MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

O'Conner headlines talented group of Rays prospects in AFL

Catcher, drafted out of HS, improving skills in Fall League after banner year

O'Conner headlines talented group of Rays prospects in AFL

Teams have to be patient with high-school hitters taken in the Draft. Not everyone can be a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in terms of their rapid progression to the big leagues.

That might go double for catchers taken from the prep ranks. Learning to hit professional pitching is hard enough; adding in the nuances of catching it as well can be a gargantuan task.

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The Rays may look back at the 2014 season as the one when Justin O'Conner started to really "get it." The young catcher, taken at the end of the first round of the 2010 Draft, had a banner season in the Minors, reaching Double-A for the first time.

"I feel like I'm improving, just being able to control a pitching staff, knowing what they like to do on a daily basis," O'Conner said prior to his Peoria Javelinas taking the field in the Arizona Fall League. "Being able to be healthy and stay on the field, getting in the rhythm of playing, getting to know my pitchers, doing everything I can to make them better, it's pretty important."

O'Conner's skills behind the plate will be very important for the Rays once he reaches the big league level. He has tremendous arm strength and threw out 55 percent of would-be basestealers in 2014. Catching in the AFL will give him the opportunity to work with different pitchers and catch a higher level of competition.

"It's a great opportunity to get better and be around a lot of high-caliber players, match up against some good talent," O'Conner said. "You have guys that seem to have a plan of what they like to do; they know themselves a little bit better. Being around these guys, picking their brains and learning from them, it's going to help."

Being challenged by this level of pitching is also going to help O'Conner's offensive game. He made strides at the plate this past season, raising his OPS more than 100 points from his full-season debut in 2013 to .782. He had 49 extra-base hits, and he's starting to learn how to tap into his raw power. But that doesn't mean O'Conner will ever forget his bread and butter.

"If I can help out with the bat, great," O'Conner said, "But my main focus is being there for my pitchers and trying to do what I can, catching, to help my ballclub."

Rays hitters in the AFL
While the other parts of the James Shields trade have paid big league dividends already, don't forget about Patrick Leonard. The first baseman came to the Rays along with Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi and is coming off of a solid season in the Florida State League, improving his numbers across the board from his full-season debut in 2013. He's still learning to tap into his power consistently, but he's moving in the right direction.

The Rays took Kes Carter out of Western Kentucky University with the No. 56 pick in the 2011 Draft, and he has struggled to get his bat going. He did reach Double-A this year, albeit with a .674 OPS. The outfielder has played center and right during the regular season and has seen time in left in the AFL as the Rays try to determine if he has a future as a fourth-outfielder type and deserves a spot on the 40-man roster.

Rays pitchers in the AFL
A 15th-round 2012 Draft pick of the Phillies out of Central Michigan, Zach Cooper was released by Philadelphia in March of this year. The Rays signed him to a Minor League deal in May, and the 24-year-old reliever made 22 appearances in the Florida State League. The undersized right-hander has some command issues, but he possesses a decent fastball-slider combination that could work out of the bullpen. The AFL should be a stiff challenge for Cooper, allowing the Rays a glimpse at whether Cooper is ready for the upper levels.

Like Cooper, Matt Lollis started in a different organization, a 15th-round pick of the Padres back in 2009. The right-handed reliever was shipped to Tampa Bay in a package that sent Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn to San Diego. Listed at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, Lollis is an imposing presence on the mound, featuring a fastball that touches the mid-90s and a slider. Lollis spent the year in Double-A where he had a 4.03 ERA over 73 2/3 innings and could be auditioning for a 40-man spot or a Rule 5 selection by another team this fall.

Sometimes senior signings late in the Draft turn out to exceed expectations. The Rays are hopeful that's the case with Colton Reavis, a 30th-round selection in 2013 out of Northwood University. Reavis pitched across two levels of Class A ball, showing some swing-and-miss stuff, along with some shaky command at times. He does have a 93-94 mph fastball to go along with a slider coming from a bit of a max effort delivery.

Another college signing from 2013, Jaime Schultz was a 14th-rounder from High Point University, a red-shirted junior who missed the 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery. Schultz also pitched at two levels of Class A ball during his first full season, though the Rays are developing him as a starter for now. Largely a reliever in college, that might be his long-term home, though he can maintain his velocity (up to mid-90s) deep into starts and has solid breaking stuff. Command is the one thing that could hold up his progress.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays promote Bloom, Neander to VP, baseball operations

Rays promote Bloom, Neander to VP, baseball operations

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays concluded a busy week of shuffling in upper management on Friday when Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander were each promoted to the position of vice president, baseball operations.

On Tuesday, the announcement came that Andrew Friedman had left the Rays organization to assume a newly created position with the Dodgers as president, baseball operations. The move by the ex-Rays executive vice president of baseball operations triggered a series of executive leadership changes within the organization.

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Matt Silverman, who was team president, became president of baseball operations. Brian Auld, who was senior vice president of business operations, became team president.

Bloom and Neander worked closely with Friedman in their roles as directors of baseball operations. So the idea that both would assume greater responsibilities under Silverman was not a stretch, particularly after listening to what Rays manager Joe Maddon had to say about the pair on Tuesday.

"I thought the way Andrew groomed Chaim and Erik and the other guys in the front office, I thought he did a great job with that," Maddon said. "And with that, now the fact that [Friedman is] not going to be there, I know these guys are going to be comfortable in their roles."

In their new roles, Bloom and Neander will assist Silverman in all aspects of the department.

"Erik and Chaim's promotions are well-deserved, as they have been essential contributors to our operation for years," Silverman said. "I look forward to working with them in all facets of baseball operations, and I know they will continue to be great leaders of our deeply talented and dedicated department."

Bloom, 31, joined the Rays in February 2005 and had worked in a variety of roles before becoming director, baseball operations in November 2011. His areas of focus have included player development, international scouting, contract negotiation and management of the Major League roster. The Philadelphia native graduated from Yale University in 2004. He and his wife, Aliza, live in St. Petersburg with their son, Isaiah.

"I'm extremely grateful to Matt and Stu Sternberg for this opportunity," Bloom said. "The Rays are fortunate to have a deep and talented staff -- top-flight people who are committed to success. We are all eager to continue our tireless work in pursuit of a championship."

Neander, 31, joined the baseball operations department in January 2007. He spent the past three seasons as director, baseball operations, assisting in all aspects of the baseball operations department, with an emphasis on player personnel and research and development. The Oneonta, N.Y., native graduated from Virginia Tech. He and his wife, Jessica, reside in Tampa with their son, Penn.

"I'm very thankful to Stu and Matt for believing in me, and I'm excited for the challenges ahead," Neander said. "It's a privilege to work with so many bright, passionate people. We remain committed to building upon our experiences and competing deep into October."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays sign right-hander Kohn to a one-year contract

Rays sign right-hander Kohn to a one-year contract

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays made their first move of the offseason on Thursday when they signed right-hander Michael Kohn to a one-year Major League contract.

Kohn's signing brings the Rays 40-man roster to its full capacity.

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Kohn, 28, made the Angels' Opening Day roster and compiled a 3.04 ERA in 25 appearnaces before being optioned on June 3. At one point he went 17 straight appearances without allowing an earned run. The Rays snapped that streak on May 16 at Angel Stadium.

Though he had another stint in the Major Leagues this season (June 28-July 1), he did not pitch.

Kohn has a 3.52 ERA in 88 appearances the past two seasons since missing the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery. He is 5-6 with a 3.67 ERA and 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings pitched over four Major League seasons.

Kohn's first career win came on Sept. 17, 2010 against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Kohn will join what appears to be a crowded bullpen. The Rays headed into the offseason with a host of right-handed relievers, including: Grant Balfour, Brad Boxberger, Kirby Yates, Joel Peralta, Brandon Gomes and Steve Geltz.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Team president Auld 'thrilled' with new position

Friedman's move to Dodgers led to transitions within organization

Team president Auld 'thrilled' with new position

ST. PETERSBURG -- The "new" guy isn't exactly a new guy within the Rays organization, but team president Brian Auld felt like a new guy around the media on Wednesday.

"It's been significantly more media to this point than I've done the last 10 years," said Auld of his first day on the job. "Other than that, it's been a lot of the same old, same old."

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The announcement was made on Tuesday that Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, would be moving to the Dodgers to assume a newly created position as president, baseball operations.

Friedman's move triggered a series of executive leadership changes within the organization.

Former team president Matt Silverman will now serve as president of baseball operations, and Auld, who was senior vice president of business operations, became team president.

When asked about his initial priority, Auld, 37, said he believes "it's really important to reassure everybody on our staff and our fans that we're in great shape."

Auld joined the organization in June of 2005 at the urging of Silverman, his high school friend from Dallas. Auld has an MBA from Harvard Business School, a bachelor's in economics and a master's in education from Stanford. When the Rays hired him, he was working as a fourth grade teacher at Palo Alto (Calif.) Charter School. Upon joining the Rays, he became the director of planning and development, assisting Silverman.

"It's absolutely incredible," said Auld, acknowledging the amazing journey Friedman, Silverman and he have traveled. "And I want to stress that I appreciate as much as one can how fortunate I've been to be in the position I'm in."

Auld's teaching experience taught him to come to work every day ready to be his best.

"You can't show up in a classroom of 25 9-year-olds unprepared," Auld said. "... The other is to learn to rely on the support staff around you to every degree possible. You need help. ... So I've gotten very comfortable delegating over the years and trusting really, really confident people to do their jobs well."

Auld spoke about the mission statement that he, and others, helped create once principal owner Stuart Sternberg took control of the organization following the 2005 season. The gist of the statement "was to energize our community through the magic of Major League Baseball."

"And at the end of the day that drives almost everything we do," Auld said. "We really want people to get everything they can out of a Major League Baseball team. And they can. It's special.

"We are stewards of a very important community asset. And it's our responsibility, and now my responsibility as a leader, to make sure that that asset is as efficiently run as possible and does as much good as it possibly can."

Auld is proud of the team's growing fan base, which he said is "night and day" since Sternberg took control.

"When we first got here, we initiated a program to give free tickets to anyone we saw wearing Rays gear," said Auld with a chuckle. "And we can't afford to do that anymore, I'm pleased to say. You can't walk around town without running into Rays gear.

"And people wear it with pride and the brand stands for excellence, and the brand stands for great affinity. And we have a Rays republic now, and I can't say we had that when we got here. And the creation of that fan base is probably what we're most proud of. We have succeeded in energizing our community."

Based on the popularity the Rays appear to have achieved, and how the brand has been built, Auld noted that the organization is "bewildered" about the low attendance at Tropicana Field. But he was quick to point out that he likes to focus on how much better the attendance is than it once had been.

"We've made really significant strides," Auld said. "... Obviously, we're not satisfied with where we are, so we're doubling down on the challenge and we'll continue to work on it.

"But part of being the Tampa Bay Rays is embracing the challenge. It's enjoying the underdog effort and knowing that while the odds are stacked against us, we're going to figure out a way to make it work."

As for the ongoing pursuit of a new stadium, Auld said he's "ridden sidecar on the stadium situation" since it first became a talked about issue in 2007.

