In their Spring Training finale on Tuesday, the Rays tested out a strategy we may see again.
Wacha has been a starter for essentially his entire career, and the Rays signed him over the offseason with that role in mind. But they want to make sure their starters are prepared to pitch after an opener if necessary, so he got a taste of the strategy in his final outing of the spring. Reed, meanwhile, has plenty of starting experience even if he’s slated to work out of Tampa Bay’s bullpen this season.
“I think the idea of it was, if they decide to do it in-season, it won't be the first time that we're doing it,” Wacha said. “Try to do a little practice run before, so the first time, it's not a game that ultimately matters.”
Could they repeat Wednesday’s strategy this season, perhaps even as soon as next Monday? Wacha is slated to pitch the first game of the Rays’ series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, but they haven’t determined yet if he’ll work as a starter or bulk-inning pitcher.
“I think it’s all a possibility. We’ll just have to see,” manager Kevin Cash said. “That hasn’t been decided quite yet. I envision him starting, but we haven’t got to Game 4 conversations quite yet."
Reed and Wacha pitched well Tuesday, consistent with their performances throughout the spring. Reed seems ready to play a prominent role in the Rays' bullpen, and Wacha has been sharp from the start of camp. Neither seemed bothered by the idea of working in different roles during the season -- if that’s what is asked of them.
“You're still 60 feet, 6 inches away if it's in the first inning or if it's in the seventh. That's kind of how I think about it,” Reed said. “Having the ball in the first inning is always fun. You're amped up in there, but man, I'm going to go out there and compete just like this the first, the seventh, every time out there, no matter when I get the ball.”
“I guess the only difference was just running from the bullpen to the mound instead of from the dugout to the mound,” Wacha added. “But no, everything was good. Everything still loosened up, felt the same heading into it, so it was a good experience.”
Around the horn
• Cash said reliever Collin McHugh was “kind of adamant” about making another appearance before Opening Day, and he looked sharp striking out two in a scoreless fifth inning. McHugh froze JaCoby Jones with consecutive sliders in the zone and ended the inning by striking out Dillon Dingler on a high fastball.
• The Rays won five straight games to finish their Grapefruit League schedule. Wins and losses are immaterial in Spring Training, but Cash was pleased with the way the club -- especially the younger players inserted late into those games -- grinded through a long spring season.
“If you're going pick one, you'd rather find ways to win games rather than lose them. And I know we hit a lull, a quiet spot, but look, I think a large credit goes to not just our 26 guys, the way they carried themselves, and definitely the guys that were coming in backing up games,” Cash said. “We know we have a very talented group. It's fun to watch them play, the energy that they showed throughout spring.”
• Rays outfielder Austin Meadows subbed out of Tuesday’s game in the third inning, having taken his two at-bats for the day, but he stayed in the dugout for the whole game -- for a good reason. In the seventh, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch sent up Parker Meadows, Austin’s brother and a lefty-hitting outfield prospect in Detroit’s system, as a pinch-hitter. The younger Meadows put a good swing on a 1-1 pitch from Phoenix Sanders and flied out to center field.
“That was pretty awesome that Austin stayed and watched him get in there,” Cash said. “Nice gesture by A.J. and the Tigers to get him an at-bat, because Austin was excited hoping for him to get up there.”
Rays on COVID-19 vaccines
On Monday, MLB and the MLB Players Association sent out a memo noting that the league’s health and safety protocols put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic will be relaxed for teams that have 85 percent of their players and Tier 1 staff fully vaccinated. Infielder Joey Wendle acknowledged it is a “personal choice for everybody” but said he expects the majority of players to get the vaccine when it’s available.
Meadows said he was encouraged to see things moving in the right direction, and he thinks that teams reaching the 85 percent threshold will not just be good for the game, but good for their personal lives after spending so much of the last year isolated and away from family. Willy Adames, in particular, is hoping the Rays can get to the point where they’re back to something closer to normal.
“I want to get that feeling again, just to be free, just to come to the field and not have to worry about all that kind of stuff,” Adames said Monday. “Just come to enjoy the game. I missed that, so I'm really happy about that.”
Finally, Opening Day. The Rays will work out at Marlins Park on Wednesday’s off-day before facing Miami on Thursday at 4:10 p.m. ET. Tyler Glasnow will make his first career Opening Day start as Tampa Bay begins the season on the road for the first time since 2009 and faces a National League opponent on Opening Day for the first time.