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Rays talking to free-agent C Derek Norris

The Rays are among the teams talking with free-agent C Derek Norris, that Tampa Bay Times has learned, but according to a source as of Thursday night "are on the outside looking in.''

Norris was released last week by the Nationals - because they signed Matt Wieters whom the Rays pursued - and was paid about $700,000 in termination pay, one-sixth of his $4.2-million arbitration contract. He is free to sign elsewhere and negotiate his best deal.

Signing Norris, 28, would give the Rays a more experienced option behind the plate, as they otherwise would be picking two catchers from the group of Curt Casali, Luke Maile and Jesus Sucre, who was acquired just before spring training from the Mariners. Norris has made 446 big-league starts for Oakland and San Diego, Casali has made 116, Sucre 77 and Maile 43.

Norris is coming off a rough offensive year in San Diego, where he hit .186 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs, though only a .255 on-base percentage and .583 OPS. While his offense has been in a two-year decline since his 2014 All-Star season with Oakland, his defensive work, specifically his pitch framing, has improved. …

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Three takeaways from Thursday's 5-5 tie against the Yankees

Shawn Tolleson faced seven batters Thursday and retired three while allowing two runs on two hits and two walks.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Shawn Tolleson faced seven batters Thursday and retired three while allowing two runs on two hits and two walks.

3 takeaways from Thursday’s 5-5 tie with the Yankees

1. The Rays are expecting RHP Shawn Tolleson to be a big part of the bullpen but the former closer for the Rangers continues to struggle. His velocity, which should be in the mid-90s, is in the low 90s. He faced seven batters Thursday and retired three while allowing two runs on two hits and two walks. He did strike out a batter but allowed a home run to Ronald Torreyes.

Manager Cash called Tolleson out after the game, saying he is concerned and that Tolleson needs to get going during the last week of camp. Tolleson, who has struggled with back spasms this spring, has a 7.20 ERA in five appearances.

The Rays are looking at Tolleson as a veteran arm for the bullpen, something they covet. But his struggles could open the door for rookies RHP Austin Pruitt or RHP Jaime Schultz to make the squad.

2. How much fun would it be to see Jumbo Diaz coming out of the bullpen this season? He’s 6-foot-4 and listed at 280 pounds, though he looks like he tips the scale at 300.

He has a big fastball and enough big league experience to be considered a veteran arm.  …

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Archer shares thoughts on USA's title at WBC

Chris Archer pitched 5-2/3 innings earlier Wednesday night against the Orioles in Sarasota.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Chris Archer pitched 5-2/3 innings earlier Wednesday night against the Orioles in Sarasota.

Chris Archer, the man who began Team USA’s run through the World Baseball Classic on March 10 with four perfect innings against Columbia, did not stay up Wednesday night to see the final out of USA’s win against Puerto Rico in the WBC championship game.

Archer, who pitched 5-2/3 innings earlier in the evening against the Orioles in Sarasota, said he called it a night with USA up 8-0, which remained unchanged.

When asked Thursday morning about USA’s first WBC championship, Archer said, “It’s fantastic. I think it shows the level of talent, the depth of the talent that USA had. People were upset because Player X, Y or Z wasn’t there, and we still won. People were upset because (Clayton) Kershaw and (Madison) Bumgarner weren’t there, but starting pitchers had a 1-something ERA. The Latin countries, their elite talent is equal, but the depth of the talent for USA is amazing, phenomenal.” 

Archer was on schedule to pitch Wednesday night, but Team USA officials told him he wasn’t needed.  …

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Boxberger to begin season on disabled list

Brad Boxberger will miss the start of the season because of soreness in his lat/back that resurfaced while throwing live batting practice last week.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Brad Boxberger will miss the start of the season because of soreness in his lat/back that resurfaced while throwing live batting practice last week.

It is now official: Brad Boxberger will miss the start of the season because of soreness in his lat/back that resurfaced while throwing live batting practice last week.

Boxberger said he will not throw until the pain goes away, which he said should take a week. Then he will build arm strength from there and join the team sometime in April.

“Obviously disappointing,” Boxberger said. “It’s the second year in a row in spring I have to deal with (an injury). Let’s take the time now to get it right and hope for a quick recovery and come back.”

Boxberger missed the first two months of last season after having surgery in March to repair the adductor brevis muscle in the groin area.

