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Battle for Rays' last 'pen spot a 4-man race

@juanctoribio
March 19, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. -- With Matt Duffy nearing a return from a left hamstring injury, it appears the Rays will be carrying 13 position players when the team breaks camp just over a week from Tuesday. If the Rays do carry the 13 position players, as expected, that would leave nine

TAMPA, Fla. -- With Matt Duffy nearing a return from a left hamstring injury, it appears the Rays will be carrying 13 position players when the team breaks camp just over a week from Tuesday.

If the Rays do carry the 13 position players, as expected, that would leave nine bullpen spots once you eliminate the slots occupied by starters Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow.

Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough appear to be locks to serve as bulk guys this season, with Wilmer Font and Jalen Beeks also likely to make the team in a similar role. If the Rays keep all four of the bulk guys, that would leave five spots for bullpen arms.

Ryne Stanek, Diego Castillo, Chaz Roe and Jose Alvarado also seem like locks to make the Opening Day roster, which would leave the door open for one more spot in the bullpen.

While no decision has been made official and things could change over the next week, manager Kevin Cash said Tuesday that he expects most of the decisions to be made after Friday’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates. But some roster decisions, such as the bullpen spots, could be pushed back over the last couple of games.

Some of those options include left-handers Adam Kolarek and Hoby Milner, and right-handers Emilio Pagán and Hunter Wood.

Let’s take a look at the candidates:

Pagan: This spring, Pagan has been looking to find a breaking ball that will help him against left-handed hitters moving forward. Pagan, who was acquired from Oakland in December, was much more efficient against right-handed hitters last season, allowing just a .196 batting average against righties. Lefties, however, saw that average spike to .296 against Pagan.

Pagan has impressed at times during the spring and could be an option to serve as an opener this season.

“He’s had a good spring,” Cash said. “I think we knew what we were getting when we acquired him, but at the same time, it’s always refreshing to see that backed up.”

Wood: In 29 appearances last season with the Rays, Wood had a 3.73 ERA and opened eight games. There’s a chance that the final decision comes down to Wood and Pagan, as they are both on the team’s 40-man roster.

Kolarek: The 30-year-old left-hander is also on the 40-man roster, though, and he has a chance to make the team for Opening Day. In 31 appearances last season, Kolarek finished with a 3.93 ERA and two saves. He has struggled this spring, giving up nine earned runs in just seven innings of work.

Milner: After coming over from the Phillies in July, Milner struggled in his four appearances with the Rays last season. The left-hander had a 12.16 FIP, but he has made a strong impression this spring. Through 9 1/3 innings of work, Milner has recorded 12 strikeouts and has been efficient against both right-handers and left-handers.

Even if Milner starts out the season in Triple-A Durham, there’s still a chance that he can contribute at the big league level in 2019.

“Milner has had a good spring. He really has,” Cash said. “We talk about depth and options and we’re going to have some decisions coming down. Those guys that we’ve mentioned have done some good things.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.