Rays’ notebook – Cash passes Maddon; hitters and discipline

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. –  When attempting to decipher Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash’s track record, the description goes beyond the baseball diamond. With any successful endeavor, the journey begins and continues with knowledge, communication, workmanship, and the ability to learn from mistakes.

At this point, the 46-year-old Cash checks all the boxes.

At the start of spring training, both Cash and Eric Neander, the Rays’ president of baseball operations, signed contract extensions through 2028 and an opportunity to extend a successful track record.

Sure, Cash had productive players, an educated and creative coaching staff and supportive owner in Stuart Sternberg. Yet, the fact Cash passed Joe Maddon as the winningest manager in club history last weekend remains a testament to his baseball acumen as well as his response from others.

“(Cash) has a rare blend of strength and humility,” Neander said before the season began. “He has the strength to lead young men, to lead a clubhouse, to hold them accountable and communicate with his players, But, it’s his exceptional humility.”

With the Rays’ 3-1 victory over the New York Mets on May 4, Cash recorded his 755th win as skipper of the Rays and pushed ahead of Maddon in the club’s history book. Currently in his 10th season as manager, Cash is the longest-tenured presently in the majors and sixth winningest among active managers. His winning percentage of .543 is fifth among active managers.

In the annuals of the game, Cash has a distance to reach the gods. Among active managers, Bruce Bochy is the leader with 2,111 wins (before the season began). His .543 winning percentage is tied for 51st all-time with Alex Cora, Hughie Jennings and Tris Speaker.

That number is far behind the leader Vic Harris, who had a .663 winning percentage in the Negro League (between 1936 and 1950). Harris guided the Homestead Greys and Birmingham Black Barons.

About the humility that Neander cited, Cash was the first to credit those who helped him climb the ladder.

“The accomplishment means a great deal, it’s pretty exciting,” he said before the series finale against the New York Mets Sunday. “I’m happy this is over for sure. Really appreciated the reception from certainty the players and they were pretty pumped up. We have a group of guys who have been through a tough time this month, but this gave them a chance to smile. (Reliever Pete Fairbanks) warned me of the beer shower but not the Gatorade. That hit me pretty good, so I can appreciate when that happens to the players.”

To celebrate this achievement, Cash shared the moment with his wife Emily over pizza.

Are Rays’ hitters waking up?

With the three-game sweep of the Mets over the recent weekend, the Rays appeared to breathe some energy into a life-support system that nearly flatlined. In describing the three straight wins over New York, Cash told reporters his team exhibited, “a little of everything,” he said.

That included strong starting pitching in game two from Zack Littell, home runs from Randy Arozarena in games one and three, the ability to manufacture runs, a creditable bullpen, and base-stealing opportunities generated from shortstop Jose Caballero.

One element of notice has been greater discipline at the plate. Hitters are not swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and cognizant of what each can achieve.

“I think the discipline issue is definitely a vocal point,” said infielder Curtis Mead before Sunday’s game with the Mets. “We need to make the pitcher work a little bit harder. From the coaching staff and the players, the goal is to make pitchers work a little harder and for us to get on base a little more frequently.”

One goal, from manager Cash’s perspective, is more walks. Over the course of their first 33 games, the Rays walked 93 times and that is just above the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles, each with 84 and the lowest in the American League.

“We have to walk more, there’s no doubt,” he said before Sunday’s game. “In (the Mets series), our walks were way lower than what we would have expected from this type of an offense. Those walks are impactful. These are just as meaningful as getting that big hit. Plus, we need to recognize pitches and that ultimately leads to walks.”

In the trainer’s room … in Sunday’s Rays’ 7-6 win over the Mets in 10 innings before 19,310, Tampa Bay starter Ryan Pepiot left the game in the third inning. Struck on the left calf and shin from a liner off the bat of Sterling Marte, Pepoit tossed two warm-up pitches before manager Kevin Cash pulled the righthander. Described as a lower left leg contusion, X-rays were negative. Afterward, Pepiot told reporters he sustained a bruise and does not expect to miss his next start.

“It’s just sore and I’ll be all right,” he said. “Give it a few days, let the swelling go down and it should be fine.

For his effort against the Mets, Pepiot started in a marginal capacity. He pitched from behind for the first three batters and was touched for a two-run homer in the initial frame from Francisco Linder. Pepoit left after throwing 44 pitches and three hitters into the third inning.

Next … the current home stand continues with three against the Chicago White Sox and concludes with three against the New York Yankees this weekend. On Sunday and coming into the Chicago series, neither Rays’ skipper Kevin Cash nor Chicago manager Pedro Grifol announced starters for the opener.

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