Chang begins bid for spot on Opening Day roster with homer

February 25th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- ’s path to the Opening Day roster became even more difficult the day he signed a Minor League deal to return to the Rays, as they announced the signing of Amed Rosario only hours after Chang reported to Spring Training at Charlotte Sports Park.

That’s of little concern to Chang right now, though. He liked playing for the Rays in 2022, feels like he fits in with the clubhouse and wanted to be back here for a reason. He’s comfortable with Tampa Bay.

“I feel like no matter who the team signs, for myself, I’ll just get myself ready every game and get ready when the team needs me and give 100% of myself,” Chang said through interpreter Patrick Chu.

Chang certainly looks like the best version of himself in a Rays uniform, even in Spring Training. The sure-handed shortstop crushed a home run to the back of the boardwalk in right-center field during the second inning of the Rays’ 9-9 tie against the Tigers on Sunday afternoon.

Chang hasn’t hit much in the Majors over parts of five seasons, carrying a .204/.265/.359 line in 650 plate appearances. He finds work because he’s a reliable defensive shortstop who can play around the infield. The only place he’s been even a league-average hitter? Tampa Bay, as he hit .260/.305/.385 -- with three homers and a 100 adjusted OPS+ -- over 36 games in '22.

“He did that for us a couple of times. Got up, unloaded on a pitch and drove it out,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I think he has some comfort here and some comfort working with [hitting coach Chad Mottola], and anytime you have early success, it’s only going to provide that much more comfort.”

The Rays have José Caballero set to start the season at shortstop, with Taylor Walls due back at some point early on. Rosario now seems likely to back up Caballero in the early going while also playing second and the corner-outfield spots, with Curtis Mead another option if he cracks the Opening Day roster.

At the plate
• Yandy Díaz struck out in both his at-bats, and Jonny DeLuca went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Josh Lowe had a single and a walk and scored two runs, one of them on a second-inning double that Harold Ramírez barreled to center. Isaac Paredes went hitless in his first appearance of the spring.

• Outfield prospect Kameron Misner hit a stunningly shallow inside-the-park home run in the seventh, dropping a pop-up between four Tigers defenders in right field then hustling around the bases when one of them kicked the ball away.

“If he doesn't get out of the box, there's no chance of that play happening,” Cash said. “But he busted it out, and his speed allowed him to get there.”

• Ruben Cardenas played a big part in the Rays’ six-run rally to tie the game, swatting a homer to left-center in the seventh then adding an RBI double in the eighth.

“He can flat-out hit in Spring Training,” Cash said of Cardenas, a .271/.345/.479 hitter in the Minors. “I know he hits in Durham as well, but he comes in, it seems like every spring we've had him, pretty locked in, timed up and really driving the baseball.”

On the mound
• Veteran non-roster invitee Erasmo Ramírez pitched two innings to start Sunday’s game, but the best performances may have come at the end from three Minor League call-ups: Keyshawn Askew, Ian Seymour and Austin Vernon.

Askew, featuring a funky left-handed delivery, struck out two in a perfect seventh inning. Seymour picked up a strikeout in a clean eighth, then Vernon got a pair of strikeouts in a 1-2-3 ninth.

“Encouraged by the strike-throwing. They came in and said, ‘Here it is. Hit it,’” Cash said. “Askew and Vernon, especially, were just really attacking the zone.”

• Four pitchers faced hitters in live batting practice on Sunday morning. Relievers Jason Adam, Garrett Cleavinger and Colby White each threw one inning, and lefty Jacob Lopez worked two.

Up next
The Rays will play their first road game of the spring on Monday afternoon, heading north to face the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. Rosario is expected to play shortstop after DHing in his spring debut with the Rays, while Jose Siri, top prospect Junior Caminero, Curtis Mead, Jonathan Aranda and Richie Palacios are also slated to start.

Reliever Kevin Kelly is the only pitcher on the 40-man roster scheduled to pitch against Baltimore. Pitching prospect Trevor Martin, who had a 3.52 ERA in 25 outings for Single-A Charleston last year, is listed to start.