"I'm optimistic," Auld said. "I think that things are going pretty well with the Mayor [of St. Petersburg]. I think that we're having productive talks, and I really look forward to seeing what the future brings. Obviously, we need to figure it out.

"We understand that our incentives and the community's incentives are perfectly aligned. Figuring out exactly what that is and where the stadium should go is going to be very challenging. But it needs to go in the best place for the Rays and the best place for the community."

Clearly, Auld is equipped for the job, and his enthusiasm for his new position is evident.

"I'm thrilled to take this job," Auld said. "But I would have been very happy in my other job for the rest of time too. This is a really great place for me and I think it's helped bring out some of the best things in me, and I just look forward to seeing what comes next."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Silverman, Auld assume new roles with Rays as Friedman exits

Silverman, Auld assume new roles with Rays as Friedman exits

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg never thought "it was a matter of time" before Andrew Friedman left the Rays organization, but he understood the climate of Major League Baseball that facilitated Friedman's exodus to the Dodgers on Tuesday to assume a newly created position as president of baseball operations.

"Clearly as good as he is and as desirous as many of the teams are to have somebody who they think is as good as Andrew is, you know they'll keep coming at him and keep trying," Sternberg said. "And I guess at this point the time was just right, specifically for Andrew."

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The move by the former Rays executive vice president of baseball operations triggered a series of executive leadership changes within the organization.

Matt Silverman, who was team president, will now serve as president of baseball operations; and Brian Auld, who was senior vice president of business operations, has been named team president.

Friedman joined the Rays in 2004 as director of baseball development and was named executive vice president in October, 2005.

"As I embark upon my next journey, I have only thanks and gratitude to the Rays organization and the Tampa Bay region for a wonderful 10 years together," said Friedman in a statement issued by the Rays. "I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have been part of something so special and for the passion and support of this exceptional fan base.

"The Rays organization is loaded with talent from ownership to players and everyone between. We were able to create together an unbelievable culture that no doubt will continue, and I am absolutely confident that the successes we achieved will continue into the future."

Friedman led the Rays to four postseason appearances, including two division titles ('08, '10), in nine seasons from 2006-14. Under him, the Rays posted the franchise's first winning season and won the American League pennant in '08, when he was named Sporting News' Executive of the Year. After finishing below .500 in each of its first 10 years of existence, the Rays finished above the .500 mark in six consecutive seasons under Friedman from 2008-13.

"He's a young man, but his abilities exceed his experience level," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's really good. He's one of the best if not the best evaluator I've ever been around. So all that stuff's going to bode him well as he goes out west."

Sternberg said the deal didn't come to fruition "in the last day or two" but he chose not to elaborate on a timeline for Friedman's departure.

"We've been working at this for a period of time," Sternberg said. "We've been coordinating with Andrew as well. It was clear to me that Matt was the right guy to step in. He's worked very close with Andrew and me and with Brian as well, but especially on the baseball side with Andrew and knows all the people in the baseball department, the guys and girls there. And he was absolutely the right person to pick up the baton and take this thing forward."

Sternberg's policy for his executives is to not have them sign contracts, leaving them available to come and go as they please. He acknowledged there were positives and negatives to that approach, but he did say that changing that philosophy in order to try and keep Friedman was never a consideration. He added that he did not expect Friedman to take anybody from the Rays with him to the Dodgers.

Sternberg allowed that one thing he knew about Friedman's choice to leave was that it "was certainly not an easy decision for him."

Silverman joined the Rays in '04 as director of strategic planning and has served as team president since Sternberg became principal owner in October, 2005.

"Andrew, Stu and I first started talking about working together back in 2003," Silverman said. "I could not have imagined then what we've experienced since. Those memories as well as our friendship will last a lifetime. Throughout our organization, we have tremendous talent, camaraderie and dedication. I've had the pleasure of working closely with our baseball staff for years alongside Andrew, and I'm looking forward to our new work together as we strive to get back to our winning ways."

Silverman called Tuesday "a very difficult day" for him personally.

"It's one filled with sadness as one of my best friends in life has moved away and taken a different job," Silverman said. "That's the primary emotion. I'm sure that I'll feel differently a couple of days from now and a couple of weeks from now and I'll be invigorated by the challenge we face. Just like I am every October when we turn the page and start approaching the next season, but for now ... a lot of sadness, a lot of reflection, as well as really good wishes for Andrew."

Auld joined the Rays in '05 and has been a senior vice president since '06, during which time he has managed virtually every facet of business operations for the organization. As team president, he will work closely with Sternberg in overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization.

"For nearly 10 years, I have had the pleasure of working alongside and being mentored by Matt and Stu," Auld said. "Their leadership has made our business synonymous with intelligence and integrity, and I will work hard to live up to that well-deserved reputation. The Rays executive team is among the longest tenured and very best in sports. I can't emphasize enough how fortunate I am to have their support as we look ahead to the future."

Sternberg expressed confidence in Auld, who will be facing a lot of challenges while taking over for Silverman. Specifically, the stadium issue, the Rays' work in the community, ticketing, and upper management issues.

"Quite frankly, I think Brian stepping into Matt's shoes as the president of the team shows the faith and the trust I have in Brian to do that and to do it well," Sternberg said. "We have some tremendous intiatives on the business side here."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays' players laud Friedman's successful tenure

Cobb, Longoria say club is in great shape because of the people still in place

Rays' players laud Friedman's successful tenure

ST. PETERSBURG -- Andrew Friedman leaves a legacy of success as he departs the Rays to assume the newly created position of president of baseball operations for the the Dodgers.

With Friedman as their executive vice president of baseball operations, the Rays moved from laughingstock to pennant contender. And he did so while remaining well respected and popular in the clubhouse.

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Evan Longoria was selected in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft (third overall), which was the first Draft in which Friedman was the club's executive vice president of baseball operations. Longoria progressed to become the Rays' marquee player and came to terms on a long-term deal prior to the 2013 season.

"I am grateful to Andrew for seeing the potential in me and giving me the opportunity to be a Ray," Longoria said in an email. "Although he will be missed, I feel that he has insulated the Rays' clubhouse and staff with great people that will be able to continue the progress we have made as a franchise. I'm glad he isn't sticking around in the AL because he has a knack for putting together a great team! The Dodgers are lucky to have him."

Alex Cobb, who came to the Rays in the fourth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, expressed praise for Friedman while speaking of what his loss means to the organization.

"It's tough for the organization as a whole to lose a guy like him," Cobb said. "But you know, a lot of fans and people in general don't see a lot of what goes on behind closed doors. Being a player, you're fortunate enough to see the hard work that not only Andrew puts in, but we've seen Matt Silverman, Brian Auld, Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander put in.

"A lot of those guys have put in a ton of hard work and have been learning under Andrew for a long time. So the Tampa Bay Rays are still in a very good situation. They're in very good hands with the people that Andrew left them with."

Cobb believes the Dodgers are getting a superstar in Friedman.

"They're getting a guy who is going to make every dollar count over there," Cobb said. "Every dollar that the Dodgers put forward on the payroll, they're going to be paid back tenfold and how they receive that talent on the field. It's just going to be more economical over there. I think things are going to run a lot smoother."

Cobb called Friedman "one of the brightest minds in baseball."

"It's a tough mix to find somebody with that kind of business savvy and baseball savvy rolled into one and they're getting that," Cobb said.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Maddon stresses he wants to remain Rays manager

Amid changes at top, manager downplays speculation of a move

Maddon stresses he wants to remain Rays manager

ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon got the news of Andrew Friedman's move to the Dodgers Tuesday afternoon while southbound in his motorhome driving along the east coast of the United States.

The Rays manager, who planned to stop for the night at Emporia, Va. en route to Tampa, noted how happy he was for Friedman. He also stressed that he wanted to remain as manager of the Rays since Friedman's departure is certain to bring conjecture about his status and the possibility he might become the Dodgers manager. His latest contract expires after the 2015 season, and he has a home in the Los Angeles area. Maddon wanted to nip that speculation in the bud.

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"I'm a Ray and I'm going to be with the Rays and I'm hoping to be with them for a long time," Maddon said. "There's nothing honestly to talk about. I have not been approached. I'm not going to anticipate being approached. I have another year of my contract. I'm sure that we're going to talk a little bit more. But this is not about me, this is about Andrew."

Maddon referred to Friedman's departure as somewhat of a "graduation."

"And I think there's going to be a lot of energy that's going to be derived from it, meaning that a lot of the guys who have been in waiting are now getting their opportunities," Maddon said. "And that they are ready, they've been hustling while they've been waiting. They're ready for this. So I think the guys who have been given different positions will infuse a lot of energy into the situation also."

Maddon allowed that Friedman will be missed, but he believes there will be a seamless transition, in part, because team president Matt Silverman is the person who will be assuming Friedman's duties.

"Anything Andrew did, Matt was included in it," Maddon said. "Of course you're going to miss Andrew. He's got great leadership qualities and in an administrative sense, he's outstanding. And it's hard to replace that, but we have some bright guys left behind who are ready for this challenge."

Maddon said the quality job Friedman did included delegating. Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander are among the more prominent to whom Friedman delegated. Both are directors of baseball operations. They will likely assume greater responsibilities under Silverman, as he transitions to his new post.

"I thought the way Andrew groomed Chaim and Erik and the other guys in the front office, I thought he did a great job with that," Maddon said. "And with that, now the fact that he's not going to be there, I know these guys are going to be comfortable in their roles.

"I know that the guys downstairs, the coaching staff, me, and everybody else will feel comfortable because we know these guys and we worked with these guys. And they know us. So that's what I'm talking about. There's a lot more going on than people realize. And Andrew set it up that way, and he did a great job of it."

Maddon also credited principal owner Stuart Sternberg for being a major factor for cushioning the blow of losing Friedman. Under Sternberg, Maddon, Friedman and Silverman all assumed their positions with the organization prior to the '06 season.

"Stu did a wonderful job," Maddon said. "I think a big talent of Stu's also, is that he hires good people and gives them some direction and gets out of the way. He does a great job with that. He's always there for you and he provides great direction and leadership. So, he did a great job with that and then all the infrastructure with people. Really bright people. Great interpersonal skills.

"We get along so well. Open conversation. There's none of that petty stuff within our front office. That's the beauty of it. Everybody wants success for the entire organization and people individually. So it's really well done."

While Maddon insisted the Rays would march on, he praised his longtime friend, Friedman.

"I'm still trying to process everything," Maddon said. "Today is more about Andrew and the great times together. How we started this. We actually got to the World Series together. We wanted to win it, but it didn't happen. But we did get there.

"We've been to the playoffs several times. And we went from the Devil Rays to the Rays. Talking about a partnership, this is really just closely done between he and I, and everybody else of course."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Goals, philosophy won't change with Friedman's departure

Rays expect transition to go smoothly with Sliverman, Auld changing roles

Goals, philosophy won't change with Friedman's departure

ST. PETERSBURG -- The days and weeks ahead will be somewhat unusual for Tampa Bay's front office, moving on without a close friend and the architect of Tampa Bay's most successful clubs. One key member of the Rays' braintrust is gone, and two others have assumed new titles and responsibilities.