He returned May 30 then injured his left oblique the following day during his first appearance of the season. That injury kept Boxberger on the DL until the end of July.

Boxberger thinks his latest setback stems from last year’s injuries.

“It was a freak thing coming back, my body getting adjusted to everything after the ups and downs from last year,” he said. “I think that’s part of it from starting and stopping so much last year. Probably carrying over a little bit.”  …

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Rays' Sternberg says top choice unavailable, stadium search ongoing

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg revealed Thursday that they have been denied their top stadium choice, or even top two.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg revealed Thursday that they have been denied their top stadium choice, or even top two.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg still expects to conclude the search for a new stadium site in the Tampa Bay area this year, but revealed Thursday that they have been denied their top choice, or even top two.

"We had some ideas on locations that just weren't available, that I thought would have worked perfectly, but they're off the table,'' Sternberg said in Port Charlotte. "So we're sort of moving down our list to Nos. 2, 3 and 4. It's like starting pitchers, you have five of them and sometimes No. 4 is better than No. 2, but rarely better than No. 1. The No. 1 is the No. 1. I hate to be mixing these sort of metaphors, but it sort of works in this case.

"We did have a choice that we thought that was going to be ideal, a choice or two, and it was going to be unavailable. We would have had to flesh it out. But we're working and trying to find out what will be next best.''

Sternberg would not say where that site was, or even whether it was in Pinellas or Hillsborough.

Asked how confident he was their years long search would conclude with a workable site in the Tampa Bay area, Sternberg said: "It's unknown at this point.'' …

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Bauers, Gillaspie among those sent back to minor league camp

Jake Bauers had an impressive camp, batting .353 with a .439 on-base percentage and a .824 slugging percentage with four home runs and 11 RBI.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Jake Bauers had an impressive camp, batting .353 with a .439 on-base percentage and a .824 slugging percentage with four home runs and 11 RBI.

The Rays reassigned INF/OF Jake Bauers, OF Johnny Field, 1B Casey Gillaspie, INF Jake Hager, 3B Patrick Leonard, OF Dayron Varona, RHP Andrew Kittredge and RHP Neil Wagner this morning to minor league camp.

The team also released RHP David Carpenter and RHP Jeff Walters.

Bauers had an impressive camp, batting .353 with a .439 on-base percentage and a .824 slugging percentage with four home runs and 11 RBI.

“What did he not show,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re excited about him. Just his overall approach to hitting is what stands out more than anything. I think he actually got better in the outfield, and it was a good experience. He’s going to play outfield and first base.”

The power was great, but Cash was impressed with Bauers’ approach at the plate; how he worked counts and drew walks – 6 in 40 plate appearances.

“The hitability,” Cash said. “The power is something that kind of naturally comes. Obviously, it’s cool to see homers and everything. Just the pitch recognition, how he was able to turn a bat over and layoff pitches and put himself in good counts.”

Gillaspie hit .211 with three home runs and eight RBI. Cash said he showed “kind of the same thing” as Bauers.

  …

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Rays report: Rays host Yankees with ESPN televising, 1:05

Austin Pruitt, one of the prospects making an push for a job in the bullpen, will start for the Rays.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Austin Pruitt, one of the prospects making an push for a job in the bullpen, will start for the Rays.

The Rays are back in Port Charlotte today to host the Yankees with ESPN televising, first pitch at 1:05.


RHP Austin Pruitt, one of the prospects making an push for a job in the bullpen, will start for the Rays. LHP Jordan Montgomery will start for the Yankees.

Also slated to pitch for the Rays: RH Chase Whitley, RH Danny Farquhar, RH Shawn Tolleson, LH Xavier Cedeño, RH David Carpenter.

Based on the calendar and schedule, the Rays could be making more cuts today.

Here are the lineups:

 

YANKEES

Ellsbury CF

Hicks LF

Bird 1B

Carter DH

Judge RF

Romine C

Torreyes 3B

Solano 2B

Kozma SS

Montgomery P

 

RAYS

Beckham SS

Kiermaier RF

Longoria 3B

Weeks 1B

Souza RF

Rasmus DH

Sucre C

Franklin 2B

Smith LF

Pruitt P

 

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3 takeaways from Rays 7-4 loss at Orioles

3 takeaways from Rays 7-4 loss to Orioles :

-- Chris Archer had another solid outing, despite allowing three earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. For one, he pitched deep into the game, which was his goal. Also, he stayed away from the slider, his best pitch, so he could continue to work on his fastball.

