The Washington Post
Rays welcome in spring in familiar surroundings
Baseball came early to Tropicana Field this year.
Four weeks before the Rays’ season opener against Detroit, Tampa Bay and Minnesota took batting practice as rock music played in preparation for a spring training game Thursday inside the Rays’ home ballpark in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Rays are splitting spring training between the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee and Tropicana Field because their facility on Florida’s Gulf Coast was damaged by Hurricane Ian in September. After workouts and one game at Disney against the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay shifted its operations to St. Petersburg, with the rest of the home spring training games scheduled at the domed stadium.
“It feels good,” Rays Manager Kevin Cash said. “I’m excited to be here, thrilled with how Disney turned out. Hopefully, everybody has taken that mind-set that it’s nice to get to spend an extra month in your ballpark and in your own bed.”
Rays infielder David Robertson noted playing at Tropicana Field provides a “cool” opportunity for players that haven’t been in the stadium. It also gives them a chance to live a major league life at spring training.
“The guy kind of knocking on the door of the big leagues getting a feel for it,” Robertson said. “The settings, the roof, the turf. Hey, my goal is to play here at some point.”
There was a moment of silence before the game to remember those killed by Hurricane Ian.
Zach Eflin, who signed a threeyear, $40 million contract with Tampa Bay as a free agent, started in front of an announced crowd of 2,531. Tickets were $19, with all the fans in box seats.
“It’s interesting,” Eflin said. “I’ve only pitched here two or three times. I know the fans show up, but it was little different today. It felt like crickets. You could hear your own thoughts and stuff, but it’s spring training. It’s early.”
Eflin struck out three of four Minnesota batters in his first spring training start. The righthander’s deal featured the most money the Rays have given to a free agent.
“Felt really good,” Eflin said afterward. “Felt like I was in control. I felt like my off-speed was pretty good today, which is kind of a good foundation to start with.”
Eflin began last season in Philadelphia’s rotation, but his last start was June 25 before being sidelined by right knee soreness.
He returned Sept. 14 and made seven appearances out of the bullpen with a 1.17 ERA, then pitched in relief in 10 postseason games for the eventual National League champions.
• ROCKIES: Manager Bud Black said Gold Glove-winning second baseman Brendan Rodgers could be looking at surgery after he dislocated his left shoulder while diving for a grounder up the middle in a spring training game.
Black also said left-handed reliever Lucas Gilbreath has been dealing with an elbow issue and may be facing Tommy John surgery.
Rodgers was the third overall pick by the Rockies in 2015. He hit .266 with 13 homers and 63 RBI last season.
“This setback is a tough one,” Black said of Rodgers. “I do really think that he was ready for a big year. I think he was in great shape. He was in a good frame of mind mentally, confidence. Everything was pointed in the right direction for success. And now this is a setback.”
PADRES: Veteran infielder Rougned Odor started at second base for San Diego after finalizing a minor league deal.
Manager Bob Melvin said Odor will get the opportunity to play this spring training because the Padres are short on infielders, especially with the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
Odor, a left-handed hitter, batted .207 in 135 games with the Baltimore Orioles last season, after a year with the Yankees and seven with the Texas Rangers.
He has a .231 career batting average with 174 home runs and 550 RBI in 1,095 games. He also has 1,008 strikeouts and 252 walks.
• DODGERS: Infielder Miguel Rojas told reporters that he is pulling out of the World Baseball Classic with Venezuela because he wants to focus on his role as the likely starting shortstop for Los Angeles.
The 34-year-old is expected to get more playing time following an injury to Gavin Lux, who tore ligaments in a knee this week and will miss the season.