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With opening day approaching, ‘it’s time for Randy to be Randy’

PORT CHARLOTTE — For generations, hitters have complained that six weeks of spring training is too long. Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola agrees.

This year, he broke camp up for his hitters. The first few weeks, he had them tinker with their swings and try out some improvements. For Randy Arozarena, Mottola had him looking at ways to counteract how pitchers were attacking him in the second half of last season.

“But the last two weeks, it’s time to focus,” Mottola said. “I kind of targeted the trip to the Dominican Republic for the point where we were going to really start ramping up.

“So now, it’s time for Randy to be Randy.”

After a hitless start to spring, Arozarena responded. He had a single in that series against the Red Sox in the Dominican Republic and on Tuesday hit his first home run of the season.

“My goal is more just to hit the ball hard,” Arozarena said through Rays translator Manny Navarro. “Where my focus was before, I was just trying to hit it in one area or to one side. But my focus now is just to hit it hard any way.”

Seeing Arozarena’s ball leave the yard Tuesday was a good sign.

“He had a couple of good at-bats,” manager Kevin Cash said. “The home run. The hit in the Dominican. He also laid off some close pitches for a walk. So, he’s trending in the right direction.”

Arozarena came into camp having bulked up this winter. The 29-year-old began last season on a tear, hitting .279 with 16 homers in the first half. He hit .220 and seven homers in the second half.

Aranda stays hot

Jonathan Aranda came into camp with the opportunity to prove, after up-and-down showings the past two seasons, he was ready to make the jump from Triple-A star to big-league contributor.

With opening day two weeks away, the lefty swinging infielder/DH has so far made a good case, adding two more hits Wednesday, including his first homer, to boost his spring average to .414 (12-for-29).

“He’s had a solid spring,” Cash said. “Want to see it keep going and just keep building that confidence. He’s really impacted the baseball really well to all fields. That was a no-doubt homer right down the (leftfield) line. Pretty impressive.”

Aranda, who has a .212 average and .656 OPS in 66 big-league at-bats, said he is pleased with his performance. He made some slight adjustments to better handle high-velocity pitches but knows he has to stay at it to earn a spot on the opening-day roster.

“I’d say I’m probably about 70% and working on the little adjustments in order to get the results that I want,” he said, via Navarro. “I’m going to continue to work to get it, and that’s going to be the goal.”

Game results: Rays 4, Twins (ss) 3

Four primary relievers — Phil Maton, Shawn Armstrong, Jason Adam, Garrret Cleavinger — each worked a scoreless inning as the Rays (5-11-2) ended a four-game skid. .... Cleavinger hit 96 mph in working the ninth. ... Cash said “the intent to throw the ball over the plate seemed like it got a little bit better (Wednesday), so encouraged by that.” .... Brendan McKay, seeking a return to the majors after four injury-marred years, worked the first two innings, allowing three runs. ... Brandon Lowe hit his first homer. ... Top 2023 pick Brayden Taylor played three innings at shortstop but didn’t bat.

Miscellany

Pitchers Trevor Brigden, Carlos Garcia, Zac Houston and Justin Sterner were reassigned to minor-league camp, reducing the roster to 53 (51 active). ... Infielder Taylor Walls, recovering from October hip surgery. said he has progressed to baseball activities. He has hit in the cage and feels good. While he would not commit to a timeline, he feels like he is progressing at the expected rate, with a projected return by late April/early May.

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