By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
TAMPA — The big news of Sunday was Tampa Bay Rays players testing out the new turf installed at Tropicana field prior to the exhibition game against the New York Yankees.
The new turf is expected to replicate regular grass more than the old one.
“It didn’t have all the black rubber turned up,” first baseman Logan Morrison said. “Maybe it’s a little faster.”
None of the infielders noticed much difference in taking routine ground balls, and say they’ll need more time in game situations to determine how they feel about it.
“It looks good,” third baseman Evan Longoria said. “It’s going to freshen up the stadium, for sure. It gives it a nice, new sparkle.”
One player who probably got the most out of yesterday’s workouts at The Trop was outfielder Mallex Smith, who has never played on a turf field or in a dome with that kind of roof.
“It’s different being in a dome,” said Smith, who has played in a dome with the Atlanta Braves when playing against the Miami Marlins. “It’s something to make the adjustment to. It’s definitely different being on turf. The turf was speedy, but it’s nothing you can’t make an adjustment to.”
The injury bug hit the Rays on Sunday with a pair of noteworthy names scratched from their scheduled appearances.
Alex Cobb was scheduled to appear in a minor-league intrasquad game, but didn’t pitch due to what the Rays called left lower back tightness.
“He didn’t sleep well, I assume,” manager Kevin Cash said. “To my knowledge, he probably could’ve pitched today. We probably said it doesn’t make sense.”
The start for Cobb was supposed to be his long outing of the spring where he’d go seven innings and/or 105 pitches. According to Cash, this shouldn’t impact his ability to pitch the third game of the season against the Yankees.
Tim Beckham, who was supposed to bat seventh and play shortstop in the major league game yesterday, also was a scratch. He apparently hurt himself in Saturday’s game, and has an irritated hip flexor.
Beckham, who is slated to be the Opening Day shortstop, was replaced in the lineup by Daniel Robertson.
Even without Cobb, a handful of Rays still stayed in Port Charlotte yesterday to compete in intrasquad games.
A pair of relievers in Alex Colome and Xavier Cedeno had nearly identical lines, both pitching a perfect 1.1 innings with two strikeouts. Colome did his on 20 pitches (14 strikes) and Cedeno needed just 14 pitches (11 strikes)
New catcher Derek Norris saw some action for the first time since joining the Rays less than 24 hours prior. He went 0-for-4 at the plate with four strikeouts, but most importantly, he caught two pitchers he will be seeing in the regular season.
“It’s challenging,” Cash said of a catcher adjusting to a new pitching staff. “I think at times we make up a little too much of it, but once you have experience of catching a guy, whether it’s a bullpen or the game, and just knowing the action of a pitch, it’s on us as a staff and the pitchers to lead him a little bit.”
One other player to participate was Steven Souza Jr., but he only played defense and split time between right field and center field.
YANKEES 7, RAYS 4
HITTER OF THE GAME
Mallex Smith, Rays: His 1-for-3 line doesn’t scream “hitter of the game” but what Smith did with his legs completely disrupted the issue. First, he got on base by being hit by a pitch on a bunt attempt. He stole second. He also forced two Yankees errors because of speed, and also legged out an infield single.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Jaime Schultz, Rays: It’s not that Schultz’s outing was particularly good – he allowed a walk and a hit in a scoreless frame – but it was his second day in a row pitching, which means the Rays might be grooming him for a bullpen position out of spring training, rather then send him to Triple-A as a starter.
Bottom 4th: Rays pitcher Matt Andriese when he started the inning with a walk of Ruben Tejada. Andriese got the next two batters to fly out, but Aaron Hicks made him pay with a two-run home run, giving the Yankees a 6-3 lead.
Diego Castillo, Rays: Not many notable prospects are playing anymore, as most have been sent down to the minors. Castillo was brought up for the game and allowed one hit in a scoreless inning, and also struck out one.
THEY SAID IT
“Right there, making that kind of decision, where I throw to third instead of home, that was a moment I needed. In year’s past, I might’ve thrown home, but I didn’t really have a chance. My thought process I was more happy with (than the throw itself).
— Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier on the double play he started in the 2nd inning.
TAMPA BAY (11-15-3) at MINNESOTA (14-12-2)
WHEN: Tuesday, 1:05 p.m.
WHERE: Hammond Field, Fort Myers
SCHEDULED STARTERS: RH Chris Archer vs. RH Nick Tepesch
RAYS: Chris Archer (start), RH Austin Pruitt, RH Chase Whitley, RH Danny Farquhar.
TWINS: RH Nick Tepesch (start), RH Justin Haley, RH Brandon Kintzler, RH Matt Belisle
WEDNESDAY: vs. Baltimore, 1:05 p.m. THURSDAY: vs. Minnesota, 1:05 p.m., FRIDAY: at Philadelphia, 1:05 p.m. SATURDAY: Off. SUNDAY: Opening Day vs. New York (AL), 1:10 p.m.