PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The United States' run in the World Baseball Classic is over, and that means the Rays will welcome back a very important part of their lineup.
Ben Zobrist is expected to be back in camp on Sunday, following the elimination of the U.S. from the tournament -- thanks to a 4-3 Puerto Rico win on Friday night. The Rays are happy to get him back in time to allow him to be ready to go when the regular season gets under way.
"We need to get him back and get him playing," manager Joe Maddon said. "He was so ready when he went, his whole game was so good -- especially on offense. With infrequent at-bats since then, I would think he's going to want to get some more regular at-bats. So we'll get him going when he gets back."
Zobrist appeared in four of the six games played by the United States, totaling 11 at-bats in the two rounds of the Classic and picking up three hits along the way. He started at third base on Friday night against Puerto Rico, replacing the injured David Wright. Zobrist went 0-for-2 with two walks and an RBI. He came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded and two outs, with the United States down, 4-2, at the time. Fernando Cabrera walked him to force in a run, but the U.S. couldn't push across the tying run.
With Zobrist returning, that leaves just two Rays still involved in the World Baseball Classic. Fernando Rodney has four saves for the Dominican Republic and Jose Molina has been serving as a backup to his brother Yadier behind the plate for Puerto Rico. He's appeared in two games, going 0-for-3 against the Dominican Republic in Round 1 and subbing at first base with no at-bats on Saturday, also against the Dominicans. Both teams are headed to San Francisco for the semifinals.
Archer, Rivero staying sharp in Minor League camp
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- They stayed in big league camp for about the same amount of time, though there were different expectations for each. And both threw exceptionally well in their respective first outings on the Minor League side.
Felipe Rivero knew he wasn't going to make the club, having spent the 2012 season in full-season ball for the first time. But Chris Archer was competing for a spot on the big league staff, yet was optioned just one day after Rivero was sent out. Both hit the ground running away from the big stadium.
Archer, No. 46 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list and No. 4 on the Rays' Top 20, threw well in big league camp, finishing with seven scoreless innings during which he gave up just one hit. He picked up where he left off in his first Triple-A game on Thursday, going four strong innings to quickly show he wasn't about to let his demotion impact him in a bad way.
"Sometimes guys get on the pity pot, but that didn't happen with him," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "He's right there with the attitude, and you can't say it always happens that way. Players can take it as a negative and hurt themselves. He took it the right way, and it was evident in his first outing."
Rivero, No. 18 on the Top 20, took advantage of his time in big league camp. He appeared in four games, all in relief, allowing two runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings. Going back down was an inevitability for the young left-hander. Now, he can focus on getting stretched out in time to begin the Minor League season as a starter -- most likely here in Port Charlotte and the Florida State League.
If his first outing is any indication, he'll be more than ready. Pitching with the Port Charlotte group on Friday, Rivero tossed three perfect innings against the Twins. He struck out six of the nine batters he faced.
"That was a good performance, and he did a nice job in big league camp, too," Lukevics said. "It's good when you see young guys step up like that. He's always had good stuff. But you never know how a kid is going to handle the pressure of Major League games. He handled it really well."
Myers among six sent to Minors
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Wil Myers was one of six players officially sent down prior to Saturday's game against the Red Sox. But there are few who doubt the Rays' top prospect won't be back soon.
The outfielder, ranked No. 4 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, was reassigned along with fellow non-roster invitees Will Inman, Juan Sandoval and J.D. Martin. Brandon Guyer and Josh Lueke were optioned to Triple-A Durham, as well.
"I'm actually kind of excited about it," said Myers, who still got into Saturday's game, entering in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement in right field and singling in his lone at-bat. "It was something that I knew was going to come eventually. It wasn't a surprise at all, so I'm really looking forward to getting down there and getting some at-bats. I really enjoyed my time here, it was a blast. But now I'm ready to get down to business, get down there and get my at-bats in."
Myers has appeared in 17 Grapefruit League games, including Saturday, and has hit .285 over 35 at-bats, with three doubles and a triple. He impressed not just with his bat, but with a better all-around game than expected.
"He was actually better than advertised for me, personally," manager Joe Maddon said. "Everybody talks about hitting and worries about hitting. I like the rest of the potential in his game. Defensively, he made a nice throw to the plate. He's a better runner than I thought. He truly can be a complete baseball player. The bat can be very special, but the rest of his game can be very good, too. That's what I saw."
Guyer hit well in more limited time, hitting .313 in 16 at-bats. He had a double, an RBI and one stolen base.
Lueke picked up two wins in relief, appearing in six games. Over his nine innings of work, he allowed just one run on six hits, walking one and striking out six.
"We wanted to impress upon him how impressed we were with his camp," Maddon said. "He's made a lot of great improvements in a few weeks. I think the most noticeable thing about him is he seems to be maturing a bit. The stuff is really good. I thought his rhythm was better, his fastball command was better. He's on the right path right now. It's a classic example of when the student is ready to teach, he will appear."
Inman didn't allow a run during his time, though he collected just 3 1/3 innings in four total appearances. The right-hander gave up just one hit and three walks while striking out three.
Sandoval, who pitched in the Mexican League in 2012, showed some impressive arm strength in relief, though he was better earlier in the spring. Overall, he allowed six runs on seven hits over seven total innings, walking six and striking out six.
"I think the lack of sharpness is from just missing with the fastball," Maddon said. "But we still like him. I like the arm a lot. I like the breaking stuff, I like the ball on the ground a lot."
Martin appeared in five games, all in relief. In his 6 2/3 innings, he allowed four runs on eight hits, walked just one and struck out three.
The roster moves bring the Rays' spring roster down to 39.