But principal owner Stuart Sternberg and president of baseball operations Matt Silverman made two things clear Tuesday afternoon in discussing former executive vice president Andrew Friedman's departure to the Dodgers: Their goals haven't changed, nor has their philosophy.

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While Silverman and team president Brian Auld will have to adjust to their new roles, and the loss of Friedman is a significant one, it's unlikely that Tuesday's shakeup will dramatically alter the product on or off the field.

"I know it's going to be different, and it's going to take some time to adjust," Silverman said. "The beauty is that the gentlemen leading this baseball operations organization have been doing so for many years."

"We're minus Andrew, and it's a huge loss, and I can't minimize that -- and I won't minimize that -- but it's going to be business as usual for most of us in the department. And we have a lot of work to do. It started a couple weeks ago, and we're going to get down to work tomorrow as if nothing happened."

The changes came down Tuesday afternoon. Friedman left the Rays for a newly created job as the Dodgers' president of baseball operations. Silverman ceded his title as team president to Brian Auld, formerly the senior vice president of business operations, and assumed Friedman's job description.

It's about as smooth a transition as the Rays could have hoped for, and for good reason: It's not something that caught Sternberg off-guard. Friedman had been courted by several teams in recent years, and Sternberg's succession plan lined up Silverman as the head of the Rays' baseball operations department.

Sternberg became the club's principal owner in October 2005. Silverman and Friedman took their most recent posts almost immediately afterward. Auld had been a senior vice president since 2006. Sternberg, Silverman and Auld presented a unified voice on the business side of the Rays' organization, while Sternberg, Friedman and Silverman worked closely with each other and with the entire baseball ops department.

Sternberg called Silverman "absolutely the right person to pick up the baton" from Friedman. It's an appropriate description for a leadership group that intends to pick up where they left off, not start anew.

"My job and my priority is to continue the great work that we've done and continue with the challenge that we face every year of defying the odds," Silverman said. "Our guys, they thrive on that challenge. It drives us. It drives Joe Maddon. It drives the players in the clubhouse. And it's going to be the driving force as we try to continue to innovate with our department, try new things, be bold and get back to our winning ways."

That transition should be made easier by the fact that the supporting cast likely won't change at all. Sternberg and Silverman said in a conference call with reporters that they don't expect anyone to follow Friedman from St. Petersburg to Los Angeles.

Rays manager Joe Maddon has expressed his desire to stay put. Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander, Friedman's top lieutenants, will continue to play a key role in the front office. Scouting director R.J. Harrison and director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics are still on board. Silverman doesn't want or expect to add a senior adviser, a baseball lifer to provide a different perspective.

"It's my expectation that we're going to go forward with the group that we have. It's a well-oiled machine from top to bottom, and we work very well together," Silverman said. "That machine is going to be the key to our success. We hire new people all the time at different levels, but I don't have any expectation, nor desire, to add anyone at the senior level."

Sternberg said Auld will be involved in the Rays' talks with St. Petersburg officials regarding a new stadium "when and if they progress."

"I think Brian stepping into Matt's shoes as the president of this team, it shows the faith and trust that I have in Brian to do it and do it well. We've got some tremendous initiatives ahead of us on the business side here," Sternberg said. "I've really been nothing short of blessed to have these guys working individually and collectively handling my team every day."

So now the Rays will move forward into a few unusual days and weeks, with a close friend and key cog gone and two familiar faces working with new job descriptions. After a disappointing season, Sternberg downplayed his expectations for the 2015 season, but once again stressed his belief in the way the Rays will continue to go about their business.

"I never really have a lot of confidence in these things. The games have to be played," Sternberg said. "But I do have a lot of confidence in the process, and I'm very confident in the process that we're going to have in doing all the things necessary to make certain we've put us in the best position to win."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Rays happy with returns from instructional league

Shortstop Rondon headlines talented crop of club's international prospects

Rays happy with returns from instructional league

The Tampa Bay Rays have been much more active on the international signing front in recent years, beginning with a 2012 signing period that saw them go way over the allotted $2.9 million pool each team was given to spend on international free agents that summer.

That wasn't a one-shot deal, either. They couldn't sign a player for over $250,000 in 2013 as part of the penalty for overspending in 2012, but they were aggressive once again this past summer, surpassing their pool by 75 percent (meaning they won't be able to go over $300,000 for any signing in 2015, in addition to the overage tax).

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Time will tell if it was money well spent, but the Rays did like what they saw in many of their international players who were in Florida for instructional league play, which wrapped up for Tampa Bay on Friday.

"We had quite a few of our young Latin players here this year," Rays director of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. "We feel we have a number of exciting guys who just came to the United States, or will soon."

The Rays' most recent big-ticket item, Adrian Rondon, might get the most attention. Ranked No. 3 on MLB.com's Top 30 International Prospects list heading into the July 2 signing period, Rondon signed for $2.95 million. Rondon didn't turn 16 until July 7, so the Rays had to wait to sign him until he was officially eligible. His time at instructs is his first time the Dominican shortstop has played in the United States.

"He carries himself well," Bloom said. "It's easy to forget he's so young. He's precocious, and some of the good ones do go places when they're young. We have to remind ourselves that there has to be a maturation process both on and off the field -- every player has to build that foundation to prepare himself for the grind that's in his future.

"We obviously think very highly of him, and he's continued to show us great skill -- both in the field and at the plate. He can really impact the ball well for someone so young. Right now, we're still getting him accustomed to how we do things in the professional environment. We want to try to get a lot under his belt to prepare him for next year's challenges."

Rondon was far from the only international signee to perform well at instructs. Juan Carlos Arias, initially ranked No. 20 on MLB.com's 2012 Top 20, couldn't sign until the following June because of an age and identity investigation. The Rays finally got him for $200,000 in mid-June 2013. Like Rondon, Arias has yet to play in this country. A bit "older" at age 19, Arias played third in the Dominican Summer League and hit .236/.329/.391, though he did show some glimpses of the raw power that made him an intriguing prospect in the first place.

"He is a big man with enormous strength potential," Bloom said. "He has big power now and a very good arm. His next challenge is to acclimate to the level of pitching he will see in the States, and instructional league was the start of that process. Our staff who hadn't seen him before were really wowed by his ability, and he made a very positive impression."

The 2012 class that got it all going? They were there in force as well. Jose Castillo (No. 19 on 2012 Top 20), the lefty who got the highest bonus from the class, as well as other higher-priced guys like right-hander Jose Mujica (No. 8) were at instructs. But there are some sleeper types starting to make bigger names for themselves.

Deivy Mendez, younger brother of Rangers right-hander Roman, signed for $120,000 in 2012 and has thrown well. Outfielder Angel Moreno received $188,000 and was one of the youngest from that class to sign, not turning 16 until July 31 of that year. Manny Sanchez is a corner outfielder who joined the organization in April 2013 (technically, still the same signing period).

The Rays were far from conservative with the two teenagers -- Sanchez spent the summer at age 18; Moreno turned 18 at the end of July -- sending the pair to Princeton in the rookie-level Appalachian League for their U.S. debuts. Instructs afforded them the ability to add on to the lessons learned from their Appy League experiences.

"Both got a lot out of the summer in Princeton and showed impressive tools," Bloom said. "They were a bit under the radar the year that they signed, but are starting to emerge. Our international scouting staff deserves a lot of credit for their work with so many of these guys."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Over its 23-year history, the Arizona Fall League has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. This year, once again, many of the game's best young players will gather in the desert, hoping to prove themselves in the same league that helped catapult Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Trout to stardom.

When the AFL opens play Tuesday, the concentration of talent will again be readily apparent. Two of the three Opening Day games feature premium pitching matchups, and the third game is highlighted by two of the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.

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The action begins at 3:35 p.m. ET when Peoria and right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect, visits Surprise and right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose last start was a complete game for the Mariners in the midst of their pennant race.

At the same time Tuesday afternoon, Glendale and shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, will host Mesa and shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. The day ends with another pitchers' duel, as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, will take the mound for Scottsdale at 9:35 p.m. ET at Salt River, facing right-hander Archie Bradley, the D-backs' No. 1 prospect.

Games with that level of talent are commonplace in the AFL, where 23 players ranked on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list will play this season.

For the second year in a row, Byron Buxton, baseball's top ranked prospect, is among the top prospects playing in the desert this fall. Last year, the Twins' No. 1 prospect hit .212/.288/.404 in 12 games as a 19-year-old for Glendale. This year, he will be playing for Salt River as he tries to make up for lost time after missing most of the regular season due to injuries.

Buxton played in just 31 games during the regular season. A wrist injury he suffered during Spring Training delayed his start to the season and continued to hamper him throughout the first half with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Then, in his first game after being promoted to Double-A New Britain in August, he suffered a concussion in a harrowing outfield collision and was sidelined for the final three weeks of the season.

Now healthy again, Buxton will be one of the most-watched players in the AFL. But his is far from the only storyline to watch over the next six weeks.

Making up for lost time
Like Buxton, several other players are headed to Arizona to make up for time they lost to injury during the regular season. Others who are taking advantage of the extra developmental time include outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, and shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect.

Many of the starting pitchers in the AFL are there because injuries prevented them from reaching their innings caps during the regular season. Bradley, Glasnow, Zimmer and Walker all spent part of this season on the disabled list, as did right-handers C.J. Edwards, the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, and Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays' No. 5 prospect.

Recent Draft picks
Last year, just four months after he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs sent third baseman Kris Bryant to the AFL. He hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games. He was named MVP and helped Mesa to the league championship game. That performance helped serve as a springboard for his historic '14 season, when he hit 43 home runs and reached Triple-A.

It is unlikely any player will be able to repeat Bryant's spectacular performance this season. But three members of the '14 Draft class will play in the AFL, led by shortstop Trea Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. He was selected 13th overall in June and hit .323/.406/.448 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases in 69 games between short-season Eugene and Class A Fort Wayne.

In addition to the small group of '14 draftees, several members of the '13 Draft class will play in the AFL. Right-hander Mark Appel, the first overall pick last year, headlines the group. The Astros' No. 2 prospect had a rocky start to his first full professional season, but pitched much better after his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi in July. He will try to build on that progress while pitching with Salt River this fall, where he joins Bradley and Buxton to form one of the most star-studded rosters in the league.

Pace of play
Major League Baseball announced last week a set of experimental rules designed to speed up the pace of play would be used in the AFL this year.

• A hitter must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurs.

• Intentional walks will be called for by the manager and the batter will automatically take first base.

• There will be a maximum break of two minutes, five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one-minute, 45-second mark. If either team doesn't comply, a ball or strike will be assessed accordingly.

• There will be a maximum of two minutes, 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. A ball will be called if a team takes too long.

• Each team will be permitted three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit. Additionally, at Salt River home games, a 20-second pitch clock will be used. Those games will also include instant replay, as MLB continues to study potential modifications to the review system.

The experimental pace of play initiatives continue the AFL's tradition of being a testing lab for MLB's potential rule changes. Last year, the instant replay system was debuted in the AFL.