Archer needs to improve his fastball command in order to take the next step as a pitcher. He said after the outing that he commanded his fastball well last season in the games in which he had his most success. That only makes his slider more effective. It’s good to see him take a plan into spring training, stick with it and see it have success.

-- DH Colby Rasmus asked to play Wednesday, making it three games in four days. The Rays want to be careful with him and not overdue it and risk having a setback with his surgically repaired hip and core muscle. But Rasmus said he felt fine and wanted the at-bats.

He’s working right now on letting the pitch get deep on him to avoid swinging at balls out of the strike zone. Hitting an opposite field home run to left field during his third at-bat was proof that is working. He also singled in a run his first time up. …

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Rays report: Archer on mound vs. Orioles in Sarasota, 6:05

Chris Archer is slated for his last long test of the spring, working seven innings or throwing 105 pitches.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Chris Archer is slated for his last long test of the spring, working seven innings or throwing 105 pitches.

UPDATE, 1:16: SS Matt Duffy will fly to N.C. on Thursday to see the doctor who did the Septe,ber surgery on his left heel to see why his recovery has been slow and if some change to his rehab program might help. ... RHP Jumbo Diaz reported to camp, having been claimed on waivers from the Reds while with the Dominican WBC team, and said he is ready to compete for a spot in the bullpen, planning to workout today and throw in the Thursday game,

Here is the Rays lineup:
Dickerson LF,
Kiermaier cf,
Longoria 3b,
Miller 2b,
Rasmus DH,
Morrison 1b,
Beckham RF,
Maile c,
Robertson ss,
Archer p

DEVELOPING: RHP Chris Archer had been planning to pitch in Los Angeles tonight in the WBC final, but wiith Team USA officials telling him they had other plans he will take his regular turn with the Rays against the Orioles in Sarasota at 6:05.

Archer is slated for his last long test of the spring, working seven innings or throwing 105 pitches. LHP Justin Marks and RHP Andrew Kittredge are also slated to pitch.

Most of the big-name players are on the travel squad, including 3B Evan Longoria and CF Kevin Kiermaier.

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3 takeaways from Rays' 5-4 walkoff loss to Pirates

Daniel Robertson has a real chance to make the Rays out of spring training.

CHRIS URSO | Times

Daniel Robertson has a real chance to make the Rays out of spring training.

3 takeaways from Rays 5-4 loss Pirates

* INF Daniel Robertson has a real chance to make the team. With Matt DUffy out and Tim Beckham sliding into the starting SS job, Robertson could make the team as a utility infielder given the need for a right-handed bat. After a slow start, and the maturity to scrap changes he made during the winter to his stance by adding a leg kick, Robertson has looked better at the plate and in the field. Depending on if the Rays add a right-handed hitting outfielder, Robertson could be competing with Michael McKenry or Nick Franklin for a roster spot. "I'm happy to be out there playing, having fun, feeling relaxed,' he said. "I'm really free of mind right not, letting the game come to me.'' …

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Cash sees reason for optimism despite bullpen issues

Shawn Tolleson is working his way back from back issues.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Shawn Tolleson is working his way back from back issues.

With RHP Brad Boxberger injured, RHP Shawn Tolleson working his way back from back issues and RHP Jumbo Diaz still making his way to camp from the WBC, the Rays have plenty of reasons to be concerned about a bullpen that needed improvement to begin with.

But having RHP Alex Colome back healthy from the WBC and seeing good things this spring from non-roster veteran RHP Tommy Hunter help.

And the performance of several others who were not considered prime candidates give manager Kevin Cash reason to feel better about things.

That group includes Chase Whitley, Austin Pruitt, Justin Marks, Jaime Schultz, Diego Moreno and Andrew Kittredge.

"I think where we are right now we're probably a lot more optimistic about some of the candidates,  the way they've showed up this spring,'' Cash said. "When you come in you don't have a really good sense of those guys. You see them throw their 10 innings-12 innings and they've thrown the ball really well.''

As for Hunter, Cash said a couple of adjustments the Rays suggested seem to have helped. …

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Rays seeking answers on Matt Duffy's slow rehab

Matt Duffy remains  limited to drills and strengthening exercises on his left heel and will be sidelined into April.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Matt Duffy remains limited to drills and strengthening exercises on his left heel and will be sidelined into April.

