Despite standing pat most of the offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays have the same hopes as they prepare to open their 26th season: Win plenty of baseball games and make the postseason.
Coming off a 2022 campaign that saw manager Kevin Cash's squad go 86-76 in the ultra-competitive American League East, the Rays will face the Detroit Tigers in the opener on Thursday afternoon at St. Petersburg, Fla.
Third-place finishers last season, Tampa Bay earned the final AL wild-card spot but posted its worst winning percentage since 2017, primarily due to injuries.
Brandon Lowe, the Rays' best slugger with 39 homers and 99 RBIs in 2021, went deep only eight times and drove in just 25 runs in 65 games last year.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay's dynamic young shortstop, played just 83 games and had six homers and 33 RBIs while batting .277. Due to constant leg injuries, he stole only eight bases.
A dominant force in 2019, hard-throwing Tyler Glasnow is currently nursing a left oblique strain after missing much of the 2021 and 2022 seasons following Tommy John surgery. Barring any setbacks, a May season debut is likely.
Shane McClanahan received his second straight Opening Day nod from Cash. The left-hander posted Cy Young Award numbers for most of 2022 (12-8, 2.54 ERA) before being derailed by a late-season shoulder injury.
"You're always on the quest for seeing just how good you can be," McClanahan said. "There always absolutely is room for improvement. ... There's obviously goals and achievements, but there's no real, like, set limit or boundary to how good you can be."
In three career starts against the Tigers, the 25-year-old is 1-2 with a 2.95 ERA. He has 17 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings against Detroit.
Cash decided to add Josh Fleming, who struggled last season (2-5, 6.43 ERA), to the roster as the team's fifth starter in Glasnow's absence.
Fleming will be the third southpaw in the Rays' rotation -- joining McClanahan and Jeffrey Springs.
"(Fleming's) a guy that really competes," Cash stated.
Newcomer Zach Eflin basically replaces Corey Kluber, who signed with the Boston Red Sox, and the rotation is rounded out by Drew Rasmussen.
The Tigers went 66-96 last season, but there is renewed excitement as the organization has new leadership under president of baseball operations Scott Harris, who previously was an executive with the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants.
Detroit manager A.J. Hinch spent the final weekend of the Grapefruit League trying to organize his roster, primarily the pitching staff.
One rotation spot appears to be secured by Matthew Boyd, a two-time Opening Day starter for the Tigers.
The left-hander was non-tendered after the 2021 campaign due to flexor tendon surgery on his arm. He made 10 relief appearances for the Seattle Mariners last year, going 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA.
Detroit scratched Boyd on Saturday to give other hurlers an opportunity to make their case for landing a roster spot.
"Matt's done everything that we really wanted him to do physically to get ready for the season," Hinch said. "We need to take a look at a few people. We're trying to prioritize how to do that while also getting ready for the season."
Eduardo Rodriguez, who went 5-5 with a 4.05 ERA in 17 starts last year, will get the Opening Day start for the second year in a row. The lefty is 2-5 with a 5.59 ERA in 14 career appearances, all starts, against the Rays.
"It's just another game, and I just focus on doing my job," Rodriguez said of pitching the opener. "Just throw the ball where I want to, enjoy it and just play the game. I never think about it like, it's 'this' game or it's 'that' game. 'We need this game.' Nothing like that."
With 507 home runs in a surefire Hall of Fame career spanning 20 years, Miguel Cabrera will play in his 2,700th game Thursday to begin his final season.
--Field Level Media