Fleming eyes roster spot; bats break out

March 26th, 2021

With his performance last year and over the past month, has certainly given the Rays plenty to think about as Opening Day draws near.

Fleming worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Red Sox in the Rays' 7-3 victory on Friday at Charlotte Sports Park, allowing only one hit and a walk while striking out five. Tampa Bay doesn't get too caught up in Spring Training statistics, but it is nonetheless notable that the left-hander has limited opponents to only three hits and a walk while striking out eight in 8 2/3 innings over four outings.

And it's not just the numbers Fleming has put together. He's looked good doing it, working quickly and pounding the strike zone with a fastball that's showing even more impressive sink and run than last year.

"Every outing, I was just trying to go out there and throw as many strikes as I can and just do what I did last year," said Fleming, who provided a boost to the Rays' starting staff by going 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in seven outings as a rookie. "If the other team puts the ball in play, let our defense work behind me. And I thought it did a pretty good job doing that."

Has it been enough to earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster? That is apparently still to be determined, but manager Kevin Cash praised the work Fleming has done all spring.

"He works so fast. He just attacks the zone. His stuff's good. He can really pitch," Cash said. "See how this shakes down here in the next couple days, certainly, but he's made every strong impression possible."

There seems to be at least one spot up for grabs in Tampa Bay's Opening Day bullpen, which will now be without high-leverage reliever Nick Anderson for at least half the season, assuming the Rays roll with a five-man rotation of Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Chris Archer, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha.

Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo will return in the late innings. Chaz Roe and Andrew Kittredge figure to play important roles. So does lefty Cody Reed, who's had a similarly excellent spring that continued on Friday, when he struck out two over 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Ryan Thompson recorded big outs last year. Collin McHugh and Trevor Richards seem likely to serve as versatile, multi-inning swingmen.

Plenty could change between now and Thursday, of course, but if those eight pitchers break camp with the club, there would be one spot remaining from the group that includes Ryan Sherriff, Jeffrey Springs, Chris Mazza and Fleming.

Fleming won't let himself worry about the Rays' decision, whether he's part of the big league team or waiting in the wings at the alternate training site in Port Charlotte, Fla. He's done his part.

"Every game I threw in, I thought I pounded the strike zone. All my pitches were working pretty well," Fleming said. "But at the end of the day, I'm just trying to control what I can control and just trying to force their hand and hopefully can break with the team."

Bats break out
Yandy Díaz, Willy Adames, Mike Zunino and non-roster prospect Tristan Gray all went deep against the Red Sox on Friday, and each blast was notable for a different reason.

For Díaz, any ball in the air is a good sign. (The infielder said he only hit it because Cash told him to "either hit one in the gap or just hit it out," though, which is why Díaz looked into the Rays' dugout on his way to first base.) For Adames, it was potentially an indication that his offseason swing changes, combined with his work this spring, are coming together in a positive way.

For Zunino, it was another reminder of his raw power, as the catcher's third homer of the spring cleared the tiki bar beyond the left-field wall. And it was one more memorable moment for Gray, a prospect ranked outside the Rays' top 30 who's made a strong impression this spring.

"He's got everybody in this camp knowing his name," Cash said.

Roster move
The Rays reassigned catcher Kevan Smith to Minor League camp on Friday morning, an expected move that came with some good news. Cash said Smith will soon be able to ramp up his work toward baseball activities after being limited by a back injury. Cash said Smith's pain may not be totally alleviated yet, but he's made encouraging progress over the past week to 10 days.

As long as Smith is healthy, he figures to play an important role as the Rays' No. 3 catcher at the alternate training site or at Triple-A, the first backstop called up if there's an injury to Zunino or Francisco Mejía.

Up next
Tyler Glasnow will take the mound to face the Twins on Saturday afternoon at the CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, Fla., one last tune-up outing before his Opening Day start against the Marlins next Thursday. Kevin Kiermaier (paternity leave) and Randy Arozarena (sore wrist) are expected to rejoin the Rays' lineup.

First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. ET. The game will air free on MLB.TV and can also be heard via MLB Audio.