The Rays are trying to seek answers about the slow rehab pace of SS Matt Duffy, who remains  limited to drills and strengthening exercises on his left heel and will be sidelined into April.

"I hope in the next few days we get a little more clarity,'' manager Kevin Cash said Tuesday. "I know we're talking to doctors and stuff like that trying to get a sense. I think we're to the point now that some of these issues might not even be from the actual surgery, and I'm saying that in a good way. Maybe we get him checked out and it's something we can do something different with and treat a little differently.''

Duffy had heel issues when acquired Aug. 1 from the Giants for Matt Moore, and underwent surgery Sept. 9 with the expectation he would be limited a bit in spring training but ready for opening day. That has not been the case, as Duffy has not started running yet. much less played in any games.

Cash said Duffy may go to Charlotte to see Dr. Bob Anderson, who did the surgery.

In Duffy's absence, Tim Beckham is expected to be the starting shortstop.

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Rays report: Cobb on mound in Bradenton, 1:05

Alex Cobb, who last worked in a minor-league game on Thursday, will be on the mound for the Rays.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Alex Cobb, who last worked in a minor-league game on Thursday, will be on the mound for the Rays.

UPDATE, 10:39: Pirates lineup, with ex-Ray John Jaso at 3b:
Frazier ss
Goseelin 1b
Jaso 3b
Cervelli c
Osuna lf
Ortiz cf
Wood rf
Moroff 2b
Kuhl p

UPDATE, 9:07: Colome has rejoined the Rays from the WBC, said he enjoyed the experience a lot, his arm feels good and he is excited to be back with his team to get ready for the season. ... Boxberger acknowledged that he won't be ready for opening day and doesn't know how far behind he will be due to the lat strain but still maintains it is not serious. ... RHP Jumbo Diaz had not yet reported as of this morning.

Here is the Rays lineup:
Smith cf,
Weeks DH,
Souza RF,
Gillaspie 1b,
Bauers LF,
Franklin 2b,
Casali c,
Robertson ss,
Leonard 3b,
Cobb p …

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3 takeaways from Rays 5-4 loss to Pirates

Kevin Kiermaier drives home Jesus Sucre with a single in the fifth.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Kevin Kiermaier drives home Jesus Sucre with a single in the fifth.

3 takeaways from Rays 5-4 loss to Pirates:

* CF Kevin Kiermaier isn't going to slow down one bit after getting a big contract. In his first at-bat after the deal was formally announced Monday morning, Kiermaier busted down the line to beat out an infield hit, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch, then scored on a hit. On a day negotiations were coming to a head last week, he made a running and leaping catch in centerfield. "That's him,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "That's probably part of the reason he put himself in those talks to begin with.''

* LHP Blake Snell needs to settle down and sharpen up quickly. Though Cash said Snell was "a little better" on Monday, the second year lefty has not been sharp throughout the spring, and it's getting old to hear him keep saying he knows what he has to do to get better. With just one more long outing on Sunday vs. the Yankees and then a short one before the start of the season, the Rays would feel a lot better to see Snell, their likely No. 4 starter, pitch better. …

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Rays Kiermaier: 'I'm the happiest man on the planet right now'

Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) answers questions during a press conference announcing his six-year, $53.5 million deal with the team at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, March 17, 2017.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) answers questions during a press conference announcing his six-year, $53.5 million deal with the team at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, March 17, 2017.

Rays CF Kevin Kiermaier had plenty of reasons to be happy on Monday as the team formally announced the new contract that guarantees him $53.5-million over six years and could be worth up to $66.15-million over seven.

"This is a day that I can't say its unbelievable because I've always dreamed of this and I've worked my butt off ever since I got to junior college to try and make this moment happen, and here it is. I couldn't be more thankful and grateful for this opportunity and everything else that comes along with it. A lot of hard work and dedication can make a lot of great things happen.

"I'm telling you, I'm the happiest man on the planet right now.''

Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman and agent Larry Reynolds joined Kiermaier for the announcement, and both spoke to his character and dedication, certian that the big bucks won't change anything about him.

Signing on long-term and giving up potential greater earnings in the future can be difficult for some players, but not Kiermaier, who said, "This was an easy decision for me to be honest and I'm so glad it's done now.'' …

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