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Rays think they can figure in playoffs if they stay healthy

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Here at the beginning, the Tampa Bay Rays feel confident they will be there at the end.

General manager Matt Silverman and manager Kevin Cash agreed Thursday that, going into the season, the Rays’ goal is to reach the post-season. An improved lineup and a solid set of starting pitchers have more strengths than the bullpen has questions.

“I feel like we’re a better club,” Silverman said. “You look year after year, at the talent on the club. With the depth that we have, I feel like we’re a better club this year. Last year, the injury bug really got us. We had three of our starting pitchers out. We had a real tough time getting through that. I look at the club this year, and I feel the overall talent is higher. The talent is there. The belief is there in the clubhouse. It’s just a matter of going out there and winning ballgames.”

But does better mean playoff worthy?

“Since 2008, we have come into camp thinking our team can compete for the playoffs,” Silverman said. “We felt that way last year. We felt that way the year before. We feel that way this year. That’s the goal. The goal is meaningful games in September. Those September games translate into the playoffs.

“Our payroll is what it is. Fortunately, payroll doesn’t dictate the standings. Computers don’t dictate. But the guys in the clubhouse do. They have the talent and they have the belief they can go out and compete in the (AL) East. We feel good about our chances.”

Manager Kevin Cash agreed.

“How can you not be excited?” he said. “We’re healthier. We’ve added to the lineup. And we’ve brought in some guys who have a history of hitting.”

The Rays’ first workout is Sunday. The full squad follows on Feb. 26.

Silverman was asked about new designated hitter Corey Dickerson, who comes in a trade for Jake McGee.

“It takes trading a good player to get a good player,” Silverman said. “In Dickerson, we were able to get a guy who can hit in the middle of our lineup for the next several years. Good hitters hit.”

Cash seemed particularly impressed with left fielder Desmond Jennings, who he said has lost weight in the off-season.

Jennings is one of several players – Dickerson, Steve Pearce and Logan Morrison among them — who have to bounce back from poor seasons for the Rays to have a chance.

“Anytime he’s on the field, he has a chance to be the best player on the field,” Silverman said.

He also mentioned stretching out his relief pitchers so they weren’t just one-inning guys. The Rays addressed their bullpen concerns by adding veteran reliever Ryan Webb to a one-year contract.

PECOTA, a computer analysis of the upcoming season, has predicted the Rays will win the East.

“I think it’s a great computer,” Cash said.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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