Saturday, March 5, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: Tampa Bay

When they were last teammates, in 2005, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were talented outfielders with the Boston Red Sox. Damon, 31 at the time, hit .316 with 75 RBIs from the leadoff spot, a season that helped him get a nice deal with the Yankees that offseason. Manny was 33, with a few productive Boston years to go until his headline-making stints in both Los Angeles and Chicago. Now, Damon (37) and Ramirez (39 in May) are in a new phase of their careers, but back as teammates--with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Damon (left) and Ramirez both signed with the Rays 1/21/11

Ramirez now is being used solely for his bat as a DH in the American League. Early returns in Spring Training look good for the Rays after Pat Burrell (.202 average) and Willy Aybar (.230) failed to provide any pop from the offense-only position in 2010. Ramirez, through his first 12 at-bats, is batting a rather solid .500 with a double and a home run, a good sign after he hit only .261 in his 24-game stint with the White Sox last season. Ramirez is old for a ballplayer, but playing DH isn't nearly as strenuous in the field--and there is precedent. Jim Thome, just last season at 39 years of age, hit .283 with 25 home runs and 59 RBI in just 108 games--numbers Tampa would have loved to have last year. Damon, meanwhile, is off to a 2-for-9 start, as the Rays are taking it easier on the outfielder. We'll check back in periodically with these two older Rays to see how they're doing both in spring training and when the games really matter.

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