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Two days after big victory, Rays struggle in big defeat

Some days you drop the bomb, and some days, it’s dropped on you.

Two days after the Tampa Bay Rays clobbered Minnesota, 19-0, the Rays lost their worst-ever game, a 19-2 verdict to the Boston Red Sox. The 17-run loss beat 15-run defeats in 1998 and 2012 to Minnesota.

Jackie Bradley Jr. hit two home runs and drove in five for Boston.

Pitcher Jose De Leon made his debut, allowing four runs on two hits and two walks. Hanley Ramirez hit a three-run homer.

“I just couldn’t locate my fastball,” said De Leon. Perhaps he should have looked on the other side of the fence.

Rays bash Minnesota 19-0 in Grapefruit League contest

Are we sure it doesn’t count?

Is there any way we can make it count?

After all, fans have waited years for the Tampa Bay Rays to hit like this – 23 hits including five home runs. And the team hasn’t pitched like this very often – seven perfect innings and a shutout.

It all added up to a 19-0 squashing of Minnesota is a grapefruit league victory Tuesday. Alex Cobb threw two perfect innings in the game. Curt Casali, Nick Franklin and Rickie Weeks hit homers, while Jake Bauer had a grand slam.

The Twins finished with three hits and a walk in the game that was, unfortunately, just practice.

Still, it’s better to win a lopsided game than to lose one.

Does the Rays’ pitching staff have an ace, and if so, who is he?

As the Tampa Bay Rays’ pitchers report for training camp, it starts with a simple question.

Who’s the ace?

And if there isn’t one, who’s, say, the Jack of Clubs?

The Rays want to believe they have a good staff, a staff that will keep them in the AL East race. For that to happen, however, a lot of guys are going to have to have a lot better seasons than they did last year.

For instance:

Chris Archer led the major leagues in losses last season with 19. Oh, his era (4.02) wasn’t bad enough to support all of those defeats, but he did give up 30 home run balls. That’s too many. Archer is only 41-51 in his career despite his strikeout totals, which suggests focus might be an issue. But if Archer can even go 14-14 this season, it’ll help.

Alex Cobb was the Rays’ starting pitcher the year he injured his rotator cuff. He struggled last year with a 1-2 record and an 8.59 ERA. But he’s talking like the wing has healed, and he expects to be a pitcher again this year. That would help if the Rays are looking for arm help.

Jake Odorizzi is the Rays’ new four million dollar man, which makes it easy to wonder how long he’ll be here. Odorizzi had the best season last year of anyone on the staff, going 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA.

Blake Snell, the baby of the rotation, was 6-8 last year but with a 3.54 ERA. He struck out 98 batters in 89 innings, showing there is more there once he learns the league. He’s only 24, so the future looks good.

Jose De Leon came over in the Logan Forsythe trade. He was 2-0 with the Dodgers in a late call-up, but his ERA was only 6.35. Still, De Leon had good enough statistics to merit consideration for the big league team early in the season.

Matt Andriese was 8-8 last year, which isn’t a bad record for a team that won only 68 times. He had an ERA of 4.37. He can pitch in the pen and out of it. He isn’t likely to be an ace, but he could be a good back-of-rotation pitcher.

Chase Whitley is the forgotten man of the Rays’ staff. He’s more of a contender for the team’s No. 5 starter than its No. 1 after one one start due to Tommy John surgery a year ago. Still, he ‘s worth keeping an eye on.

Is there enough there to build a staff? How about a good staff?

If the Rays are going to be a player in the upcoming season, it’ll have to be.

Rays optimistic of a good season as spring training begins

It’s spring, and the Rays see answers instead of questions.

Surgically repaired pitcher Alex Cobb? He’s an asset. Catcher Wilson Ramos? He’s going to help, even if he can’t get behind the plate for a while yet. Shortstop Matt Duffy, who was hurt when the Rays traded for him? Rays’ manager Kevin Cash is looking forward to seeing him add to the offense and defense.

And so it goes. It’s the time of year when skies are partly sunny instead of partly rainy.

“We expect to be playing games in October,” Cash said. Now, that would ensure the playoffs, because the regular-season has only one game slated for October. If the Rays are playing games, plural, it would mean the post season. “That’s the goal. We’re confident with what we’ve done in the off-season. We’re confident with the core guys and the way they finished the year.”

