PORT CHARLOTTE — Tampa Bay RHP Juan Sandoval walked into the Rays clubhouse late Thursday morning, making him the first arrival of the three Dominican players whose travel to spring training had been delayed by visa issues.
Still waiting for work visas are RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo and INF Wilson Betemit.
Of the three, only Oviedo has a defined role on the team, and it is an important one — late-inning setup man in the bullpen.
The good news, Sandoval said, is Oviedo has been throwing every day back home as he awaits his visa. The two pitchers live in Bonao, the same town as RHP Joel Peralta, and worked out together every day as they waited and waited.
“Just like the daily routine here,” Sandoval said. “I would throw a bullpen, just play catch the next day. I would work out, maybe face some hitters. I've been facing hitters. The same routine, not the same intensity, of course.”
One reason for Sandoval's visa holdup was he signed a minor-league contract with the Rays on Jan. 28. Betemit signed his minor-league deal Feb. 4. Oviedo signed Dec. 5.
It was the Rays who requested the work visa, and they can't do so until the player is under contract.
Sandoval, blind in his right eye since 2006 after he was struck by shotgun pellets as an innocent bystander to an altercation at a Bonao restaurant, was the talk of Rays camp last season because of his disability.
He spent most of 2013 in Double-A Montgomery but did pitch in 12 games for Triple-A Durham. This summer, Sandoval hopes to complete that climb to the big leagues.
“My goal is like last year, to make the team,” he said. “Let's see what happens. I don't make those decisions. I'm going to show what I have in the games. We'll see.”
Hoping to improve command
RHP Chris Archer worked on his fastball command and change-up Thursday while pitching a simulated game.
Archer wants to locate his fastball more this season to reduce his pitches per inning so he can pitch deeper in games. He wants to improve his change-up so he can have more success against left-handers. Lefties hit .261 against him last season, while righties batted only .176.
Archer also threw half his pitches Thursday from the stretch.
“I tried to do 50/50, just because most of the time you're going to be pitching out of the stretch,” he said. “The first batter of each inning is really the only time you're guaranteed to pitch out of the windup. Plus, I'm trying to be quicker (to home plate) to slow the running game, so it was something I was trying to be conscious of as well.”
Let the games begin
The Rays open their Grapefruit League season this afternoon against the Orioles at Charlotte Sports Park. While the games are a tune-up for the regular season, manager Joe Maddon wants his squad to win as many games as possible.
“Normally, when the Rays do well in spring training we have a good season. That normally seems to follow. Keeping that part of it in mind.”
The Rays set a record for spring wins in 2008, which preceded their first winning season and first playoff appearance. They won a team-record 20 games in 2010 (AL East title), and 15 games in 2011 and 2013, both wild-card seasons.
The Rays won 15 games in the spring of 2009 and only 10 in 2012 — the only two seasons in the past six in which they failed to reach the postseason.
Dreams come true
David Price and his team of Randy Frankel, Tim Mullen, Chris Braden and Ron Iereolino won the Rays' charity golf tournament at 16 under. ... The Children's Dream Fund will present the Rays with the 2014 DreamMaker Award during their annual DreamMaker Luncheon on Tuesday. The Rays have made dreams come true for hundreds of children since 1997 through their Dreams Batted In, Tuesday's Champion, Dream Day with the Rays, Rays on the Runway and grants from the Rays Baseball Foundation.