PORT CHARLOTTE — This is what you can expect if you are an outfielder for the Rays: sore knees, achy hips and a tight back.
Also plenty of pregame stretching and cold postgame baths.
And new this year: a turn or two through the DH spot during home games.
If you are a Rays outfielder, you pay a price for playing on Tropicana Field’s unforgiving AstroTurf, and that price is painful.
“It kills you,” center fielder Desmond Jennings said.
The Rays play 81 home games at the Trop plus nine games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, the only other major-league park with AstroTurf. That’s 90 games on a synthetic surface that is laid over concrete and contains a mixture of sand and rubber granules. The concrete doesn’t give and the sand/rubber, which mimics dirt, tends to grab a player’s foot as he runs.
“Your foot sticks,” outfielder David DeJesus said. “Your ankles take the brunt of that. You use your hammies a lot more.”
Also, the turf is tough on the body’s shock absorbers — the knees, hips and spine.
Manager Joe Maddon often gives his outfielders days off during a homestand. He used right fielder Wil Myers at DH last season in an effort to keep Myers’ legs fresher for the postseason run.
Expect a lot more of that this year from Myers and DeJesus, Jennings and Matt Joyce. You can expect third baseman Evan Longoria and second baseman Ben Zobrist to be used as the DH because the infield clay is packed on top of that concrete base.
“The turf can beat you up,” Joyce said. “That’s why I don’t mind the DH by committee, because it will save guys’ legs. It’s needed. It’s a long season.”
The Trop’s turf is a competitive disadvantage for the Rays. How many teams have to rest their players at home to keep them healthy?
The turf is also a small part of the reason the Rays decided upon a rotation of designated hitters.
The biggest reason is their track record of signing DHs, which is not good. Had there been a true DH available on the market this offseason, and if the Rays could have afforded him, they would have tried to swing a deal.
Instead, the Rays poured their money into contracts for pitcher David Price, first baseman James Loney, set-up man Heath Bell and catcher Ryan Hanigan.
So, DH by committee.
“It just didn’t fit into everything else we were doing,” Maddon said of signing a free agent DH. “So the fact we chose to do it this way, there is also the ancillary benefit that it does keep people off their feet.”
During homestands, Jennings hears from opposing outfielders who complain of sore knees or tightness in their back before the third game of the series.
Jennings’ response: “Welcome to my world.”
“It’s tough,” Jennings said. “But it’s something you got to do, so you got to find a way to get through it.”
For years, Carl Crawford tinkered with his offseason routine to better prepare his legs for 81 games under the dome. He couldn’t. It’s nothing you can prepare for, Zobrist said.
“Your muscles, they don’t get used to it over time, either. They have to work harder when you’re out there on the turf. You have to be able to do everything possible to revive your legs,” Zobrist said.
“That’s why we’re in the cold tub after every game. We’re trying to get the inflammation out of our legs and get ready for the next day.”
Rays outfielders wear spikes on the turf to get better traction. The spikes have hard soles. Hard soles running on concrete puts even more pressure on the knees.
“Getting the load off your legs, I think, is a really great idea,” DeJesus said. “I think protecting us is going to keep us fresher for the end of the season.”
The legs begin to rebound the first day the players walk onto a grass field. But the road trip will end, and the Rays will return home.
“The way I look at it is, it’s just something you accept,” Zobrist said. “Like before they built the new stadium in Miami, you knew it was going to be hot, you knew it was going to rain when you play there. You know your legs will be fatigued from playing at the Trop.”
And now the Rays outfielders know they will get a break.
“Instead of playing seven straight on turf, you play three and get off the turf one day and play three more,” Jennings said. “I feel like it’ll make a difference.”