ST. PETERSBURG — The key is depth. The Rays crave it. Need it.
Friday night’s win against the Yankees began a season-ending stretch of 37 games in 38 days.
Still to come is a never-easy 10-game, three-city West Coast swing. The five-week run includes three games with Oakland, three with Boston, three with Baltimore, four with Texas and four with the Yankees, including this afternoon’s series finale at Tropicana Field.
The four-game series with the visiting Rangers starts Sept. 16 and begins an 11-day run against the Rangers, Orioles and Yankees with the final three in the Bronx.
And don’t forget Monday’s quick turnaround game in Kansas City, the makeup of the May 2 game that was snowed out and erased what would have been another off day.
You have to love those side trips to another time zone in the middle of a homestand.
This is why executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman signed designated hitter Delmon Young to a minor-league contract on Thursday and traded for outfielder David DeJesus on Friday. It’s why he acquired injured reliever Jesse Crain in late July.
Friedman expects Crain to return from a right shoulder strain next month and become a valuable arm in the back of the bullpen. He expects Young to join the team Sept. 1 and be a productive bat in an offense that can always use a little more punch. He expects the left-handed swinging DeJesus to be a big piece against right-handed pitching and become another movable piece in manager Joe Maddon’s lineup.
“We talked about it in July, our biggest focus was on augmenting our depth,” Friedman said before Friday’s win. “Essentially right now we have a 37-game season and we’re doing everything we can to put together the most talented team we can going down the stretch. The fact that we play 37 games in 38 days also factored in, something where us having as much depth as we could was important. In our minds this is arguably the deepest roster we’ve had.”
It doesn’t hurt to have a guy like DeJesus, who’s played in more than 1,200 big-league games, available on your bench on the nights he doesn’t start. That he’s started more than 600 times in center field gives Maddon a little peace of mind on days when he wants to rest Desmond Jennings.
Young hasn’t turned out to be a superstar after the Rays made him the first overall pick in the 2003 draft, but he has been to the postseason each of the past four seasons, so he’s familiar with the heat of September baseball. That he was MVP of the 2012 American League Championship Series shows he can produce on the big stage.
The Rays aren’t looking for Young to carry the team, but they do expect him to contribute to the playoff push.
“We feel like we’ve made ourselves a better team,” Friedman said.
Add the players who will arrive in waves from Triple-A Durham next month and Maddon will have a deeper bench. That will allow him to field all right-handed or all left-handed lineups and keep the big pieces fresh during what is basically a game a day run through the rest of the season.
Maddon said he’s looking for days to use Evan Longoria as the designated hitter and wants to get off days for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar.
“We have to be creative in resting people,” Maddon said. “I don’t want anyone too tired. We’ve taken advantage of these off days to keep everyone spiffy to this point, but we have to be careful moving forward. New players help that. It takes more than nine people to win a World Series.”
The additions of DeJesus and eventually Young sent a message through the clubhouse that the front office believes in this team and is willing to improve the roster to better the chances of reaching the postseason and, once there, being successful.
Anything is possible when you can run out David Price, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb in a postseason series.
“They’re trying to make us better and we always appreciate that,” Price said. “We love everyone in this clubhouse, but if (Friedman) feels like he can make us better, it’s great.”
Added Luke Scott, “We’re about winning so we want to find any little piece that can get us over the top. The little things will end up making the difference.”