
“At some point we’ll probably have to make a call and say, ‘hey, we need to focus on him getting as many reps at one of those spots whether it’s in left or at short,’” Cash said.
Beckham has been one of the hottest Rays in spring. He went 2-for-3 on Wednesday with a double, a two-run homer and two runs scored. That gives him a .412 batting average for the spring with five extra-base hits, four RBI and two runs scored in seven games.
Chase Whitley looked strong in his third outing of the spring.
It was the first time he threw three innings, and he allowed one run on two hits. The run was a solo homer in the third. He also struck out four batters and didn’t walk any on 35 pitches (26 strikes).
“At this point in spring you’re just ready to get your work in and make sure things are where they need to be,” Whitley said. “It was nice to face a lot of righties there. I do throw a lot of change ups and righties in the past have given me some trouble.”
Logan Morrison made his spring debut on Wednesday as a designated hitter. Morrison had surgery on his left wrist in September.
“I’m excited to get in there, but at the same time, it’s March 8, so there’s still a long way to go,” he said before the game. “I’m looking forward to progressing and grinding. We’re building right now for April 2 and beyond that.”
Cash said Morrison will DH again today, and sometime early next week we can expect to see him appear at first base.
The relief pitchers have been brought on slowly, as to not give them too much too early in the spring. Erasmo Ramirez and Xavier Cedeno are at 100 percent healthy, despite each only making one appearance.
Ramirez’s first appearance of the spring came last night against Colombia. He tossed a quick and efficient perfect inning.
As for Brad Boxberger and Shawn Tolleson, they’re not as healthy.
“Box had a little bit of a setback the other day with his lat,” Cash said. “We’re not overly concerned. We’re going to take it slow with him. In fairness to box, probably a week or so.”
Cash says Tolleson had a back spasm the other day, but is expected to throw a BP session today.
COLOMBIA 9, RAYS 7
HITTER OF THE GAME
Tim Beckham, Rays: He continued his hot spring with a pair of extra-base hits in his first two at-bats. Scoring a pair of runs, he began the game with a double and then followed the up with a two-run homer.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Jeff Ames, Rays: Maybe that should read “Jeff Ames, Colombia.” He was there from the Rays to pitch for Colombia as a way for them to preserve their arms for actual WBC games. Ames struck out three teammates in his one inning of work.
Top 9th: The Rays entered the frame with a 7-3 lead, but Dana Eveland and the Tampa Bay defense couldn’t close things out. Some missed plays by the Rays and clutch hitting for Colombia led to a six-run ninth inning and a win.
Jose De Leon, Rays: The No. 3 prospect in the Rays’ organization looked much better in his second outing of the spring. A home run was the only run he surrendered, allowing just two hits in two innings of work.
THEY SAID IT
“Wow. What a spring he’s having and continues to have. I hope he understands how big of a role he can play for our team this year. Whether it’s short, outfield or second base, the way he’s swinging the bat, he’s in a rally good spot.”
— Rays manager Kevin Cash on utility player Tim Beckham
PITTSBURGH (9-3) at TAMPA BAY (6-4-1)
WHEN: Today, 1:05 p.m.
WHERE: Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte
SCHEDULED STARTERS: LH Blake Snell vs. RH Chad Kuhl
RAYS: LH Blake Snell (start), RH Tommy Hunter, RH David Carpenter, RH Ryan Garton, RH Kevin Gadea, LH Justin Marks
PIRATES: RH Chad Kuhl (start), RH Drew Hutchison, LH Felipe Rivero, RH A.J. Schugel, LH Wade LeBlanc
FRIDAY: at Pittsburgh, 1:05 p.m. SATURDAY: at Boston, 1:05 p.m. SUNDAY: vs. Toronto, 1:05 p.m. MONDAY: at Minnesota, 1:05 p.m. TUESDAY: (split squad) vs. New York (AL) / at Baltimore, 1:05 p.m.