Most prognostications have the Rays in the cellar again, so making it to the post-season would be a nice turnaround.

Can Chris Archer turn his season around? Can Steven Souza cut down on his strikeouts? Can players who had good years (Evan Longoria, Alex Colome, Brad Miller) copy their successes?

The Rays are counting on a lot of things to go right, in other words.

On the other hand, isn’t that what spring is for?

“There are a lot of guys in that clubhouse with a lot of pride,” Cash said. “Not only with their individual performance, but the performance of the team. I don’t think anyone felt good about anything that last series in Texas. I think it’s motivated some guys to work on some things they needed to work on.”

Rays announce start times, single-admission doubleheader

Now, here’s a concept for you.

How about twice the Rays for the price?

On Saturday, June 10, the Tampa Bay Rays will play the Oakland A’s in a single-admission doubleheader. It will be Major League Baseball’s first scheduled doubleheader since July 16, 2011, when the A’s hosted the Los Angeles Angels, and only the second scheduled doubleheader in the last two decades.

The Rays also announced their game times for the upcoming season, which opens on Sunday, April 2, when the team plays host to the New York Yankees.

Monday through Friday home games begin at 7:10 p.m. With select matinee games throughout the season. Saturday games are scheduled for either 6:10 p.m. or 4:10 p.m., with Sunday games scheduled for 1:10 p.m.

This will be the team’s third season under manager Kevin Cash.

Rays trade pitcher Drew Smyly for Mallex Smith, prospects

The Tampa Bay Rays, still trying to escape from the AL East cellar, have added some speed to their roster.

The Rays traded pitcher Drew Smiley for young outfielder Mallex  Smith and prospects Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough. Smith will fit into a suddenly crowded outfield, which also will feature free agent Colby Rasmus, signed two days ago.

Smith stole 16 bases for the Atlanta Braves last year. He has 299 steals in the minor leagues.

Smith, 23, would help the Rays’ outfield makeup by added speed and defense. Rasmus, too, is considered a plus outfielder. He hit .238 last year.

You have to give up something to get something,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said on the team’s website. “But the type of deal we made, the return we got, we thought was something that made sense for us. We’re eager to see how it plays out from here.

“We are heavier with starting pitching than we are in some other areas. And this is an opportunity for us. One of the goals we set out to accomplish this winter was to put ourselves in position to be competitive in 2017, and we’re really doing everything we can to increase competition within our group, be more dynamic and have a greater mix and see how it shakes out.”

Smyly was available because of the Rays’ glut of starting pitchers and his salary. He was schedule to make $6.9 million this season through arbitration. Acquired from Detroit at the July 31, 2014 trade deadline in the David Price trade, Smyly was 15-15 with a 3.95 ERA in 49 starts with the Rays, including 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA last season.

Rays add Colby Rasmus to their outfield, need bullpen help

The Tampa Bay Rays may have to tweak their starting rotation.

Obviously, the bullpen needs work.

As far as the regular lineup, however, the Rays have gotten better this off-season with the addition of Colby Rasmus and catcher Wilson Ramos. Whether they have done enough remains to be seen, but it’s a start toward fixing last year’s 68-94 record, the only non-winning team in the AL East.

Rasmus has had four 20-home run seasons and is thought of as an excellent defender.

Part of the equation, of course, will be when, and how many games, Ramos can catch. Another part will be how much Rasmus can hit. Rasmus hit only .206 last year in an injury-plagued year.

Still, the lineup of Brad Miller at first, Logan Forsythe at second, Matt Duffy at short, Evan Longoria at third and Ramos behind the plate has some promise. Rasmus would slide into left, with Corey Dickerson at DH. Kevin Kiermaier is in center and Steven Souza in right.

After Alex Colome, the pen needs attention, as does the rotation, where only Jake Odorizzi had a winning record a year ago.

Rays cast dissenting vote against CBA to protest their plight

The need a little help. They didn’t feel they got it.

Hence was Stu Sternberg’s lone dissenting vote as MLB owners ratified their new labor agreement by a vote of 29-1.

