Rays tab Morton for first Opening Day start

July 18th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- has accomplished a lot throughout his 12-year Major League career.

The Rays right-hander is a two-time All-Star, has been a finalist for the American League Cy Young Award, has won three win-or-go-home games in the postseason and was on the mound when the Astros won the World Series in 2017.

One thing that has been missing on the resume? An Opening Day nod. Not anymore.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said Saturday that the club will start Morton on Opening Day, if all goes according to plan. The Rays remain cautious about looking too far ahead due to all the uncertainty, but the plan is for Morton to toe the rubber next Friday against the Blue Jays.

“I think it’s pretty fair to assume that Charlie will pitch Opening Day for us,” Cash said. “We’re at the mercy of so many different things … but Charlie is in a good spot, and when we get to Opening Day, in all likelihood, it’ll be him. I certainly hope it is him.”

Morton is entering just his second season with the Rays, but he has already made an immense impact on the organization. Morton has provided the Rays with key veteran leadership, and his performance on the mound was even more valuable in 2019.

The right-hander made a career-high 33 starts last season, finishing 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA to help him finish third in the AL Cy Young Award voting behind his former teammates in Houston, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

While the rotation after Morton hasn’t been set, it would appear likely that the Rays have Blake Snell start next Saturday against the Blue Jays, with either Tyler Glasnow or Ryan Yarbrough set for the finale on Sunday.

Beeks and Poche highlight Saturday’s workout
The Rays had a light workout on Saturday, but Colin Poche and Jalen Beeks were the two standouts. Beeks, who is competing for one of the final spots on the pitching staff, struck out four over 3 1/3 innings of work. He threw 50 pitches (33 for strikes).

“His velocity looks awesome,” Cash said of Beeks. “His stuff, he’s worked really, really hard. I don’t think we’ll go much past the four-inning mark with him unless there was an immediate, urgent need. With the stuff that he’s showing, he’s going to help us a lot.”

Beeks, along with Andrew Kittredge, Anthony Banda and Trevor Richards, are all capable of giving the Rays length early in the season, especially with Yonny Chirinos and Brendan McKay still not at camp. A lot of it will depend on how the Rays set their roster, though it appears Tampa Bay is leaning towards having 16 or 17 pitchers, with 16 being more likely.

“A lot is going to depend on health,” Cash said. “16 pitchers and 14 [position players] seems like a number that seems like it’s doable. [It] would benefit us, give us coverage, give us some high-leverage opportunities throughout. I think we’re in a good spot.”

Poche will be part of the 16 or 17 pitchers on Opening Day, and Saturday was a step in the right direction for the left-hander. Poche had been struggling with his command during Summer Camp, but he was much more consistent in the zone, throwing seven of his 10 pitches for strikes on Saturday.

“The internal stuff that we had on Poche was really encouraging,” Cash said. “He needed to have a good outing, and he did.”

Saturday’s attendance
The Rays had 33 players on the field on Saturday, the most since camp began on July 3. José Martínez was the most notable attendee, as the infielder made his first appearance after testing positive for COVID-19 during intake testing.

Overall, the Rays are getting closer to being at full strength. Randy Arozarena and Chirinos are the only two players who have yet to appear on the field during Summer Camp. Austin Meadows, who acknowledged that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, is still waiting to be cleared. McKay has also been away from the team, missing the last 11 workouts. McKay, Arozarena and Chirinos missed for undisclosed reasons.

Other notes
● There was a new addition inside Tropicana Field on Saturday: the 2019 American League Wild Card banner. Though there was a new banner, the Rays are expected to replace it with a banner that resembles the others. The ‘19 AL Wild Card banner had a black outline, something which the others do not. The club also rearranged the banners, placing them in chronological order from left to right.

● The Rays -- and the baseball world -- mourned the loss of Bart Braun, who passed away Saturday at the age of 64. Braun spent 18 years with the Tampa Bay organization before going to the Phillies in 2012.