Defensive moves
Position changes often happen in a less-competitive environment than the AFL, but the league gives players who are moving around the diamond another chance to get experience.

This year, Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect, will be the most prominent player learning a new position. He has exclusively played the outfield in the Minor Leagues, but the Pirates already have a star-studded trio of young outfielders in the big leagues. So, this fall, Bell will try out first base, where he began taking ground balls during the regular season.

Although Peter O'Brien, the D-backs' No. 7 prospect, won't be changing positions when he catches for Salt River this fall, his progress defensively will be closely watched by evaluators. The 24-year old was a catcher in college, but has played four positions since the Yankees drafted him in the second round in '12.

The D-backs acquired O'Brien at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for Martin Prado, but injuries limited him to four games with his new club. The D-backs are sending him to the AFL as a catcher, and how he performs behind the plate over the next six weeks could inform his ultimate defensive home.

No matter where O'Brien ends up defensively, his offensive prowess gives him a chance to reach the Major Leagues. He hit 34 home runs in 106 games this season, ranking fifth among Minor Leaguers.

MLB.com's Top Prospects in AFL
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A's
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A's

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Confident in core, Rays look to fix offensive woes

Confident in core, Rays look to fix offensive woes

ST. PETERSBURG -- Andrew Friedman isn't exactly sure what happened to the Rays in 2014, but the executive vice president of baseball operations is already looking under the hood to make sure things are right heading into '15.

Friedman addressed the media during a Tuesday news conference at Tropicana Field that included Rays manager Joe Maddon.

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Whatever happened to the Rays in '14, Friedman noted: "I think it's on all of us."

In other words, players, coaches, the front office and the manager all share the blame for a campaign that did not meet expectations.

Long before the final out of the season was recorded in Cleveland, the offense stood out as the area most needing to be addressed in the offseason. And that was the area most discussed by Friedman Tuesday.

On the whole, offense was down around Major League Baseball in '14. The average number of runs scored per game came in at 4.07, which ranked as the lowest average since 1976 (3.99). The league batting average was .251 -- the lowest since '72 (.244), the .386 slugging percentage was the lowest since 1992 (.377) and the 0.86 home runs per game figure ranked the lowest since 1992 (0.72).

"Obviously offense is down throughout the league, a very suppressed run-scoring environment," Friedman said. "So we have to look at it differently. We have to come at it with as fresh of a perspective as we can so we can to figure out how we can put ourselves in the best position to score more runs than we allow.

"... If we score 200 runs and allow 160, it doesn't matter. It's about that balance between the two and putting yourself to be in position to be playing competitive games in September.

While offensive numbers were down throughout baseball, the Rays' offensive numbers were a notch below.

The Rays scored just 612 runs, the lowest total in club history, placing them last in the AL and 27th in the Major Leagues. Perhaps most telling was the fact the Rays led the Major Leagues with 1,193 runners left on base, making them the first team to lead the Major Leagues in left-on-base and have a team batting average under .250 since the 1969 Giants.

"We weren't bad at all in terms of creating opportunities," Friedman said. "We just weren't nearly good enough at converting. And so we're going to spend a lot of time at getting into both aspects of that and making sure that we feel like we can put together a 13-man offensive group that can create enough opportunities yet also convert enough to be really good. It's hard to put your finger on exactly."

Despite the accrued numbers that led to the club's 77-85 record, Friedman allowed that as far as "our core players," the Rays feel "really good about the guys that we have."

Thus, he said the front office will scrutinize what happened in '14 to become more informed as they look forward to '15. That translates to looking at players as individuals -- what they bring to the table -- and how they complement each other. That will lead them into an examination philosophically of offense in general and toward the changes they feel they must make.

The Rays also suffered a power outage in '14. That lack of power was particularly noticeable at Tropicana Field where the Rays hit just 51 home runs, which tied them for the third-lowest home total in the Major Leagues.

"[Power is] one area that certainly came in below than what we expected," Friedman said. "We expected that we would have greater power production than we ended up having. And just like everything we're going to do when reviewing the season, none of it is to make excuses. We're all disappointed with what happened this year. But it's really important to get into each thing specifically to appreciate as we look ahead to inform us going forward about how to make the best decision.

"So looking back, certainly an area that we underperformed from what we expected. And look ahead to a scenario where we need to do a better job of having more power in our lineup."

Though the Rays had a down year offensively, the pitching proved to be outstanding as personified by the 22 staff shutouts, which were the most by an AL team since the '72 Athletics. And Rays starters pitched to a 3.48 ERA, the sixth-lowest ERA by an AL team in the past 25 years.

Still, the ball just seemed to bounce the other way for the Rays in '14. And, in Maddon-speak: "It was just an awkward year."

According to Friedman, "every offseason takes its own life form," and he stressed that he and his cohorts will be doing their due diligence to make sure that '15 does not become a repeat.

"We feel that we have the core talent in place to be really, really good next year," Friedman said. "And now we need to spend time kind of tweaking the roster and focusing on different aspects of it to put ourselves in a position to break camp next year with a realistic chance of playing competitive games in September. And as I sit here right now, I feel really confident about our ability to do that."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Murphy's Law in effect for Rays in 2014

Injuries to key contributors, bullpen woes led to club's first losing record since 2007

Murphy's Law in effect for Rays in 2014

ST. PETERSBURG -- What could go wrong pretty much did for the Rays in 2014, resulting in an early offseason rather than a postseason appearance and the team's first losing record since 2007.

Leaving Port Charlotte, Fla., at the end of Spring Training, the Rays had the swagger of a champion. Particularly the team's starting pitching, which has been its strength since first making the playoffs in 2008. On paper, there seemed to be no holes with David Price heading the rotation followed by Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi -- who stepped in after Jeremy Hellickson had elbow surgery in January. Unfortunately for the Rays, other injuries followed.

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Moore made two starts before getting shut down for the season following Tommy John reconstructive left elbow surgery. Further troubles came following Cobb's April 12 start against the Reds when he went on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. At the time, the Rays held a 7-5 record. The Rays went 12-23 in Cobb's absence, pitching to a 4.63 ERA by the time he returned on May 22.

Other first-half injuries saw Ben Zobrist shelved with a dislocated left thumb and Brandon Guyer suffer a left thumb fracture.

By June 10, the Rays had the worst record in baseball -- by four games at 24-42, including a 1-14 stretch -- and nothing seemed to be working. The offense ranked 28th in runs scored per game and the staff ERA ranked 22nd. The weakened condition of the starting rotation had a residual effect on the bullpen, which led the Major Leagues in innings pitched.

From June 11-Aug. 15, the Rays began to click, posting the Majors' best record over that period at 37-19. Complementing that improvement were offensive and pitching improvements, fueling the team's hopes for making the postseason.

Never was that feeling stronger than when the team reached .500 at 61-61 on Aug. 15. Unfortunately, the energy spent to reach the even point could not be maintained.

"You utilize a lot of mental energy as much as anything to get yourself back [in] there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And it's not easy to do that. You get back there and you have to maintain this real high level of success on a professional level against professionals. So it's not easy to do. But I really thought we could. I never thought that we could not.

"And all of a sudden we were on the verge of pulling it off. We got back to .500, and since then it's just been teetering back and forth. Just could not get back to that level of play that we had going on for a long time. It's not easy to do. I understand that."

Record: 77-85, fourth place in the American League East

Defining moment: After finding themselves 18 games under .500 on June 10, the Rays embarked on a gritty streak in which they looked like one of the best teams in baseball. On Aug. 15, they defeated the Yankees, 5-0, at Tropicana Field to reach the .500 mark. Unfortunately, that point seemed to signal the moment when the Rays ran out of gas. Four consecutive losses followed and the Rays never seemed to be in contention after that.

What went right: Odorizzi made great strides as a starter, overcoming a slow start to become an effective member of the rotation. ... Price was dealt to the Tigers at the Trade Deadline, with the Rays receiving left-hander Drew Smyly and Minor League infielders Nick Franklin and Willy Adames. What the Rays saw of Smyly brought smiles, as he went 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA in seven starts. ... Kevin Kiermaier made the jump to the Major Leagues, bringing an unparalleled energy to the team and better-than-anticipate offense.

What went wrong: Every team has to deal with injuries, but the early injuries to Moore and Cobb were devastating to a staff that entered the season down a pitcher after Hellickson's elbow surgery. Meanwhile, Wil Myers injured his left hand in the second game and wasn't the same before he went on the disabled list after fracturing his right wrist. Catcher Ryan Hanigan, who was looked upon to become a force behind the plate for the Rays, also spent a good portion of the season on the DL. Bullpen problems plagued the team as well. Grant Balfour lost the closer role and Joel Peralta struggled in the setup spot. Compounding matters further was the fielding. While the numbers suggest a better fielding team, the double plays and exceptional plays of Rays teams past were not made.

Biggest surprise: Brad Boxberger came to the Rays in the deal that sent Alex Torres to the Padres, and the right-hander did not make the club out of Spring Training. However, once he joined the team, he made a huge impact, pitching significant innings at the end of games. Going forward, the Rays will likely head into the 2015 season with Boxberger penciled in as their top setup man.

Hitter of the Year: Evan Longoria. The prevailing opinion where the Rays slugger is concerned deals with health: If Longoria plays, he's going to put up numbers. But that wasn't the case in the early going, as he remained on the field but the numbers were not representative of seasons past. While Longoria struggled for much of the season, he began to click toward the end, reaffirming the fact he remains the Rays' best hitter.

Pitcher of the Year: Cobb. When the 2013 season ended, many thought he was the best pitcher in a rotation that included Price, a former Cy Young Award winner. But after pitching seven scoreless innings against the Reds to claim his first win of the season, Cobb came away with an oblique problem that kept him out of action for much of the first part of the season. Upon returning, he fought his mechanics initially then finished with a bang, showing again why many consider him the top pitcher in a rotation of quality arms.

Rookie of the Year: Odorizzi. After battling to win the fifth-starter spot in Spring Training, the right-hander struggled to start the season, going 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA in his first 12 outings. After that he just seemed to get it, navigating the strike zone with expertise -- generating a lot of swings and misses without an overpowering fastball. In short, he showed he knows how to pitch, and he showed he belongs.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Hal Bodley

Rays unable to find extra gear in rare lost season

Rays unable to find extra gear in rare lost season

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays kept pushing the pedal to the floor, the engine sputtered and nothing happened. That's how much of their disappointing 2014 season went.

As executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon sat behind microphones on Tuesday morning at Tropicana Field groping for answers for their first losing summer since 2007, they came up empty.

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They could start with the anemic offense that just couldn't deliver in the clutch. The Rays led the Majors with 1,193 runners left on base and scored just 612 runs, fewest in the American League. Their .247 team batting average was the lowest in club history. The Rays were shut out 18 times.

To put it bluntly, ever since this regime took over in the mid-2000s, the Rays have been the model for a small-market, low-revenue franchise.

But as Maddon, one of Major League Baseball's most respected managers, said, "It was such a weird season to describe. We were 18 under .500, then got even -- that's 18 games over .500. You have a winning record on the road, a losing record at home. How did that happen? I have no idea.

