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Kevin Cash off to a sunny start as manager of the Rays

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash smiles as

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash smiles as he talks with members of his staff at spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., Monday March 2, 2015. Credit: AP / Tony Gutierrez

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Rays officially began the post-Joe Maddon era eight days ago when new manager Kevin Cash addressed the players on the first full day of spring training workouts.

Cash, 37, a rookie manager who served as the Cleveland Indians' bullpen coach last season, admitted he wasn't as cool, calm and collected as the veteran Maddon might have been. "I was nervous leading up," he said. "I think I even told the guys I was nervous when I started."

In fact, people driving around the Rays' facility in the days before camp may have gotten a sneak preview of the manager's talk if their windows were rolled down.

"I didn't want to mess that up," Cash said. "I practiced it quite a bit. Anybody that's been driving next to me the last 30 days, they're probably saying, 'What is wrong with that guy? He's talking to himself.' "

According to the veterans left in the Rays' clubhouse after their offseason of retrenchment, Cash acquitted himself quite nicely.

"It was refreshing to hear him speak for the first time to the team and just see what he had to say," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "I loved all that. I think I saw a lot of heads nodding in approval, and that said it all to me."

Righthander Alex Cobb, who will start on Opening Day, said: "I thought it was very impactful. He delivered some very good outlooks that he's looking for us to adopt as a clubhouse. Hopefully, he keeps reiterating it throughout the season. It's up to us players to enforce those views and create a little bit of a new culture in here. It starts with him."

Maddon led the formerly downtrodden Rays for nine seasons and established himself as one of baseball's best managers. That's why the Cubs were willing to pay him $25 million over five years once he activated an out clause in his contract and became a free agent during the offseason.

"I think all good things come to an end at some point," Longoria said.

The Rays went from 92 wins and a playoff berth in 2013 to 77-85 in 2014. They traded ace David Price at midseason and seemed to be entering a rebuilding phase that only accelerated after general manager Andrew Friedman left to run the Dodgers, which kicked in Maddon's previously unreported out clause. "The abruptness was a little bit of a surprise, and the timing," Longoria said. "But I think it's worked out great."

Matt Silverman replaced Friedman as head of baseball operations. The managerial search ended with Cash, a protege of Indians manager Terry Francona. Cash, a former catcher, spent eight seasons in the big leagues, including 10 games with the 2009 Yankees -- good enough to get a World Series ring.

After his opening speech to the team, Cash said: "Today was the first day that we kind of start with creating the identity of our club a little bit."

On the field, the Rays will sport excellent young pitching but are likely to struggle to score runs. Many hitters are gone from 2014, including Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina, plus pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta. Key additions include infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and a pair of catchers in John Jaso and Rene Rivera.

But the biggest change came in the manager's chair.

"I think it's gone very smooth," Longoria said. "I really feel Kevin has done a good job in acclimating himself to the clubhouse and the guys. He's really personable, so that makes it easy for the veteran guys that have been here and for the new guys that either are first time in camp or first time meeting him. It's been an easy transition. I think we're all looking forward to the fire he brings and just his little different perspective on things. He's excited and so am I."

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