By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays officially announced the signing of catcher Derek Norris in the middle of Saturday’s game against a split squad of Red Sox.
Norris had signed a one-year, $4.2 million deal with the Nationals this offseason, but was released 11 days ago after the team signed Matt Wieters. His deal with Tampa Bay also is a one-year contract, and as reported by the Tampa Bay Times, is worth $800,000 with a possible $1.2 million in additional incentives.
“Everyone is starting to wind down camp, and it’s a difficult time for clubs to just not believe in what they have,” Norris said of taking so long to find a team. “I think for me, it’s an opportunity, especially coming off a season where on and off the field it was rough for me.”
In his five seasons in the majors, Norris is a career .233 hitter with 147 extra base hits, 223 RBI and a .309 on-base percentage. Last year, lowered his averages, as he hit just .186 with a .255 OBP in 125 games with the San Diego Padres.
“I think you could chalk it up as one bad year,” Norris said of 2016. “One bad year, and I think we’re going to get back to where I was my whole career.”
His best season came in 2014 with the Oakland Athletics when he hit .270 with 10 home runs and 55 runs batted in on the way to a spot on the American League All-Star team.
“We’re excited as an organization,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He has a track record of being able to go out there for 100-plus games and be an everyday catcher. If you look at this complete body of work, he’s been a really good catcher for three years now.”
Defensively, he’s caught 100 runners trying to steal, which is 26 percent of their attempts. In 2014, he threw out 44 of 128 runners.
This complicates things for catchers Curt Casali, Luke Maile and Jesus Sucre. The trio had been competing for two spots on the roster, but now there’s only one left.
At one point it seemed like a no-brainer that both Casali and Maile would be on the Opening Day roster, but Sucre has been particularly impressive as a defender. If he were the backup to Norris, it wouldn’t be surprising.
Pitcher Chris Archer has specifically talked about how much he has enjoyed throwing to Sucre. If Sucre was the Opening Day catcher, and then spent most time throwing to the other four pitchers, that wouldn’t be shocking either.
Norris already is scheduled to be on the Rays’ travel roster for Tuesday’s game at Minnesota.
SNELL FEELS IMPROVEMENT
Luckily for pitcher Blake Snell, results in spring training don’t matter too much.
If they did, the six hits, one walk and four runs he allowed in 4.2 innings yesterday would be concerning. But for Snell, he felt he made improvements in that outing.
“I’m happy with the way I attacked the zone,” he said. “I feel like I took a stride. I felt more into it, more believing in what I have, more aggressive. I’m definitely taking those positives knowing there’s a bunch I need to work on.”
Three of Snell’s runs came on a home run by Pablo Sandoval in the fifth inning. He says he was trying to get inside, but the ball got too much of the plate.
“He held his velocity and threw some really good pitches,” Cash said. “Those guys actually did a pretty good job of covering some good pitches. He threw some quality sliders to get underneath. His fastball was coming out of his hand well. I think that was a huge step for Blake.”
One area Snell says he would like to see improvement is his ability to get deeper into games.
BAD NEWS FOR RASMUS
Colby Rasmus looked good in his four appearances as designated hitter this week, but it looks like it won’t be enough for him to start the season with the Rays.
Cash said earlier in the week that he’d need to see Rasmus play in the field this spring in order for the newcomer to not begin the season on the disabled list. Both Rasmus and Cash made it seem like the DL is where the outfielder will land.
“Colby has made huge strides here the last couple of days,” Cash said. “I think it’s a pretty good thought process he has saying when he comes out and plays the field he wants to make sure he feels good that he can track a ball down in the gap, and he’s just not quite there yet.”
Rasmus hasn’t played since Thursday, so a move to the DL – if done sooner than later – would be retroactive to March 23. He was originally in the lineup for Saturday’s game, but was removed about two hours prior to first pitch.
TESTING THE TROP
The new infield has been installed at Tropicana Field and prior to today’s game against the Yankees, a bunch of players will test out the new turf.
According to Cash, the entire infield will be at the Trop in the morning for ground balls, and Kevin Kiermaier, Corey Dickerson and Mallex Smith will take fly balls, too.
This will be the first time Smith will practice at what is a new stadium for him.
RED SOX 7, RAYS 5
HITTER OF THE GAME
Corey Dickerson, Rays: Dickerson has had a strong spring, smacking his fourth homer so far. Of those four blasts, yesterday’s was his third opposite-field homer.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Jaime Schultz, Rays: He continued his nice spring with a perfect ninth inning. Schultz struck out two of the three batters he faced, and lowered his spring ERA to 1.98.
Top 5th: The Red Sox roughed up pitcher Blake Snell in the fifth. They began the frame with two walks before Pablo Sandoval followed with a three-run shot to give his team a 4-3 lead at the time.
Nathan Lukes, Rays: In his first at-bat of the spring, Lukes hit a run-scoring single in the ninth as the Rays made a comeback attempt.
THEY SAID IT
The strength of my game is being able to work with guys and bring out the best in them. I think, for me, what screamed the most opportunity to me was being able to work with a wide variety of talented arms.”
— New Rays catcher Derek Norris
TAMPA BAY (11-14-3) at NEW YORK-AL (21-7-1)
WHEN: Today, 1:05 p.m.
WHERE: George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa
SCHEDULED STARTERS: RH Matt Andriese vs. RH Bryan Mitchell
RAYS: Matt Andriese (start), RH Jumbo Diaz, RH Jaime Schultz.
YANKEES: RH Bryan Mitchell (start), RH Luis Cessa, RH Chad Green.
MONDAY: Off. TUESDAY: at Minnesota, 1:07 p.m. WEDNESDAY: vs. Baltimore, 1:05 p.m. THURSDAY: vs. Minnesota, 1:05 p.m., FRIDAY: at Philadelphia, 1:05 p.m.