"And look at the records the pitching staff set this year."

Then, he used football terms: "We just had to score more points. A lot of that had to do with being bad in the red zone. We got inside the 20 a lot [runners on base], but we couldn't score.

"It was just a weird, awkward season. You had to be there on a nightly basis to witness it. It was a strange year, people on base we couldn't drive in -- all kinds of awkward things that occurred; we have to figure out why in Spring Training."

This was supposed to be a banner year for Tampa Bay. The Rays were expected to go deep into the postseason, maybe make it to their second World Series.

And even when they were 18 games under .500 at 24-42 on June 10 with MLB's worst record after a 1-14 stretch, Maddon predicted they'd turn the season around.

He looked like a genius on Aug. 15 when they climbed to .500 at 61-61. From June 11-Aug. 15, they were 37-19, best record over that span in the Majors.

But the wheels soon fell off.

"We've gone through rough stretches over the last five-six years," said Friedman. "For the most part we just kept doing what we did -- win more games and be in the position we expected to be in.

"There was some sense things were going to work out this year, that we'd win more games just by virtue of the talent we had. All of us expected, 'Hey, we're just going to start winning games. We're too talented not to.'"

It just didn't happen.

Third baseman Evan Longoria, the team leader, told reporters he felt the players began the season with a mindset that "things are going to be easier than they really are.

"We all need to take a look in the mirror this offseason and understand what kind of players we are and be able to come back next year and try and fill those obligations -- what we're expected to do offensively, individually."

Now, Friedman, Maddon and Co. must sit down, dissect the debacle that was 2014 and convince themselves that the group of core players presently on board has the talent and motivation to return the Rays to contender status.

Friedman said tweaking the roster, probably through trades, is the early plan.

Maybe the envious model the Rays have built that propelled them to the postseason four of six seasons prior to 2014 has played itself out.

And maybe it's unrealistic to believe a franchise with such a low payroll can continue to compete with the big spenders -- no matter how astute those who run the franchise are. Their Opening Day payroll of $77.062 million ranked 28th among the 30 teams.

"It's kind of a cliche, but it's us against the world," offered Friedman, who added everyone in the organization shoulders the blame. "We're going into Spring Training next year with what I would imagine would be much lower expectations than this year.

"We love that. We'll go in and talk about how everyone is picking other teams ahead of us. This is all about what we can learn from this season that will help us go forward. That's where all our focus will be."

Even when the Rays won 17 of 23 games for the AL's best record in July, I felt the offense was a glaring weakness, certainly not potent enough for slug it out with the Orioles, Blue Jays and Yankees.

The Rays had always turned Tropicana Field into a devil's den for opponents, but in 2014 they were 36-45 at home, compared to 41-40 on the road.

Despite his uncanny positive outlook, in Maddon's most private moments he had to wonder if this team could turn the season around.

I asked him just that on Tuesday.

"I thought once we got back to .500 we had a legitimate chance, at least for the Wild Card," he said. "Early on, it was tough. We have never really gone on a 1-and-14 gig before. And to look up and see you're 18 games under .500, that's a really bad feeling.

"I had my one team meeting about a month before the All-Star Game and stated our No. 1 goal was getting back to .500. The night we got there it was pretty festive and I felt good about the whole thing. I thought there was a good shot, but we used so much emotional energy.

"Retrospectively, I thought we could do it, but realistically it's hard to maintain that kind of emotion to dig out of that kind of a hole and then get 15 games over .500."

And several weeks after reaching .500 (the Rays lost eight of their next 12 games), Maddon realized "this is going to be much more difficult than I thought."

Friedman put it this way: "We're obviously disappointed with the way this season turned out. We have the core talent in place for next year to be really, really good. Now we have to spend time tweaking the roster and focusing on different aspects of it to break camp next year with a realistic chance to be playing competitive games in September."

Friedman used the analogy of spending a lot of offseason time "looking under the hood."

If an overhaul isn't needed, a tuneup is obviously a necessity.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Players pack up, uncertain of future with Rays

Peralta, Zobrist among those with options to be picked up for 2015

Players pack up, uncertain of future with Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays cleaned out their lockers on Monday afternoon at Tropicana Field, and as their offseason begins, some players said they know they could be in a different clubhouse next season.

Tampa Bay began 2014 with a franchise-record $82.1 million payroll, and owner Stuart Sternberg has said it will not be as high next year. Trading David Price certainly factors into a lower 2015 budget, but several Rays also have potential salaries that might not be picked up.

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Super utility man Ben Zobrist has a $7.5 million option, but he was the Rays' best player this season with a team-high 5.0 WAR. The club likely wants to keep him around. Another with an option, though, is veteran reliever Joel Peralta, who was ineffective at times in 2014 and would be owed $2.5 million. Peralta said on Monday that he wants to be back next year.

"I hope so, I'm hoping to," Peralta said. "I haven't talked to anybody -- [executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman] and I, we haven't talked. I'm hoping to be back. I want to be here, but I don't know what's gonna happen."

Cuts may also come from among the Rays' nine arbitration-eligible players. Some, like outfielder Matt Joyce and infielder Sean Rodriguez could end up elsewhere, based on subpar performances in 2014, the Rays' situation at their positions and the salaries they'd command.

In Joyce's case, Tampa Bay has a crowded outfield, and the veteran hit only nine home runs this year and didn't play much against left-handed pitchers.

"I wouldn't be surprised either way," Joyce said on Monday. "Obviously, I'd like to be here. I have another year on the contract, and it's my home. ... For right now, I'm still a Tampa Bay Ray. I have every intention of working my butt off and getting ready to stay a Tampa Bay Ray, and come back and have a successful season next year."

Rodriguez struggled at the plate as well this season, batting just .211, and was often relegated to pinch-hitting duty. Plus, infielder Nick Franklin, one of the prospects the Rays got in the Price deal, played well after being called up in September.

"You always hope you're gonna be one of those guys that continues coming back and stays with the team," Rodriguez said. "But that's the nature of the business. It's tough, but you hope for the best, and just prepare for any and everything."

David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays have decisions to make heading into 2015

Pitching staff is solid, but Zobrist could be trade candidate with payroll cut expected

Rays have decisions to make heading into 2015

ST. PETERSBURG -- Heading into the 2015 season, the Rays will need a healthy dose of temperance rather than overreacting to what happened in 2014, a year in which the team appeared so much better than it performed. But some tough decisions must be made if the Rays want to avoid a repeat of 2014.

Unlike this season, when the Rays brought back the bulk of their 2013 roster, the club will need to carefully scrutinize each position. In some cases, contracts might need to be eaten.

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Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has already noted that the payroll will likely be headed down, but not necessarily slashed.

"It's clearly going to be lower," Sternberg said. "This year was an enormous aberration. Look, having said that, if the greatest thing since sliced bread shows up and it costs us money, anything is possible. We never say no to anything, but the default is clearly going to be lower.

"Our two highest payrolls have been the years we stepped it up, 2009 and 2014, and those are the only two years we haven't played significant September baseball."

The 2009 Opening Day payroll was $63.3 million, up from $43.7 in 2008, and this year the Rays' opened the season at $76.8 million, up from $61.9.

Paring the payroll will be a lot easier without having to worry about paying David Price, who was traded to the Tigers at the Trade Deadline. Price made $14 million in 2014 and could be considerably north of that via arbitration.

One certainty is the Rays will have the following group of solid starters: Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake Odorizzi, Nathan Karns and Alex Colome. And Matt Moore should be healed and ready to return from Tommy John surgery by early June at the latest.

Though the group of starters has changed, it has not changed dramatically, and the group remains a tight-knit unit despite losing its leader, Price.

"It can be difficult when things change and the environment changes around you and new guys come in," Cobb said. "Since I've been here, there's been guys coming and going, and for the most part the group has stayed strong together and developed that friendship and that winning attitude on and off the field where guys are rooting for each other.

"We'll continue to grow closer as a group. This offseason we already have plans of working out together, maybe not the whole time, but parts of the year. Just the overall strength in that group will go a long way in us pulling for each other."

The starting rotation looks strong, as does the bullpen, heading into next season. While Grant Balfour struggled as the team's closer before losing the job and Joel Peralta showed decline in the setup role, Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger stepped in to play significant roles at the end of the game. Other options paint a happy picture for next year's bullpen as well.

"We haven't been really burnt by guys having tough years simultaneously out of the bullpen [in the past]," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "This year, maybe more so than 2009, we had such a hard time in the bullpen. Really being able to nail games down with some kind of formulaic later part of the game. Have to be mindful of that going forward. But some of these guys have really surfaced as premier relief pitchers in the American League."

What happens with Ben Zobrist will be interesting to monitor. The Rays have a club option to pay him $7.5 million for 2015 or to buy him out for $500,000. Zobrist is hardly at the end of his rope, so not renewing him would be totally unexpected. What happens after that will be the interesting part.

Given the fact that Sternberg has said they will reduce the payroll, the decision on how to proceed with Zobrist will be one of the meatier decisions made.

A lot of teams covet Zobrist. He's not your standard utility player, rather a starting position player who plays several positions well -- including shortstop, second base and the outfield. Trading him would not be difficult. and it's likely the return could be significant.

Much of how the Rays go forward could depend on how they feel about Nick Franklin as they head into the offseason.

Franklin came to the Rays from the Mariners in the three-team deal that sent Price to Detroit. He's a switch-hitter with some pop in his bat, and he can play second and short. The Rays are on record as being more enamored with him as a second baseman and what he can do hitting against right-handed pitching. If Zobrist is traded, it's easy to see a Logan Forsythe-Franklin platoon at second. That move would save the team $6 million right away.

Then again, Zobrist is one of the team's best and most popular players. But do the Rays want to tie up almost $20 million of their payroll for Evan Longoria ($11 million in 2015) and Zobrist?

It's likely the Rays will take a wait-and-see approach. They have other contracts they are married to for 2015 that don't look as good as they did heading in '14. Balfour heads that list. He entered the '14 season earmarked to be the team's closer and lost the job through his performance. But the Rays are on the hook to pay him $7 million in '15. Catcher Jose Molina will make $2.75 and outfielder David DeJesus will make $5 million, which is a lot to pay for an outfielder given the other outfielders in the stable. If the Rays can't unload one or two of those contracts, trading Zobrist could be the only solution.

Stay tuned.

Again, the nice part for Rays fans is the fact the pitching is in place. On top of that, the AL East isn't as strong as it's been in seasons past. Thus, with the 2014 season barely in the rearview mirror, it's easy to see the Rays as a contending team in '15.

Arbitration-eligible: OF Matt Joyce, INF/OF Sean Rodriguez, OF Desmond Jennings, INF Forsythe, RHP Hellickson, LHP Cesar Ramos, LHP Smyly, RHP Cobb, LHP McGee.

Free agents: None.

