Sunday, July 15, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

The question Rays manager Kevin Cash will be asked at the All-Star Game

ST. PETERSBURG  — Rays manager Kevin Cash was sitting at the desk in his Tropicana Field office Wednesday afternoon after his ever-exciting — and ever-changing — club came from behind to beat the Tigers to complete a three-game sweep.

"It's all about the guys, the way that they carry themselves," Cash said.

And now a word about the guy in charge, or at least the guy in charge in the manager's office.

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The 40-year-old Cash, in the fourth year of a five-year deal, will carry himself into Tuesday's All-Star Game in Washington as a member of American League manager A.J. Hinch's staff. Cool deal. Maybe he can take Blake Snell in his travel bag.

"I look at it as a huge honor," Cash said. "You get to go rub elbows with the best and pick brains."

Funny, but Cash's brain is the one that will be picked

How are you doing this?

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The streaky Rays are at it again. Where once they seemed dead,  Cash's crew had won five in a row and found itself a season-high four games over .500 as it began a series at Minnesota on Thursday night heading into the break.

The Rays, who some of us pegged for 100 losses before the season, were 14-4 since June 11 entering Thursday, their best stretch since June of 2015, Cash's first season. Wednesday's formula was more good pitching, a three-run homer by C.J. Cron and an outstanding diving catch by Mallex Smith in left. Onward. Upward?

Look, the Rays are still a long way from even the second wild-card spot. And they haven't even started shipping players yet. But consider where they could (or should) be.

And consider Cash a fringe candidate for manager of the year. Yes, there are deserving men in Oakland and Seattle, and there are first-year managers Alex Cora of the never-lose Red Sox and Aaron Boone of the Yankees. Runaway trains.

Cash manages the little team that could, the one that surely will be heading to the switchyard as the trade deadline looms. It's what the Rays do. It's what the manager has to manage in baseball's working greenhouse.

Really, how hard can Aaron Boone's job be? Let's see, do I hit Judge second and Stanton third or Stanton second and Judge third?

Cash's job, now that's a job. He was handed practically nothing to begin this season. It seemed like no way to build a ballpark, but Cash pressed on. That recent homestand when the Rays swept the Yankees and Nationals, and took three of four from the Astros turned heads.

In typical Cash fashion, he deflects praise to his team. I've covered Cash for a few years and am thinking about putting out a search party for his ego because it hasn't turned up.

"He's a players' manager," Cron said. "We see it every day."

Then there's what Cash sees every day.

"I think the effort level and the energy," he said. "We're getting a lot of buy-in right now. We're asking starters to come in out of the bullpen, we're asking relievers to open games for us. The guys all want roles. I want them to have roles. But whatever helps this team win a game tonight, let's do it."

This isn't the job for any manager.

"There will be trades," Cash said.

There will be blood.

Cash minds both the present and the future. Ji-Man Choi is up from Durham for a look. And he'll get one.  It's about the long game.

"You just be honest with the guys," Cash said. "There was an honest conversation yesterday with C.J. Cron. With Choi up here, he's going to play. We don't just bring guys up here to sit. We're going to get a good look at him. And it's going to be at the expense of some guys' at-bats. C.J. is going to have to take a day to sit. Jake (Bauers) is going to have to take a day. Mallex will have to take a day. Players appreciate honesty. If there's anything I learned, it's that. It's huge."

There are people who honestly believe Cash isn't running this show, that he answers to purse strings and the collective, Rays president Matt Silverman and baseball operations chiefs Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom. Cash noted that he does not find the Rays' lineup card analytically arranged when he gets to the stadium. Also, pitching changes in game aren't relayed down to him from the front office by notes in a pneumatic tube.

"As much as I pride myself and my staff on being honest, Matt, Erik and Chaim have been very honest with me," Cash said. " 'Here's what we can do, here's what we're going to do, here's how we're going to do it.' There have never been any 'why did we do this?' and 'why didn't tell they you?' Not once.

"But I wouldn't be able to do what I do without their confidence. Like the bullpen. Moving them all around, starting games. I would not be able to do that if it weren't for the conversations with Erik and Chaim. We kick ideas back and forth constantly."

Cash laughed.

"Cutting edge? Me?"

Kevin Cash is going to the All-Star Game. People will line up to pick his brain

How are you doing this?

Sneak preview:

"It's the guys," Cash said.

What did you expect him to say?

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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