The Tampa Bay Rays start their fifth Grapefruit League season in Charlotte County by hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates at 1:05 p.m. Saturday at Charlotte Sports Park. It’s part of split-squad action for them, as they’ll also field a team at 1:35 p.m. Saturday against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla.
The day begins a slate of 35 spring training contests for Tampa Bay. The meeting against the Pirates is the first of 17 spring training home games against major-league opponents, the most in club history.
“The primary thing that I always want to accomplish right now is to get the message out there that everybody understands what we do and how we do things, especially the guys that are coming in,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We really rely on the guys who have been here to carry the message, which they’ve done a tremendous job with. Primarily, this has been message time.”
It also is a time to learn about some new faces. Right-hander Roberto Hernandez, signed in December to a one-year, $3.25 million deal after spending the past seven seasons with the Cleveland Indians, will receive the start in Port Charlotte. Meanwhile, right-hander Alex Colome, who split time between Class AA and Class AAA last season, gets the nod in Fort Myers. Decorated outfield prospect Wil Myers will play in front of the home crowd, batting seventh against the Pirates.
How do some plan to use the day?
“You just gauge where you are with your swing, your defense, timing,” infielder Ryan Roberts said. “You gauge where you’re at. It’s too early to do anything else. You’re not expecting to go out and get a bunch of hits. You’re not expecting to go out and strike out. You just want to find out where you are — happy medium.”
Added infielder Sean Rodriguez: “Just finding your timing, finding your routine. Getting everything in order so that you can transition smoothly, so that once the season starts you can get into (a routine) as opposed to it taking a month into the season.”
Third baseman Evan Longoria remained absent from the Rays clubhouse, two days removed from the birth of his daughter. He and his girlfriend, Jaime Edmondson, had expected the child around April 1.
Maddon said he hasn’t talked to the three-time All-Star since Longoria left Rays camp to be with Edmondson on Wednesday. The manager said it’s possible that Longoria will return this weekend, though Maddon wouldn’t be worried if it didn’t happen.
“I expect to see him, I think,” Maddon said. “I haven’t talked to him yet, but I think it should be fine. We’ll find out. I’m not concerned. … Even if he didn’t make the weekend, it would not concern me. But I do anticipate that he will be here.”
Maddon received his first look of Myers in batting practice Friday, and the manager left impressed. Unlike previous mornings, Myers and others hit inside the stadium at Charlotte Sports Park during a session that was closed to the public.
Myers, acquired in a six-player deal with the Kansas City Royals in December, was named the Minor League Player of the Year last season after batting .314 with 109 RBI. To Maddon, Myers is beyond his years.
“It’s nice,” Maddon said. “Your thought is he is mature regarding his batting practice. He’s got a routine. He doesn’t try to do too much. … Very thoughtful batting practice. I liked it. … It’s going to work on a very, very high and prosperous level.”