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He’s got the gloves, now Richie Palacios just needs a spot in Rays lineup

NORTH PORT — The goal is a spot on the major-league roster. The actual path doesn’t matter.

So Richie Palacios was thrilled to start a game Sunday in rightfield. And Tuesday at second base. And Wednesday in leftfield. And Thursday in centerfield.

Few teams value versatility more than the Rays, and Palacios is more than willing to play along.

“Honestly, for me, it’s exciting,” Palacios said. “It gives me a chance to work at a new position each day. It’s exciting to come to the park and say, ‘OK, where am I playing today?’ I’m happy that it helps me and, hopefully, helps the team.”

With an RBI double in a 3-1 win against the Braves on Thursday, Palacios continued his mid-spring surge with the bat. After starting off 3-for-18, he has gone 5-for-13 over his last four games. At 5-10, 180 pounds, he’s also caught the eye of team officials with two homers and a double.

“For not the biggest stature guy, he swings the bat. He looks to impact the baseball. It’s impressive to see,” manager Kevin Cash said. “When he does connect, he’s driving a lot of balls. He worked really hard at Driveline this (winter) creating that bat speed and torque and all that stuff they’re talking about. There is a focus on swinging the bat hard, and it looks like he’s doing it so far.”

Still, Palacios’ place on the roster could be dependent on factors out of his control. The Rays began the spring with two utility spots available with Curtis Mead, Jonny DeLuca and Amed Rosario in the running and Palacios looking more like a longshot. DeLuca seemed to be an early favorite as the potential backup to Jose Siri in centerfield, but he suffered a broken hand during the weekend series in the Dominican Republic and rightfielder Josh Lowe has been sidelined with a hip injury.

That might leave the door open for Palacios, since Mead and Rosario are infielders with only limited experience in the corner outfield positions.

“I just need to play good defense, hit the ball well and steal some bags and everything else will take care of itself,” said Palacios, who was acquired in January in a deal for Andrew Kittredge. “I don’t want to get caught up in all the other things like who is here and who is there. I just want to control what I can control, and hopefully it works out.”

16 batters up, 15 batters down

Zack Littell looks like he’s ready to pack up his spring gear and head to Tropicana Field. The right-hander threw five one-hit innings on Thursday, giving him 10 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts this spring. Littell, who threw a simulated game over the weekend while the team was in the Dominican Republic, said he lobbied pitching coach Kyle Snyder to come back out for the sixth inning on Thursday. “I told Kyle I wanted one more, but that was a hard no,” Littell said. “A day like (Thursday), you want to keep going. Everything was clicking, especially in the spring when that’s not super common. Very happy with (it). I don’t think (Snyder) would let me go out if I paid him.”

Game results: Rays 3, Braves 1

While Littell retired the Braves on 58 pitches in five innings, relievers Pete Fairbanks and Colin Poche had to work a little harder. Fairbanks loaded the bases in the sixth and Poche loaded them in the seventh, but both escaped without giving up a run. “I’m actually OK with that,” Cash said. “They need to feel what it’s like to get out there and have a 20-25-pitch inning. It probably comes at the right time. Now you’d like to see them get on a run where they feel really good over the next 3-4 outings.” … Randy Arozarena continued his mini-hot streak with a first-inning, ground-rule double and scored the go-ahead run. Arozarena is 3-for-6 over the last three games … Catcher Rene Pinto has 13 strikeouts in 25 at-bats this spring.

Miscellany

The Tampa-based Buddy Baseball program on Saturday will rename its field in honor of Dave Wills, the Rays radio announcer who died last spring. Wills volunteered often with the group, which provides non-competitive play for youths and young adults with special needs. There will be a brief ceremony at 11:30 a.m. (6700 Whiteway Dr., Temple Terrace), with a speech by current broadcaster Neil Solondz, followed by a game ... Cash said Josh Lowe is getting nearer to a return to the field, although his status for opening day is still in question. “He’s doing well and ramping up, and now he’s itching to get in games,” Cash said. “So that’s a really good sign for us.”

Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

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