By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Shawn Tolleson continues to work his way back after early-spring back spasms.
The Rays’ reliever appeared in just his third game of the spring in yesterday’s loss to the Twins, but it was his best outing yet.
“I felt like I could command the ball around the zone a little better today,” Tolleson said. “I missed a few spots, but my stuff felt a little sharper today.”
He tossed one perfect inning, with a strikeout to left-handed hitter Max Kepler, a feat he specifically wanted to accomplish with a change-up.
Tolleson is a bit behind where the other relievers are as far as a workload goes, but it doesn’t appear as if that will jeopardize his ability to be ready for opening day. He will likely play an important role for the back-end of the Rays’ bullpen in 2017.
NO OFF DAY
Thursday was an off day for the Rays, but Chris Archer and Alex Cobb still needed to get in their pitches, so they threw in a pair of minor league games.
They appeared in two different games against Twins minor leaguers.
Archer went 4.2 innings, allowing no runs on two hits and two walks. He struck out seven batters on 74 pitches (48 strikes).
Cobb was in the main stadium, with manager Kevin Cash watching. He tossed 4.1 innings, with three runs (two earned) surrendered off three hits and three walks. He added four strikeouts on 78 pitches (52 strikes).
“I was really happy with the way Alex threw,” Cash said. “He’s building up. I think he has two or three more outings left. All of his pitches, in my opinion, seem to be coming together pretty well. I really like the way he drove some fastballs in to left-handed hitters.”
According to Cash, outfielder Colby Rasmus is close to returning. Rasmus his recovering from hip and core-muscle surgery, and has slowly progressed this spring.
Cash says Rasmus could appear in a game next week as a designated hitter.
With a little over two weeks until Opening Day, the Rays are still unsure who will be the leadoff man come regular season.
“I don’t think, as it stands right now, we have a defined leadoff guy,” Cash said. “We’re trying a couple different options. We’re still trying to work through. Do we have a guy versus left? A guy versus right? I know a lot of people probably don’t like it, but they’ll deal with it. We have to try to put the best lineup out of that given night to win games.”
Options at the leadoff position include Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier and Mallex Smith if he were to crack the Opening Day roster.
CUT FOR A CURE
Rays players, coaches and front office staff will shave their heads in support of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s “Cut for a Cure” program on Sunday, prior to the Rays-Phillies game. This will be the sixth straight year the Rays shave their heads to raise awareness and pay tribute to children fighting cancer.
Last year, 50 players, coaches, staff and fans shaved their heads, and more than $15,000 was raised to supports the PCF.
TWINS 4, RAYS 2
HITTER OF THE GAME
Mallex Smith, Rays: He “Mallex-Factured” another run with his wheels in the sixth inning. Smith placed a perfect bunt down the third-base line for a single, then stole second. He broke a little too early trying to steal third, but was safe at the base after pitcher Phil Hughes made a poor throw. He later scored on a Rickie Weeks groundout.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Phil Hughes, Twins: Hughes shut down the Rays, tossing five scoreless innings. He allowed just two hits, one walk and struck out four batters in the win.
Top third: The twins struck for three runs in the innings off pitchers Erasmo Ramirez and Diego Moreno. Ramirez walked a guy and committed an error. Moreno then replaced Ramirez and surrendered a three-run shot to Brian Dozier in the first batter he faced.
Jake Bauers, Rays: Bauers continued his excellent spring, crushing his third homer and second of the week. Bauers also drew a walk to give him six free passes in the last three games.
THEY SAID IT
“I never know how hard I’m throwing until (reporters) tell me. I’d like to be at 100. That’s how hard I would like to throw.
— Rays reliever Shawn Tolleson on if his 90-91 mile-per-hour fastball is where he wants to be.
TAMPA BAY (9-9-2) at TORONTO (6-12)
WHEN: Today, 1:05 p.m.
WHERE: Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, Dunedin
SCHEDULED STARTERS: RH Chase Whitley vs. RH Mat Latos
RAYS: RH Chase Whitley (start), RH Austin Pruitt, RH Ryan Garton, LH Justin Marks, RH Jeff Walters.
BLUE JAYS: RH Mat Latos (start), RH Jason Grilli, RH Joe Smith, RH Danny Barnes, LH Chad Girodo, LB Jeff Beliveau.
SUNDAY: vs. Philadelphia, 1:05 p.m. MONDAY: vs. Pittsburgh, 1:05 p.m. TUESDAY: at Pittsburgh, 1:05 p.m. WEDNESDAY: at Baltimore, 6:05 p.m. THURSDAY: vs. New York (AL), 1:07 p.m.