Job secure, Littell opens spring in peak form

February 27th, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- hasn’t been afforded a lot of job security over the years. He has always had to fight for his spot on the roster, and he has never entered the year locked in as a key part of his team’s pitching staff. Spring Training is typically an uncertain time for him -- a time to compete, not just prepare.

After transforming from a reliever on the edge of the roster to a critically important stretch-run starter for the Rays last season, this spring is a little different for Littell.

“He’s probably pitching Game 2 or 3 for us to start the season. That’s got to be a good feeling for him,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He earned it.”

It is indeed a nice feeling for Littell, who struck out three without a walk and allowed just one hit over two scoreless innings to start the Rays’ 4-2 win over the Yankees on Tuesday afternoon at Charlotte Sports Park. The right-hander threw 35 pitches, including 25 strikes, picking up right where he left off last season.

“That first one’s a good gauge on where you’re at as far as mechanics and stuff, so coming out of that, obviously encouraged,” Littell said. “Still some stuff to work on.”

Pitching coach Kyle Snyder loves using Spring Training to test new things. Littell is a tinkerer by nature, if switching his position on the rubber and adding two new pitches last season didn’t make that obvious.

One difference this spring is that Littell has the opportunity to build up his pitch count and fine-tune his game without having to worry about whether it’ll cost him his job.

“It’s nice to have a true six weeks where … you can go out there and you can really play with this stuff and find what works, and either run with it or say, 'Hey, we’re going the wrong direction,'” Littell said.

Basabe banged up
Utility infielder Osleivis Basabe left the game in the eighth inning after appearing to hit his head during an awkward slide into third base. Basabe lay face-down for some time before sitting up and eventually walking off the field, with C.J. Hinojosa coming in to replace him.

“I think [Basabe] either hit the ground or hit the base, but dinged his head up pretty good,” Cash said immediately after the game. “He’s better now, but in the moment, it stunned him pretty good.”

Basabe remained in Tampa Bay’s dugout until the end of the game, and he was expected to be evaluated by doctors. The 23-year-old, who held down the shortstop job at times late last season, is competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Around the horn
• Delayed a few days by an illness, Brandon Lowe was in the lineup for the first time this spring. Lowe started at second base, went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and felt no issues with his back (which sidelined him at times the past two years) or right knee (which was fractured in late September, ending his season).

“Been strong, been healthy, so just trying to do whatever I can to stay out there,” Lowe said.

• Left-hander Tyler Alexander worked two scoreless innings in relief with one hit allowed and two strikeouts in his first appearance for the Rays. A swingman claimed off waivers from the Tigers in November, Alexander will be built up to pitch at least three innings in camp.

“He looked really, really good,” Cash said. “He looks like he’s got a lot of pitchability, which we thought, and he showed it today.”

• Randy Arozarena also made his spring debut, starting in left field and going 0-for-3 with a strikeout.

• Catching prospect Logan Driscoll made an incredible play to end the sixth inning, leaping over the backstop and into the protective netting to snag a foul popup behind the plate.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a catcher do something like that,” Cash said. “Looked like Spider-Man.”

Up next
Right-hander Ryan Pepiot will make his Grapefruit League debut on Wednesday afternoon as the Rays head north to play the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark in Dunedin. Right-hander Chris Devenski, being stretched out for a bulk role, is also scheduled to pitch. So are lefties Keyshawn Askew and Antonio Jimenez and right-handers Manuel Rodríguez, Edwin Uceta, Colby White and Nathan Wiles.

Amed Rosario (starting in right field), Jonathan Aranda, Isaac Paredes and Jose Siri are among the regulars expected to be in the lineup. First pitch is set for 1:07 p.m. ET. The game will not be carried by Bally Sports Sun or Rays Radio.