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Saturday, Jun 23, 2018
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Rays journal: Top pick Liberatore gets deal, eager to get started

ST. PETERSBURG — Whatever factors — talent, finances, needs — led 15 other teams to decide to take someone else at the start of last week's draft, LHP Matt Liberatore doesn't really seem to care.

He was happy to be taken by the Rays at No. 16. Happy to agree quickly to a deal, for slightly under slot at $3.5 million, that was announced Tuesday. Happy to head to Port Charlotte on Wednesday to start his career with the Gulf Coast League team.

"I didn't really go into it with any expectation so I wasn't expecting to go anywhere in particular,'' Liberatore said at the Trop. "I'm not resentful to the teams that didn't pick me and I don't wish I fell any further than I did. I'm happy right where I am.

"At the end of the day my competition is myself. I'm facing the guy in the mirror trying to make each day my best day yet. So I'm excited to be with the Tampa Bay Rays.''

Also excited are aunt and uncle Vicki and Doug Dunbar, who live in south Tampa and are big-time Rays fans. They brought Liberatore, who is from Arizona, to the Trop for his only previous trip, and the timing was good, attending Cliff Floyd's May 30 walkoff homer game in the magical 2008 season.

Liberatore, 18, has his own Rays connection in mind, and is aiming high.

"It's a great organization; they're known for developing pitchers,'' he said. "David Price came up through this organization and was the face of the franchise for a number of years and kind of led the team, and that's a role I want to fulfill one day.''

Amateur scouting director Rob Metzler said the Rays are excited to get him started on that path: "Libby was ready to go, dying to get his career started and we were thrilled it was able to go so quickly and so smoothly.''

The Rays also signed fourth-round pick OF Grant Witherspoon (Tulane) for $460,200, and are close to deals with No. 32 overall compensation pick OF Nick Schnell (Indiana high schooler) and No. 71 competitive balance pick OF/RHP Tanner Dodson (Cal).

Hechavarria status unclear
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (right hamstring strain) felt good after his first rehab game Monday and will play the second of 6-10 Wednesday for the Stone Crabs in Dunedin. What he's not as sure about is his role when he gets healthy, as the Rays called up top prospect Willy Adames to take over at short. "That's out of my control,'' Hechavarria said through team interpreter Manny Navarro. "Obviously he's up and that's the situation the team decided to do. So there's nothing I can do or control that situation.'' Hechavarria seems likely to be traded even before he is activated around June 22, which would be a replay of how the Rays got him last year from the Marlins, as he was rehabbing an oblique injury.

More medical
Kevin Kiermaier (right thumb surgery) went 2-for-4 as DH for the Stone Crabs in his first rehab games and will play center tonight, also targeting a June 22 return. … OF Johnny Field was out of the lineup for two games after tweaking his right knee on the awkward out at home that ended Sunday's game, but an MRI showed no damage and he was available off the bench Tuesday.

Quote of the day

"For anyone who ever doubted me, it's one of those 'I told you so' moments. … To be able to be one of those guys to say I made it through 10 it makes me feel a lot bigger than I stand.''
— 5-foot-11, 185-pound RHP Sergio Romo, on reaching 10 years in the big leagues, which his Rays mates noted with cake, gifts (including a large bottle of tequila), hugs and a video tribute that included clips of his "40- or 50-pound heavier" June 26, 2008, debut and "the best fastball I've thrown in my life" to strike out Miguel Cabrera for the final out of the 2012 World Series.
Miscellany
• C Wilson Ramos was a close second to New York's Gary Sanchez in the first release of voting for the July 17 All-Star Game, trailing 336,280 to 320,969. No other Ray was among the top five at his position.
• RHP Wilmer Font will be used as the opener in Wednesday's matinee, with RHP Matt Andriese slated to cover the bulk of the innings.
• Tuesday's game was the first in which the Rays didn't trail since May 30.
• Rookie 1B Jake Bauers got back the ball from Monday's first big-league homer and gave it to his mom, who is assembling a frame with the balls from his first game and first hit, and his first game jersey.

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