3/4/2014 5:11 P.M. ET
Maddon says regular season will be real test
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Rays got their first chance to play against the defending World Series champions on Tuesday, but they insist that it's just another game. Tampa Bay will play Boston in five Grapefruit League games, but manager Joe Maddon doesn't see those games as a test.
"I don't put a whole lot of stock into that right now. In Spring Training games, you can be deceived by a lot of this stuff," Maddon said. "But when they're playing their normal guys, they're really good. We've got a lot of really good normal guys ourselves. When the season begins -- when you're playing teams of this caliber -- it's about making less mistakes and taking advantage of opportunities. All the cliches, but it's true because both teams are good and it comes down to that one break on a nightly basis."
That may be true, and every game may contain a bounce that can change the outcome. But one thing is certain: The Rays finished 5 1/2 games out of first place last season and played five games under .500 against Boston, underlining the importance of the games in this series and in the division.
Maddon spoke briefly about the hyper-competitive American League East on Tuesday, and he said that every team in the division will present a challenge. Maddon said Baltimore, New York and Boston all present threats and that Toronto may be dangerous precisely because it has been overlooked this winter.
But the bottom line, in Maddon's mind, is that the Rays need to execute better with the game on the line. Boston earned a 12-7 edge last season, but six of the games played between these two teams were decided by one run. Maddon, in this case, expects to see a lot more of those games in 2014.
"We need to do a little bit better job in the close games," said Maddon. "We did not hit their pitching very well. I think we pitched well against them and they pitched even better against us. I think we can expect a lot of the same. We've just got to figure how to win those close games late."
Ramos auditioning for rotation job in camp
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Cesar Ramos may be going back to his roots. The Rays announced Tuesday that Ramos, who started for much of his Minor League career, will be considered as a candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation along with at least four other accomplished arms in big league camp.
Erik Bedard and Jake Odorizzi are also in that group of candidates, and manager Joe Maddon said that Nate Karns and Alex Colome can't be discounted from the race. Tampa Bay is looking for a pitcher to fill the fifth starter role until Jeremy Hellickson returns from right elbow surgery in May or June.
Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said there's really no risk in auditioning Ramos. Either way, the left-hander will be ready to contribute.
"I don't know how things are going to play out, but we're going to stretch him out and get a feel for where he slots among the fifth-starter candidates," said Friedman. "To the extent that it works out well, that's obviously a great outcome. To the extent that it doesn't, there's not really much downside in that he'll be stretched out, which can only help when we get to the beginning of the season."
Ramos, 29, has a 4.01 ERA in his brief big league career. The Rays acquired him from San Diego in 2010 as part of the Jason Bartlett trade, and Ramos has pitched in relief for Tampa Bay in each of the past three seasons. Now, the club wants to see what else he has in the tank.
"We look at Cesar as a guy who has a bucket full of average to above-average pitches. We feel like he's a guy that can get out right-handers and left-handers," said Friedman. "When we got him, one thing he communicated to us is that it was hard for him to switch back and forth a lot. We assured him we didn't do that. And we talked to him before we did anything and involved him in the process."
Tampa Bay's starting pitchers logged the third-best ERA (3.81) in the American League last season, and Maddon is confident that he has the pitchers in place to repeat the feat. Maddon said he'll decide the fifth-starter's slot later in Spring Training and that he looks forward to the evaluation process.
"There's definitely guys that probably have a leg up, but at the end of the day, we're going to look at all these guys," said Maddon of his fifth starter. "We talked about it yesterday. We're so fortunate to have this many good arms. ... At this particular moment, there's a lot of different thoughts."
Molina shows speed around basepaths vs. Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jose Molina has developed a reputation around the league as one of the game's best defensive catchers. He also has a rap as one of the sport's slowest baserunners, but the veteran backstop had an impeccably good day on the basepaths in the Rays' 8-0 win over the Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon.
Molina reached base three times Tuesday, notching two hits and reaching base on a walk. But that wasn't the really surprising part: The 38-year-old scored from first base on a David DeJesus triple in the second inning, and he later doubled and scored from second base on a double in the fifth.
Molina, perhaps tiring of his questions about his speed, declined comment on Tuesday.
"Let's talk about something else," Molina said twice when asked about the subject.
But manager Joe Maddon was a little more forthcoming. Maddon took the question on head-first after the game, offering a candid and humorous evaluation of his catcher's baserunning skills.
"Typically good," said Maddon with a smile. "He didn't break stride scoring from first, which is definitely nice to see. And we're definitely playing in the right ballpark for that to occur. That can't happen just anywhere, so the people who were here today should really feel fortunate to see J-Mo score on a ball in the gap from first base. It's equally rare sometimes from second base."
Molina's primary responsibility, of course, is to guide the team's pitching staff, and he surely did his job in Tampa Bay's shutout victory over the Red Sox. That skill can be a little subtle for the average fan to appreciate, though, and Maddon enjoyed seeing his catcher round the bases.
"He stayed nice, a great slide into second base," Maddon said of Molina's double. "He definitely needed the bag to slow down the momentum on the slide. It was really well done."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.