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June 26, 2013 9:35 am
There are certain rules about changeup usage. The Rays, unsurprisingly, aren't beholden to those rules.
“The game evolves constantly,” Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey tells me on a Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, after wrapping up a bullpen session an hour before first pitch. Evolution in baseball works a lot like it does in real life: traits that confer a competitive advantage tend to be passed on. But before a new approach is adopted around the league, Hickey says, “someone’s going to have to be successful doing it.”
The Rays are often that someone. If the Rays have an identity—aside from their status as a team that doesn’t draw, locked into a lease that never expires—it’s that they do things differently. Driven by their need to make the most of their limited resources and the creativity of their front office and field staff, the Rays under General Manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon have authored a long list of innovations. Shifting more aggressively than almost any other team. Giving defensive specialist Jose Molina a starting job for the first time at age 37. Opening an academy in Brazil. Refusing to sign free agent starters (before Roberto Hernandez). And so on.