Rotation: Cobb will pitch in the top spot, and underneath him are a host of quality arms that make the Rays' rotation look talented and deep. If the 2015 season began tomorrow, Cobb would be followed in some order by Hellickson, Archer, Smyly and Odorizzi. Karns and Colome will push the competition and Moore is expected back from Tommy John surgery by late May/early June. If there is one starter whose status might be in question it's Hellickson, who made $3.625 million in 2014 and is arbitration eligible. So the Rays might consider trading the right-hander. Then again, the Rays are not prone to trade starting pitching until later in their contractual advancement.

Bullpen: McGee will head into the offseason as the incumbent closer, even though he was never formally anointed as such during the 2014 season. But the left-hander was overpowering in '14 and truly a lockdown closer-type reliever. The only other sure thing for next season is that Boxberger will again be the setup guy, a job he earned this season. The rest of the bullpen has many qualified arms with roles yet to be determined.

Catcher: The Rays would like to see Ryan Hanigan log a healthy season in 2015. After coming to the Rays in a trade prior to the 2014 season, Hanigan had two lengthy stints on the disabled list. In addition to Hanigan, Molina is signed for another season. If for some reason Molina or Hanigan are not ready to go, Curt Casali gained some Major League experience in 2014, and the Rays like the way he catches a game.

First base: James Loney is the personification of the Rays' ideal player. He's smart, has quality at-bats and plays Gold Glove-type defense. While he will get the bulk of the starts at first, there's some question about who will be his backup. Rodriguez played a lot of first base this season, but there's reason to doubt the Rays will bring Rodriguez back at the salary he's likely to make.

Second base: Zobrist is earmarked as the starter. Of course, Zobrist also plays outfield and shortstop -- and there are questions whether the Rays will move him prior to 2015. If indeed Zobrist is no longer with the team -- and even if he is -- there's reason to believe that Franklin, who is a switch-hitter who hits better from the left side, and Forsythe, a right-handed hitter, could share the position.

Shortstop: Yunel Escobar will return at shortstop. Though he did not have as good of a season in 2014 as he did in '13, he's still an everyday shortstop. Franklin can back him up as can Zobrist.

Third base: Longoria remains the face of the team and will again have that status next season. Because he remained healthy all year in 2014, some were surprised that he had a down year offensively and defensively. Given Longoria's talents and drive, don't be surprised to see a huge rebound.

Outfield: What the Rays do in the outfield might be the biggest puzzle as the team heads into the offseason with the following candidates to play significant roles in 2015: Zobrist, Joyce, Jennings, DeJesus, Kevin Kiermaier, Wil Myers, and Brandon Guyer. And pushing from below is Mikie Mahtook, who had a good season at Triple-A Durham. Of the group, several have interesting contract situations. The club has a $7.5 million option for Zobrist, DeJesus will make $5 million, Jennings (who made $517,000 in 2014) is arbitration-eligible for the first time and Joyce (who made $3.7 million in 2014) is again arbitration-eligible. Try sorting that one out.

Designated hitter: Look for the Rays to once again use a DH-by-committee approach. Doing so allows the team to rest position players with a day away from playing the field, and it also conserves payroll while allowing the team to have another fielder on the roster and not a hitting-only player.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays' run production needs improving in 2015

As club heads into offseason, hitting coach Shelton expects to return

Rays' run production needs improving in 2015

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' returned home on Monday with their 77-85 season in the books, never having produced less offense in a season than they did in 2014. An American League-low 612 runs scored were the fewest in franchise history, behind even the inaugural 1998 club's 620.

As the team's offensive woes built over the course of the season, with several players posting numbers below their norms -- Evan Longoria's early-season struggles were especially notable -- hitting coach Derek Shelton became a common target of fans' frustration. But Shelton, who is expected to remain with the Rays, said on Monday that he's OK with that, because it shows their passion.

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"Really? They point the finger?" Shelton jokingly asked when reporters brought up fans' criticism, as the Rays cleaned out their lockers and packed up for the offseason. "If they want to be disappointed or mad because we're not scoring runs, and it's at me, that's fine -- because of the fact that they are passionate about it, and they care, and that's what we want. But we've had some pretty good teams here and we're gonna continue to have good teams here."

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon and the rest of the organization have firmly stood by Shelton, who said he isn't worried about his job security.

"We have continuity," Shelton said. "I don't worry about that. It's something that I know you guys have to ask about, and it gets talked about, but it's not a concern on my mind. My concern is if Joe thinks I do a good job, if [executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman] thinks I do a good job, and the 13 guys that I deal with daily -- and I know they do, so that's not an issue."

But that doesn't mean the season hasn't weighed on Shelton.

"My mind's actually still working," he said. "I didn't sleep very well last night -- I still got some things going through it."

Still, Longoria's second-half turnaround, at least, is a positive sign for the offense looking ahead to 2015. After looking nothing like his usual self for much of the year, Longoria hit 11 homers after the All-Star break with 47 RBIs, only two fewer than AL leader Jose Bautista. Longoria finished the season with 22 homers and 91 RBIs, numbers that at least started to resemble his typical production.

And offensive problems were all around baseball in 2014, when pitching often dominated the game.

"Runs scored are down throughout the Major Leagues," Shelton said. "It's not just us that's struggling to score runs. You look at three teams in the American League East that finished last in the league in runs scored -- that just hasn't happened in the past."

David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cobb, Rays fall short in season finale vs. Tribe

Rodriguez homers, Longo has sac fly in loss

Cobb, Rays fall short in season finale vs. Tribe

CLEVELAND -- A lot of history came into play leading into the Rays' final game of the 2014 season, a 7-2 loss to the Indians at Progressive Field.

Three years ago to the day the Rays won the famous "Game 162" at Tropicana Field against the Yankees, storming back from a 7-0 deficit to win, 8-7, in 12 innings and advance to win the American League Wild Card. In addition, Sunday's Rays starter, Alex Cobb, had not pitched at Progressive Field since he started against the Indians and picked up the win in last season's AL Wild Card Game. Unfortunately for the Rays, the good karma from season's past did not carry over into Sunday's game.

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"They came out swinging it, man," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "They've got some nice young players I've not seen before. We started hitting the ball hard, they did the same thing. They just kept it up and we didn't. And that was the difference in the game."

Sean Rodriguez staked the Rays to a 1-0 lead with a 400-foot home run off of T.J. House to start the second. The Indians answered off Cobb in the bottom half of the inning with solo homers by David Murphy and Zach Walters.

Prior to surrendering the home runs, Cobb had strung together a franchise record 82 1/3 consecutive homerless innings.

Jose Ramirez's sacrifice fly in the fifth pushed the lead to 3-1 before Evan Longoria followed suit with a sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth to cut the lead to two runs.

Walters, who was making his first start in almost two weeks, delivered again in the sixth with an RBI double to left over Brandon Guyer's head to give the Indians a 4-2 lead.

"Cobber's stuff from the side, you didn't see as much swing and miss, so obviously, there was something not quite right," Maddon said. "Two homers tells you something's not quite right, but, nevertheless, battled through that moment."

Contrary to what his manager saw, Cobb felt like he had pretty good stuff. The results were more about the group he faced Sunday.

"I'm facing a team that has a lot of young guys who want to go out there and prove themselves, and they're being extra aggressive," Cobb said. "Put some really good swings on some good pitches, found some holes. Also, when I did miss some pitches, they capitalized pretty heavily on some.

"It wasn't my A-plus stuff, but it was better than Boston stuff [Tuesday when he got the win against the Red Sox]. It was just one of those days where the guys were locked in, trying to really put some good swings on balls. ... It was just one of those days.

The Indians put the game away for good when they scored three in the seventh highlighted by Carlos Santana's two-run single off Jeff Beliveau.

Cobb allowed four earned runs on 10 hits while striking out five to take his ninth loss of the season. By pitching six innings, the right-hander did qualify for the ERA title, finishing the season with a 2.87 mark.

In team history, only David Price in 2012 (2.56 ERA), Price in 2010 (2.72) and James Shields in 2011 (2.82) have recorded better ERAs than Cobb's this season.

Cobb finished with the sixth-best ERA in the American League, but he noted he couldn't appreciate that fact at that particular moment.

"Maybe in the middle of the offseason I will be [able to do so]," Cobb said. "But it's frustrating to end on a note like that. Once I get on the plane I'll start looking back and I'll probably be a little more happy about it."

The Indians finished the season at 85-77. Cleveland manager Terry Francona put the finale in perspective.

"That's always the hardest one," Francona said. "You go 100 mph since Feb. 10 or whatever, and you're with this group all day every day and then, all of a sudden, it comes to a crashing halt and you go home. That's always the hardest one to kind of process. I thought they did a really good job of playing right up to the end, even today."

The Rays finished 77-85, a record representing a disappointing finish given the high expectations for this season's squad.

"It's not good," said Maddon of the 85 losses. "We don't like it at all. It's been an awkward year. We had a lot of really good things happen. The bad thing is we lost 85 games. There's been some wonderful individual performances. There's been a lot of growth with different players. But there are different things we need to iron out before next season."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Maddon entering final year of contract

Manager hopes for longevity at position

Maddon entering final year of contract

CLEVELAND -- Rays manager Joe Maddon will be entering the final year of his contract in 2015 after signing a three-year extension worth $6 million on Feb. 15, 2012.

When asked about his situation, Maddon said, "I can easily see myself managing for another 10 years."

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Maddon turns 61 in February, so he said in order to continue managing he needs to take care of himself physically.

"Talk about diet, talk about rest ... those are the components I need to do this for several more years," Maddon said. "That's what I intend to do. We'll see how the contract situation works out. I love being here. I always want to be here. But I truly believe it's up to me to take care of myself to reach my goals."

Maddon made it clear that he likes managing the Rays. He allowed that having a deal in place by next spring was not a necessity, nor should anybody read anything into his situation if he does not have a new deal.

"It's between the organization and myself, talking to the guys," Maddon said. "If they're ready to move forward, then we'll talk about it.

"... I believe organically the right thing will occur. I place my faith in that. The people I work with, the people I trust, I put my faith in that area."

Maddon took over as the Rays manager following the '05 season.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Longo focused on improving at plate in '15

Longo focused on improving at plate in '15

CLEVELAND -- Rays manager Joe Maddon has talked a lot lately about the lack of offense in baseball and that the Rays are looking to uncover something new to help give them an offensive edge.

Evan Longoria did not have the offensive season he hoped for in 2014, despite managing to play in all 162 games for the first time in his career. He smiled when asked if he had any thoughts about what the team needs to do to be better on offense.

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"I could hit better," Longoria said. "That's pretty much my focus. I think when we talk so much that baseball is a team game, but at the end of itself, it's kind of selfish. You, yourself, you have to produce and do what you're capable of doing. And at times, I didn't do what I was capable of doing.

"I think we all need to take a look in the mirror during the offseason and understand what kind of players we are and be able to come back next year and try and fulfill those obligations, or what we're expected to do offensively, individually. I think if we can do that, then as a team we'll be better."

Many believe hitting is harder now than ever before given a lot of different factors. Longoria was asked if hitting seems harder than when he first got to the Major Leagues in '08.

"There's just a lot more information," Longoria said. "I think that any time there's more information out there it becomes more difficult. And the pitching is getting better. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Longoria did not hesitate when answering when asked if he thought any one thing on offense needs to get better in '15.

"The runner at third with less than two outs," Longoria said. "We were really bad at it the first half of the year and we have looked at the numbers from time to time. We picked it up the second half, and you could see that in terms of wins and losses.

"I think that we were better the second half in that middle portion, and it was because we were getting those guys in or at least moving the ball and not striking out. Putting the ball in play and giving ourselves an opportunity to get the guy in."

Longoria accepted responsibility for some of the club's inability to score runners from third with less than two outs.

"For a good part of the first half, I couldn't even put the ball in play with a runner at third and less than two out," Longoria said. "It's an ongoing topic with an offensive unit.

"What do you have to do to get the job done? Put a bunt down, or if the infield's in, hit a fly ball. Just put the ball in play in general. ... I think mentally we need to do a better job in those situations."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Maddon doesn't expect changes to coaching staff

Manager defends performance of hitting coach Shelton, others

Maddon doesn't expect changes to coaching staff

CLEVELAND -- Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked Saturday if he expected any changes to his coaching staff prior to the 2015 season.

"I do not," Maddon replied.

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Maddon noted that he felt like his staff "did a great job this year."

"Really good job," Maddon said. "That's the thing, man. I know that Shelty [hitting coach Derek Shelton] takes a lot of heat, but again, this guy works within the framework of the organization extremely well."

According to Maddon, Shelton is "one of the best workers" he's been around, he's diligent about "everything he does" and has a good rapport with the players.

"So again, what else can you ask for?" Maddon said.

Maddon allowed that he understands fans wanting to blame a coach after looking at the number of times the Rays have been shut out this season, along with some of the other negative offensive numbers accrued.

"But I'm here to tell you he does a great job," Maddon said. "And at the end of the day it's about the players. It's about players and players playing well because our coaching staff does a great job of preparation."

Maddon said it is a misconception to think that another coach would make a big difference because a new coach would still be working within the organization's framework.

"Shelty works within our framework really well," Maddon said. "... At the end of the day, all of the work that he does really reflects the organizational philosophy and what we believe in."

Maddon was a Minor League hitting coach at one time, which taught him about the physical and mental grind that comes with the position.

"[Shelton] does it really, really well," Maddon said. "... From the actual results, the players will tell you, I think up to the man, that it's up to them to provide better results. When it comes to the information side or the physical working side, I'm not going to get an any more attentive or better hitting coach."

When asked to identify what the organization's hitting philosophy is all about, Maddon replied: "It's always about getting the pitch you like and hitting it hard and keeping it fair. It's about not expanding your strike zone. It's about organizing your strike zone. It's about being willing to accept your walks."

Maddon went on to note that much of the difficulty of getting hitters to improve is trying to change the nature of the beast. Simplified, it's not easy to get an aggressive hitter to be more patient or a patient hitter to be more aggressive.

"To try and teach those things on the Major League level is very difficult, almost impossible," Maddon said. "Because the glare of the spotlight is on you here to really readjust what you've been doing for the past five, 10 or 15 years is difficult.

"So coming into it, we look for guys that fit that mold. For the guys who are here, we can attempt to refine that a bit. But it's difficult."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays prospect Colome stifles Tribe

Righty earns second win in final start with 6 1/3 scoreless innings

Rays prospect Colome stifles Tribe

CLEVELAND -- Alex Colome presents a pleasant problem for the 2015 Rays: Should he be used as a starter or a reliever? All clubs should have such weighty decisions.

Saturday night, Colome made a compelling case to continue starting in the Rays' 2-0 win over the Indians at Progressive Field. The win ensured that the Rays -- who went 36-45 at Tropicana Field this season -- will have a winning record on the road.

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Colome has started virtually all of his career. Of his 141 Minor League appearances, 137 have been starts. And he's made eight Major League appearances, of which six have been starts.

Given that body of work, the reasonable decision would be to keep Colome on the same path. Complications come in the fact he's out of options, which means he must be on the 25-man roster at the start of the 2015 season or else the Rays would be at risk of losing him trying to send him back to Triple-A Durham for another season.

Looking at the starting pitching candidates for next season doesn't improve Colome's chances of being a starter, either. The Rays will have Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Drew Smyly and Jake Odorizzi, with Matt Moore scheduled to return from Tommy John surgery in June, followed by Nate Karns and Colome. Based on that backup, Colome looks like he's headed for the bullpen if none of the group gets traded or comes up injured.

What Colome showed against the Indians Saturday night would play well in the rotation, or out of the bullpen. The 25-year-old Dominican right-hander experienced no bumps in a 6 1/3, 79-pitch outing, holding the Indians scoreless on four hits and a walk while striking out six to move to 2-0 on the season.

Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to remove Colome after he retired Yan Gomes, the leadoff hitter in the seventh.

"I thought after we got that out on Gomes, I wanted to get him out," Maddon said. "He's going to leave. He's going to go home feeling really good about himself. I did not want anything negative to happen to him tonight. He did a great job."

Colome said he was more comfortable starting than he is coming out of the bullpen, but he wants to be in the Major Leagues next season.

"I will show up at Spring Training, whatever they want me to do, I'm going to do my best," Colome said.

After getting shut out Friday night and striking out 12 times, Tampa Bay continued to struggle offensively Saturday night against Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco. But the Rays did take advantage of their opportunities.

Carrasco held the Rays hitless and scoreless through three innings before David DeJesus scratched out an infield single to start the fourth. Evan Longoria then reached on a botched force attempt at second when third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall's throw went into right field. DeJesus moved to third on the play, and one out later he scored on Wil Myers' single to right.

In the eighth, Ben Zobrist led off with a single, stole second and moved to third on a groundout. After Longoria grounded to shortstop for the second out of the inning, Marc Rzepczynski took over for Carrasco and James Loney greeted him with an infield single that drove home Zobrist and put the Rays up, 2-0.

Carrasco held the Rays to one earned run on four hits and three walks while striking out 10, but he took his seventh loss of the season.

"The runs he gave up, the first run was an infield hit," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We get the double play ball and throw it away, so it's first and third, nobody out and they haven't hit the ball out of the infield. And he limits them to one run, throws 19 pitches and then continues on. That speaks volumes in itself."

Myers smiled when asked why Carrasco was so effective.

"Well, he was throwing 97 with movement," Myers said. "Any time you can do that, it's pretty good."

Rays hitters had just five hits Saturday night following Friday night's performance when they also amassed just five hits. But this time they came away with timely hits and earned a win.

"Fortuitous in a sense," Maddon said. "We've been challenged in that regard."

The Rays have now been involved in 40 shutouts this season, posting a 22-18 mark in those games.

"Our guys have been pretty darn good," Maddon said. "It's part of the baseball fabric. ... Pitching's getting good."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Archer falls short in pitchers' duel with Kluber

Righty gets hard-luck loss after 7 2/3 strong innings in last start of '14

Archer falls short in pitchers' duel with Kluber

CLEVELAND -- Joe Maddon reminisced prior to Friday night's game against the Indians at Progressive Field. A year ago, the Rays had played the Indians in a one-game playoff and came away winners to advance to the Division Series against the Red Sox. The setting had been magical, the outcome terrific -- why, Larry King even called the Rays manager.

King did not call on Friday, and the Rays had little at stake other than pride, but they continued to play hard, even if they did lose, 1-0, to a team whose postseason hopes were still alive.

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The Rays have played 39 games decided by a shutout this season, which is the most by any Major League team since the 1968 Indians played in 43 such contests. They have won 21.

Corey Kluber started for the Indians, and the right-hander put forth a compelling argument for why he should be given serious consideration for the American League Cy Young Award.

"Once [Kluber] gets ahead he just goes right at you, attacks you," said Kevin Kiermaier, who was the only Rays player to reach as far as third base after hitting a two-out triple in the fifth. "... The four-seamers are 97 and he throws two-seamers that are 93-95.

"It's tough because you don't know what's coming at you. He always has you guessing and you can't give up on certain pitches, and he did a good job tonight of really mowing us down with all four pitches that he has."

Kluber struck out the side in the first, and by the end of the seventh he had struck out nine Rays hitters. Ryan Hanigan became Kluber's ninth victim when he went down looking with two aboard to end the seventh.

Not only did Hanigan's strikeout end one of the Rays' only legitimate threats, it also tied the Indians' staff with the 2013 Tigers for the most strikeouts in a single season.

Kluber struck out David DeJesus for the second out in the eighth to establish a new Major League strikeout record.

"He was getting a lot of early 0-2, 1-2 counts," Maddon said. "Elevated fastball was his friend."

Meanwhile, Chris Archer made his final start of the season for the Rays and pitched beautifully.

"[Archer] had everything going," Maddon said. "Utilized the changeup. Everything kept getting better, and I like when that happens game in progress."

Unfortunately for Archer and the Rays, he served up a solo home run to Jose Ramirez in the first. The way Kluber was carving up the Rays, one run looked like more than enough.

And it was.

Kluber allowed five hits while striking out 11 and walking two in eight innings to earn his 18th win of the season. Cody Allen pitched the ninth to preserve the win and record his 24th save.

"Early on, it was the fastball," said Kluber of his outing. "I think that set up more of the offspeed stuff late. Overall, I think the big thing was mixing up speeds on them. They were really aggressive at certain points in the game, so we were kind of taking advantage of that. We got some easy outs, first pitches, things like that, by just mixing up speeds."

Archer celebrated his 26th birthday Friday night and deserved a better fate than his ninth loss given his performance. When Archer left the game with two outs in the eighth, he reached the dugout, where Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey met him.

"When I came out, that's the first thing Hickey said, 'Start to finish, that was the best one of the season,'" Archer said. "And I've had some really good games this year. I've actually pitched deeper into some games this year. But it stinks because the first objective for a starting pitcher is to get a team win."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cobb, Rays talk length of games

Cobb, Rays talk length of games

CLEVELAND -- Time of game is on the front burner for Major League Baseball to study as it has put together a committee to find ways to shorten game times. The Rays lead the Major Leagues in length of game, averaging 3 hours, 12 minutes and 40 seconds per game.

Rays right-hander Alex Cobb said he was all for "whatever makes the game more popular."

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"If the speed of game captures kids' attention a little more, there's more action, I completely understand," Cobb said. "It's going to be tough to do that without bothering some of the players' routines during the game.

"They're going to have to do things like expand the strike zone a little bit -- not expand it, but call strikes strikes. Just get the guys to swing the bats a little quicker. Stepping out of the box, walking around the mound, stuff like that might have to be altered a little bit. That could really bother some of the players."

Cobb believes some players go overboard following their routines, which can add time to the games. He also noted that more pitchers could do their fielders a favor by "getting the ball and throwing it."

"Because the less standing around they do, their feet don't get that cement-like feeling, like they've got bricks on their feet," Cobb said. "They don't get heavy. It can be tiring just standing there waiting and they throw ball, ball, ball. It gets a little bothersome out there for them. There's a few things they can do."

Rays manager Joe Maddon recently noted that the time of game issue is "a much bigger issue for everybody else than it is for me."

"So I would be the wrong guy to talk to about it," Maddon said. "I don't understand or necessarily see where the times are going to come from. … To make the games 15 minutes quicker and think that's going to make it more attractive, I don't understand."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rays routed by rookies in Red Sox lineup

Hellickson struggles in short outing in his season finale

Rays routed by rookies in Red Sox lineup

BOSTON -- A Major Leaguer's first career home run is always is a special moment.

Three up-and-coming Red Sox players enjoyed said special moments in two nights, compliments of a generous Rays staff. Two of those special moments occurred in the Rays' 11-1 loss to the Red Sox in Thursday night's rubber game of their three-game series at Fenway Park.

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"Give them credit, they totally beat us up tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "...We didn't pitch well."

The high numbers on the backs of the players fueling the Red Sox's suddenly potent offense were familiar to those seen in the late innings of Grapefruit League games when the Minor Leaguers clean up for the Major Leaguers, who head to the golf course.

"They're nice, but they haven't seen our best pitchers either, that's part of it, too," Maddon said. "...I like them, don't get me wrong. That kid [Mookie] Betts [No. 50], interesting, really interesting. The other guys, I don't know exactly where they fit in to their plans for next year, but they're nice. They're really nice."

Wednesday night Garin Cecchini, No. 70, connected for his first Major League home run in the Red Sox's 11-3 win. Christian Vazquez, No. 55, and Rusney Castillo, No. 38, connected Thursday night. All told, the Red Sox started seven rookies Wednesday night and started seven again Thursday.

Jeremy Hellickson started for the Rays, hoping to end a strange season on a high note. The Rays right-hander had right-elbow surgery in January and did not join the team until July 8. Though pain-free following the surgery, Hellickson struggled to find consistency for most of his 12 starts heading into his season finale. Unfortunately for Hellickson, No. 13 was not a lucky one.

After Hellickson surrendered a sacrifice fly to Daniel Nava in the first to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead, Ben Zobrist tied the score with an RBI single in the top of the second. The night went downhill for Hellickson and the Rays after that.

Vazquez connected on a 3-2 Hellickson offering with two out in the second and when the ball landed over the Green Monster, the Red Sox had a 3-1 lead.

In the third, Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig connected for back-to-back one out singles. Cespedes then stole third before Cecchini reached on a fielding error by first baseman James Loney. Cespedes scored on the play and Hellickson got an early shower.

"It just got away quickly," Maddon said. "Helly was having a hard time."

Steve Geltz took over and Castillo feasted on the first pitch he saw, sending a ball over the Green Monster for a three-run homer to give the Red Sox a 7-1 lead.

Hellickson's final line showed five earned runs on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings to move to 1-5 on the season with a 4.52 ERA. The start marked the fourth start by a Rays pitcher of less than three innings this season while marking the shortest start of Hellickson's career.

Hellickson felt like he had good stuff and command warming up for Thursday night's start. He allowed that he was somewhat puzzled that he didn't fare better and gave some credit to the Boston hitters.

"Yeah, they hit some good pitches," Hellickson said. "And obviously, Vasquez got a mistake. Honestly I felt really good and thought my command was really good. I don't know, it shouldn't have been like that the way I felt."

Hellickson couldn't hide the disappointment of having to wear Thursday night's start heading into the offseason.

"I definitely wanted to go out on a good note," Hellickson said. "It will be nice to have a full offseason, get stronger. In the past, I felt like when the game went on I got stronger. I haven't felt like that this year. I feel like those long innings that just drag on, I just get tired. That's never happened to me before. It's definitely how I wanted to end this season."

Allen Webster got the win for the Red Sox as the rookie right-hander -- wearing No. 64 -- allowed one run on seven hits in seven innings to move to 5-3 on the season.

"He started to use his four-seamer a little bit more, which he's able to keep on the plate and go to an area in the strike zone to get a strike when needed and it enables him to use his two-seamer with some added action rather than trying to fight back into the count all the time," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

While the numbers on the backs of the young Red Sox sluggers -- and their starting pitcher -- suggested a bus ride back to Fort Myers following a Grapefruit League game in Port Charlotte, there's a good chance the next time the Rays see the likes of Cecchini, Castillo and Vazquez they all will be wearing lower numbers.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Escobar has MRI on knee, no structural damage revealed

Escobar has MRI on knee, no structural damage revealed

BOSTON -- Yunel Escobar had an MRI on his injured left knee Thursday and the news was good. He has a bruise, but no structural damage.

The Rays shortstop flew home to the Tampa Bay area on Wednesday after injuring his left knee during the third inning of Tuesday's 6-2 win against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

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"Bruise in the knee," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Not unlike what happened to Desmond [Jennings]. So he's out for the rest of the season. He went back there. They did the MRI. Nothing was horrible. But bad enough where he cannot play anymore."

Escobar will finish the season on a five-game hitting streak and his final numbers will include a .258 batting average with seven home runs and 39 RBIs.

Maddon felt like Escobar came on strong toward the end of the season.

"I thought his last month was pretty good," said Maddon, noting that Escobar played better after the rumor that he was getting traded to Oakland was explained to him as just a rumor. "After everything settled down with the Oakland-Gate, with all that stuff going on. That was a tough moment, because he really didn't understand all of that. Once we were able to explain everything to him, he started slowly getting better. Then I thought he played really well after that. Offense and defense."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Odorizzi, bullpen unable to slow Red Sox

With loss, Rays will finish under .500 for first time since 2007

Odorizzi, bullpen unable to slow Red Sox

BOSTON -- A losing campaign came to fruition for the Rays Wednesday night at Fenway Park.

An 11-3 loss to the Red Sox was the Rays' 82nd defeat of the season, insuring that they will finish with their first losing season since 2007, snapping a six-year run of prosperity.

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"It's no fun to be in this position," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've talked about it. We don't like it, I don't like it. But it also speaks to the consistency of the group and really the motivation to get back to where we had been. For us it's not acceptable. We expect to be in the playoffs on an annual basis. We expect to vie for the World Series on an annual basis. It did not happen this year. And we've got to figure it out."

Many forecast this year's Rays collection as a team that could contend for a spot in the World Series. Maddon allowed that the results were surprising given the expectations.

"Yes, but so many things went awry," Maddon said. "... Just overall performance didn't match up some times that we thought we were going to see, just a strange year."

Jake Odorizzi started for the Rays and carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the second. That's when the Rays' right-hander got the first taste of the offensive verve of the Red Sox.

Garin Cecchini homered to lead off the inning, giving Cecchini his first Major League home run. Xander Bogaerts then tied the score at 2 with a sacrifice fly later in the inning.

Odorizzi silenced the Red Sox in the third before Boston got busy again in the fourth. This time they did irreparable damage to the Rays' hopes for a win.

Bryce Brentz doubled to center field to begin the Red Sox's big inning. Odorizzi then walked Christian Vazquez and surrendered a single to Mookie Betts, prompting Rays manager Joe Maddon to bring in Brandon Gomes with the bases loaded.

Bogaerts greeted Gomes with a two-run single to left then Daniel Nava doubled home two more. A wild pitch by Gomes allowed the Red Sox's fifth run of the inning to score to extend their lead to 7-2.

"I felt like I was pretty rusty," Odorizzi said. "I hadn't pitched in a while. ... I just didn't feel comfortable. Didn't really have good bite on my pitches and they did a good job of taking pitches, offspeed pitches that were over the plate, but over the zone. They worked good at-bats."

Odorizzi experienced a remarkable turnaround this season. After going 2-7 with a 5.31 ERA in his first 12 starts, he righted his ship by going 9-6 with a 3.27 ERA in his next 18. Wednesday night did not reflect that improvement as Odorizzi matched his season low for innings pitched while taking his 13th loss of the season.

"Disappointed more than anything," said Odorizzi of his outing. "This is the outing I have to take into the offseason. Use it as motivation, really. It's a terrible way to end the season. It's disappointing. And it kind of overshadows a year that was up and down, but I made a lot of strides. ... Going forward there's a lot of things I improved on. I can be a lot better pitcher next year from what I've learned this year."

The Red Sox kept their foot on the accelerator, pouring on more in the sixth.

Kirby Yates walked Rusney Castillo to force home Boston's first run of the inning. Steve Geltz replaced Yates with the bases loaded. After striking out Brentz, Geltz issued two bases-loaded walks forcing home the second and third runs of the inning. Geltz threw a wild pitch on the second bases-loaded walk, which allowed a second run to score to push the Boston's lead to 11-2.

Three bases-loaded walks in a single inning proved to be a first for the Rays and tied the club record for most bases-loaded walks in a game set on July 5, 2007, also against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox started seven rookies Wednesday night and eight of their nine players in the field in the ninth were rookies.

"They're a talented group," said Boston manager John Farrell of his fresh-faced group. "We've got an opportunity in September to get some experience."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Casali takes two foul tips to mask, exits with concussion

Casali takes two foul tips to mask, exits with concussion

BOSTON -- Rays catcher Curt Casali had to leave Wednesday's 11-3 loss after taking two foul tips off his mask.

According to the Rays, the rookie catcher suffered a concussion and will continue to be monitored in the coming days.

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"That got him pretty good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "First one hit him and we were concerned. And the second one definitely took him to the canvas. ... He was visably not doing too good."

Brandon Gomes was pitching to Rusney Castillo with two outs in the fourth inning of the Rays-Red Sox contest when Castillo fouled one of Gomes' offerings into Casali's mask. The foul ball that forced Casali out of the game was the second he took to the catcher's mask in the at-bat.

Casali went down behind home plate and was quickly joined by a Rays trainer and Maddon. After they talked briefly with Casali, they ushered him away from the field.

Veteran receiver Jose Molina came took over behind the plate.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Maddon praises Myers' defense at Fenway

Maddon praises Myers' defense at Fenway

BOSTON -- Wil Myers has been a standout on defense of late. During the last homestand the Rays' right fielder made a leaping catch at the wall, then Tuesday night against the Red Sox, he made a diving catch and later a nice running catch that took him deep into the right-field corner.

"I think the ghost of Dewey Myers has been out there the last couple of days," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I mean the play diving in there and the one in the corner was really reminiscent of [former Red Sox great Dwight Evans' play in] the '75 World Series."

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Maddon complimented Myers for how hard he's worked on his defense.

"It's something we really impressed on him during Spring Training," Maddon said. "The catch at home. Those two catches last night. He understands that we're looking for the complete baseball player. And he's really worked at it."

Myers endured a fielding gaffe at Fenway Park during last year's American League Division Series between the Rays and Red Sox. Myers noted that he does not carry any baggage from that play and that he's simply concentrated on just making the plays on defense.

"The biggest thing is just being ready every single pitch," Myers said. "It's not like I'm a terrible outfielder. I think a lot of people remember what happened last year in Boston, so everybody thinks I'm a bad outfielder. It's just being ready each and every pitch and taking better routes to the balls. The biggest thing is, I'm getting better jumps right now."

When asked if he knew who Evans was, Myers replied: "No idea."

When told that Maddon had called him "Dewey Myers" as a compliment, Myers smiled and said, "Thanks, Joe."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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