Rays bounce back from 1-8 start to climb above .500

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Tampa Bay began the season 1-8 as many people rushed to write the Rays off after numerous key players departed as free agents, but with last night’s win over the Twins they’re now 12-11 overall, going 11-3 since the dreadful start.

What’s particularly remarkable about the Rays climbing above .500 is that they’re winning with the same pitching-and-defense equation they thrived on last season despite losing Gold Glove left fielder Carl Crawford and basically their entire bullpen to free agency, trading shortstop Jason Bartlett, and being without third baseman Evan Longoria since the second game of the season.

Yet the Rays’ relievers rank fourth among AL teams with a 3.06 ERA that’s even better than last season’s league-leading 3.33 mark and their defense ranks second in the league in converting balls in play into outs. And their rotation has been strong too, with James Shields looking like his old self following a career-worst 2010 and ace David Price picking right up where he left off last season.

I’m not sure how long Sam Fuld is going to play like an All-Star and the Kyle Farnsworth closer experiment remains risky despite his being 5-for-5 converting saves so far, but this Rays team is very much a legitimate contender thanks to some shrewd low-cost pickups by the front office, a remarkable farm system that continues to churn out young talent year after year, and a manager in Joe Maddon who excels at mixing and matching to make the puzzle work no matter how odd the pieces may look coming out of the box.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.