ST. PETERSBURG — It was spring training in June before Tuesday's game with the Orioles, as the Rays pitchers worked on their fielding and the infielders worked on turning two.
“I think the sense of urgency has kind of kicked in a little bit for us. So the way we're interpreting it is, it's not too late right now,” RHP Alex Cobb said. “If we wait on it to the All-Star break, it might be a little too late, we might have dug ourselves a little bit too big a hole to come back from.”
Manager Joe Maddon normally runs the team through these drills during the first workout after the All-Star break. But, with the Rays in the midst of a 10-game homestand, Maddon decided to go over the fundamentals.
“I don't think that it's a bad thing to once in a while refresh your memory on certain things,” 3B Evan Longoria said. “We definitely had some difficulties with some of the fundamentals throughout the course of some of the games that we lost. I think one of them is, the inability to turn a double play has been kind of a thorn in our side.”
The Rays entered Tuesday's game last in the majors with only 37 double plays.
“Not our typical Rays defense,” Maddon said. “We have not played to that standard yet. We have not made a lot of errors, but there are a lot of plays we have not made. We got to get better.”
Maddon is concerned about the unusual number of base hits by visiting teams on balls chopped in front of the plate. Head groundskeeper Dan Moeller said his staff hasn't changed the way they prepare the clay in front of the plate. It gets water, just as it has since 1998.
“My one question was, is it drying out? Everything is the same. Nothing has changed,” Maddon said. “So, is there a reason why maybe it's getting drier quicker? We thought that might actually be the case, so we're going to find out if that is true or not and make some adjustments.”
Longoria said the issue has nothing to do with the grounds crew.
“I think it might just be bad luck or good hitting,” he said. “I don't think that you can point to the grounds crew to say they're doing something wrong. … I just think we got a lot of guys who throw ground balls. Obviously Jake (Odorizzi) throws really hard, and Cobb and (Chris Archer), they throw ground balls. That's just kind of been an unfortunate outcome on some of those plays. Overall, I feel the field has played pretty well.”
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right elbow surgery) allowed 12 hits and seven runs/four earned in 22⁄3 innings Tuesday for Triple-A Durham.
It was originally thought Hellickson would need only three rehab starts before rejoining the team, but his inability to complete three innings during his last two starts with the Bulls will likely mean he will need more time to build his arm strength.
“That's a possibility,” Maddon said.
OF/INF Jerry Sands became the first player since 1999 to have game-winning pinch-hits in consecutive games. The last to do that was Atlanta's Howard Battle on Sept. 7-8, 1999. The last AL player to do that was Oakland's Harold Baines on Sept. 21-22, 1990.
The Rays are auctioning off the three bats Sands broke during his game-winning at-bat Sunday in Houston. Bids can be made at mlb.com/auction.
The Rays signed RHP Brent Honeywell (72nd overall) and RHP Blake Bivens (fourth round). Honeywell impressed RHP Grant Balfour with his imitation of Balfour's antics on the mound. ... Maddon said OF Brandon Guyer (left thumb fracture) is making progress at Durham but is not close to returning. ... Maddon said he didn't hear any complaints from his players about the chain link fence in left-center that was installed before Monday's game to allow fans a field-level view of the game. ... Longoria said the World Cup is the motivation behind his blond Mohawk. “I just figured with the World Cup and all the interesting hairstyles they got, give some support to the USA and try to loosen it up around here,” he said.