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Rays built on solid pitching foundation in '18

MLB.com @wwchastain

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays will open the season with a versatile lineup that can play solid defense and won't strike out as much as the 2017 club. A solid pitching staff will again be the foundation of the team, so the defense will be an asset behind a deep group of arms. Plenty of new faces will be with the team, replacing a lot of old favorites, including longtime mainstay Evan Longoria.

Despite the changes, the Rays feel as though they've assembled a quality roster that can compete in the ultra-competitive American League East.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays will open the season with a versatile lineup that can play solid defense and won't strike out as much as the 2017 club. A solid pitching staff will again be the foundation of the team, so the defense will be an asset behind a deep group of arms. Plenty of new faces will be with the team, replacing a lot of old favorites, including longtime mainstay Evan Longoria.

Despite the changes, the Rays feel as though they've assembled a quality roster that can compete in the ultra-competitive American League East.

Projected Opening Day lineup
The Rays will face the Red Sox, and tough left-hander Chris Sale, on Opening Day. Here's the lineup/field configuration:

1. Matt Duffy, 3B
2. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
3. Carlos Gomez, RF
4. C.J. Cron, 1B
5. Wilson Ramos, C
6. Brad Miller, DH
7. Daniel Robertson, 2B
8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
9. Rob Refsnyder, LF
SP Chris Archer

Key roles
Duffy or Gomez will lead off against left-handed starters. Denard Span and Kiermaier will occupy the top two spots when a right-hander is on the mound.

Alex Colome will return as the closer, and he'll be a closer in the traditional sense of the role, which means logging the final three outs of a game and not coming in earlier to snuff out hot situations. Colome, who led the Major Leagues in saves in 2017, with 47, knows about getting extra outs, too. Last season he led the AL with six saves of four outs or more.

The Rays will see platoon situations at second base with Joey Wendle and Robertson, and at first base with Cron and Miller. Who starts will be determined by whether a right-handed or left-handed pitcher starts for the opposing team.

Tampa Bay acquired Refsnyder on the final day of Spring Training, which allowed them to find a right-handed outfield bat to start against lefties.

Injury updates
Miller (right pinky toe problem) appears to be healed from the injury that kept him sidelined for much of Spring Training.

Mallex Smith (left-hamstring problem) is running at full speed and will not be restricted in any way.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays