Rays exercising caution with KK (hips) 

February 26th, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Manager Kevin Cash said the Rays are going to “slow-play” center fielder a bit in the coming days after he reported to Spring Training with some tightness in both hips.

Kiermaier has been on the field with his teammates for full-squad workouts the past four days, and he was in center field Friday morning shagging fly balls during batting practice on Field 1 at the Charlotte Sports Park complex. But he didn’t take batting practice or run through defensive drills with his fellow outfielders during Friday’s workout and probably won’t be full-go for a couple of days.

“Both of his hips were just a little tight coming into camp, and we’ve got time on our side,” Cash said. “We know KK. We just want to make sure he’s ready for when it matters most.”

Considering Kiermaier’s presence on the field throughout this week and the way Cash described it as only a few more days of limited work, it seems the Rays aren’t concerned about the Platinum Glove Award-winning veteran’s status. They just don’t want him to rush into action before he’s fully ready.

“With his thoughts and also [head trainer] Joe [Benge and the athletic training staff], just to give him the extra days to not do anything that’s going to tweak it,” Cash said. “He worked really hard this offseason. He probably just felt his hips tighter than usual, and we're going to give them a couple of extra days from getting right into the thick of things, whether it's outfield drills or taking BP in live reps.”

Camp notes
• Four pitchers faced hitters during live batting practice on Friday morning: left-handers , and and right-hander . Cash called it a “pretty impressive group,” praising Fleming for his tenacity -- “competes as well as anybody in the organization,” Cash said -- and raving about both the stuff and strike-throwing of top prospects McClanahan and Patiño.

“With McClanahan and Patiño, what’s not to like? It’s 97-98 [mph fastballs], filthy breaking balls,” Cash said. “We’ve talked about Shane’s slider that [pitching coach Kyle Snyder is] really excited about. With Luis, it was just the constant strike-throwing. … To show that type of commitment to the zone for both of those guys this early in their careers is really, really impressive. If you can continue to repeat that mindset of just constantly pounding the zone, they’re going to be special pitchers.”

• Fleming, who was excellent in a starting/bulk-innings role as a rookie last season, said he came into spring working on his cutter and curveball and aiming to break camp on the Opening Day roster in a similar position this season.

“I'm excited for whatever role they put me in, whether it's starting, whether it's coming out of the bullpen,” Fleming said. “Whatever it is, I'm ready for it.”

• First baseman said he won’t dabble with switch-hitting this year, as he did last season, instead focusing strictly on his left-handed swing. Also, don’t expect quite as many of his crowd-pleasing splits at first base. With COVID-19 protocols in place in South Korea for the early part of the offseason, he spent the winter doing a lot of heavy lifting outdoors and couldn’t take any yoga or Pilates classes.

“The splits will be a little bit difficult in the beginning, but hopefully in this season, I'll be able to do it,” Choi said through interpreter Steve Nam. “But I believe my infielders are going to give me great [throws] this year so I don’t have to do that many splits.”

• During one round of infield drills on Friday morning, the Rays lined up in the following alignment: and at third base, and at shortstop, and at second, and Choi and at first.

Grapefruit League game info
• The Rays announced their probable pitchers for their first five spring games, a list subject to change. , , and are scheduled to pitch in Sunday’s Spring Training opener against the Braves.

will start Monday against the Twins, and will pitch Tuesday in a nationally televised game against the Red Sox. McClanahan and Fleming are scheduled to face the Pirates on Wednesday, then Yarbrough and Patiño will pitch against the Twins on Thursday.

• Tickets for Tampa Bay’s Grapefruit League home games sold out about five minutes after they went on sale Friday morning. Most of the limited seating had already been accounted for over the past few days through presales for season ticket holders, Rays Insider subscribers and others.

• FOX Sports Sun, which will soon be rebranded as Bally Sports Sun, announced on Friday that the network will televise 13 of the Rays’ Spring Training games in March. The TV broadcast schedule begins Wednesday, when the Rays host the Pirates at Charlotte Sports Park. Three games against the Twins will come courtesy of FOX Sports North, and the Rays’ March 15 game against the Red Sox will air on FOX Sports Florida. Check here for spring games that will also be broadcast on MLB.TV.