PORT CHARLOTTE - The only constant with the Tampa Bay Rays is change. They were separated from their two longest-tenured players, and must revamp again as they try to get back to the playoffs.
Gone from the Rays are James Shields, the winningest pitcher in their history, and BJ Upton, one of their best young position players. But they retain a strong, young pitching staff led by the 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price.
“He’s what…26? Even though he’s got Cy (Young) in his bedroom now, I don’t want him to change anything. I just want him to be himself. He’ll continue to grow…that’s the thing about growth – you can’t force it. You can’t force leadership,” says manager Joe Maddon.
Wednesday was the first day on the field for pitchers and catchers, and although Jeff Niemann is assured of a rotation spot, he still gets tense on the first day. “You always have the Day One nerves. The first day you do stretching line, you try to not fall over or do something silly like that. It’s just great to be out here in the great weather, just get the uniform back on.”
One of the best things for this pitching staff is that the catchers remain the same this year, led by Jose Molina. The continuity benefits both pitchers and catchers. “It’s always nice when you keep the same group together in some form. Especially in that regard because the pitchers did so well last year, and these catchers know these guys, and they know how we do things. They know he we work, scout-wise,” says Maddon.
Whereas the Yankees have the Yankee Way, the Rays under Maddon have to indoctrinate new players to the Rays way of doing things. “We give the guys a lot of latitude, I expect a lot of discipline in return for latitude. So I know a lot of them haven’t heard that before…kind of like a minor message with the major message, the state of the union will come on the first day,” says Maddon.
The Rays first spring game is February 23rd at home in Port Charlotte against the Pittsburgh Pirates.