Posted on March 8, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Tampa Bay Rays Matt Duffy

Image via tampabay.com

The Tampa Bay Rays will need things to fall perfectly into place for them if they’re going to be competitive in 2017. Unfortunately, things are not off to a good start, as several notable players are battling injuries less than three weeks from the start of the season, putting into doubt their availability for opening day. At the top of the list of injury questions is shortstop Matt Duffy and key setup man Brad Boxberger.

The Rays acquired Duffy last summer while he was still on the DL with an achilles injury. He played in just 21 games with Tampa Bay before the injury forced him back to the DL and ultimately required surgery. He’s still penciled in to be the team’s opening day shortstop, but he’s been slow to heal following the surgery and is yet to appear in any spring training games this year.

“It hasn’t quite progressed as quickly as we hoped,” Duffy says. “The goal is to be smart about it and let it be ready when it’s ready.”

Duffy has been careful to say that there’s been no setback in his recovery. However, it doesn’t appear that he’ll be ready to participate in games starting next week, which was a goal he and the team had in mind. Rays manager Kevin Cash says Duffy has looked better in recent days, and so he’s not ruling him out for opening day. However, if Duffy isn’t ready for game action relatively soon, playing on opening day may not be a realistic goal.

“We’re trying not to put a hard date on it and just let the thing take its course,” explains Duffy. “If I have to take an extra week then so be it. They’ve been pretty good in communicating that to me – not pushing it unnecessarily. The goal is to be healthy throughout the whole year – not to push it for opening day and then two weeks in I’ve got to go on the DL because it’s just so sore. That’s kind of the goal.”

If Duffy isn’t ready for opening day, Tim Beckham appears most likely to step in at shortstop for him. Beckham, the former top overall pick, has underwhelmed in his big league career up until now, although he’s off to a strong start this spring. The Rays could also insert Brad Miller at shortstop. Miller is currently pencilled in to play second base after finishing last season as the team’s first baseman.

Boxberger, meanwhile, has suffered a setback on a lat injury, which is disappointing for him on the heels of an injury-plagued 2016 season that limited him to just 27 relief appearances. Cash says the Rays are “not overly concerned” about Boxberger’s status at the moment. However, like Duffy, he’s yet to appear in a game this spring and is at least a week away from doing so, which could make it tough for him to get the reps he needs to be ready for opening day.

The Tampa Bay bullpen has little depth in front of closer Alex Colome, and so the Rays can’t afford to be without Boxberger, who saved 41 games for them in 2015. On top of Boxberger’s issue, Erasmo Ramirez, another key member of Tampa’s bullpen, is also yet to appear in a game this spring. If Boxberger and Ramirez can’t make it back for opening day, the bullpen in front of Colome will be in rough shape.

As mentioned, it’s too soon to rule out Duffy, Boxberger, and Ramirez for opening day, but the fact that none have appeared in a spring training game less than three weeks from the start of the season is a bad sign. The Rays have so little margin for error this season, and so staying healthy is a top priority for them, something that has already been troublesome for them this spring.

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