The Rays have long felt that the gap between large-market and small-market teams was widening, and they viewed the new labor agreement as a chance to address their concerns.

“I am thankful for the hard work, leadership, and spirit of compromise that were essential to this agreement coming together,” Sternberg told the Associated Press in an e-mail. “However, twice a decade, the bargaining process provides an opportunity to address the extraordinary and widening competitive gap that exists on-field between higher and lower revenue clubs. I feel that opportunity was missed here.”

The Rays wanted changes in the draft, for instance, that would give small market teams additional picks.

“Lower revenue clubs face a lot of obstacles, especially when it comes to talent acquisition,” baseball operations president Matt Silverman said last month. “We can’t go out and spend like other clubs so we need to find other avenues to be able to acquire that talent. We’ve looked for additional access on the amateur side, on the international side, and there haven’t been any major changes in the last 10 years, and in fact the revenue disparity between clubs has grown by an immense amount.”

Rays add all-star catcher Wilson Ramos to their roster

The Tampa Bay Rays will have a new catcher in their lineup … eventually.

The Rays formally announced the signing of Wilson Ramos, the former catcher of the Washington Nationals. The Rays signed him as a free agent for a two-year contract worth $12.5 million. Ramos can earn another $5.75 million through incentives.

It may take some time for Tampa Bay to see what it has in Ramos. Ramos suffered a ACL in his right knee near the end of last season. It could be June, maybe as long as the all-star game before Ramos returns. He will probably come back first as a DH.

“The pace of my rehab, at the very least, I expect to be available for the team, getting at-bats, DHing, really from the beginning of May,” Ramos said Monday on a conference call — that includes another $5.75 million in incentives — official. “The people doing my therapy (in South Florida) have been really impressed.”

“A healthy Wilson Ramos is one of the best all-around catchers in baseball,” said Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom. “Few players at the position can impact all facets of the game like he can. We’re excited for what Wilson will contribute to both our offense and our pitching staff, and we look forward to getting him back on the field soon.”

Last year, Ramos played in 131 games and hit .307 with 22 homers for the Nationals.

To make room for Ramos on the roster, the team designed former No. 1 draft pick Justin O’Connor for assignment. O’Connor had two back surgeries a year ago.

Despite finishing 25 games back, Matt Silverman sees bright spots

They finished in last place in the AL East. They lost 94 times. They were the second-worst team in baseball. They hit 216 home runs, but 136 of them were solos.

And still, Tampa Bay Rays general manager Matt Silverman talked about bright spots.

In the Rays’ season-ending news conference Tuesday, Silverman talked about a team he expects to be better in 2017 despite the flaws of this season.

“We’re incredibly disappointed,” Silverman said. “The season went south so early, and we were never able to crawl back into relevance. That feeling, it gnaws at us. It gnaws at Stu (Sternberg). It gnaws at Brian Auld. It gnaws at the players. We don’t want that to happen again.

“It’s a talented club, and there were several bright spots. But in finishing 25 games back, there weren’t enough bright spots.  We’re hellbent on getting this team back in contention. We have several players in-house, but we’re going to need some new players, too.”

In particular, Silverman said, he was disappointed in the base running, the defense, and the bullpen. But he pointed out that his team was in the Top 10 in slugging.

Will there be enough changes? Manager Kevin Cash praised first baseman Brad Miller, and Silverman praised second baseman Logan Forsythe. Cash was looking forward to seeing more  of Matt Duffy, and he praised the season of Evan Longoria. The team said it missed Kevin Kiermaier terribly while he was hurt, and Cash pointed out that both Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. were important pieces. Silverman said the team would look for catching, but he said there were a couple of young catchers on the team who were possibilities. The team talked about its starting pitchers, although it needs more bullpen.

So can an intact core mean a significant difference for the Rays?

“We know we underperformed. Millions of fans across Tampa Bay are upset. We’re upset. This is not the performance we expect and not the type of club we want to put on the field.

“But there were bright spots. When we make those hard decisions, and we try to figure out which way to go, we have to make sure we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are good players on this club. There is a lot of talent to this club.”

Even after last place, Silverman said, there is still confidence. There is still optimism.

Of course, it couldn’t hurt if there were a few guys on base when the team hits a home run.

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