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Uwasawa draws a crowd — and some praise — his first time facing hitters

PORT CHARLOTTE — The early days of spring training are mostly a monotonous series of drills indistinguishable from one field to the next.

That changed on Friday morning, when Naoyuki Uwasawa emerged from the bullpen to throw his first session of live batting practice. A crowd of players, coaches and front-office personnel gathered behind the cage while a half-dozen Japanese media members trained their cameras on the 30-year-old All Star from the Nippon Ham Fighters.

“I thought it was wonderful,” said pitching coach Kyle Snyder. “I told him I was really excited to see him for the first time facing hitters.

“I think he was up to 91 (mph) average, which would have been one full mile per hour over what he averaged last year in Japan. Just excited to see it. I know he was excited as well and kind of got some of the nerves out of the way, maybe, after the first couple of pitches.”

Uwasawa, who is on a minor-league deal, threw 30 pitches with at least seven swings-and-misses.

“A lot of different advice from Kyle Snyder,” Uwasawa said through interpreter Taishi Terashima. “I’ve been working on that, and at the same time trying to get prepared for the season.”

Since 2021, Uwasawa has averaged about 163 innings per year with a 3.01 ERA. He’s not currently on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster but could challenge for a rotation spot depending on how things shake out this spring.

Uwasawa took a little time to adjust to the PitchCom system used to communicate with the catcher to call pitches, but Snyder said the transition has been smooth to this point.

“(PitchCom) is also going to help him adjust to the pitch clock,” Snyder said. “There’s a fair number of things that he’s having to adjust to. The baseball has not been an issue for him at all, obviously pitching on Day 5 a few times during spring training and getting acclimated to that is a lot of what we talked about as well.

“Really, really impressed with how well he has acclimated 9-10 days into being here.”

Let the games begin

The Rays start their Grapefruit League schedule on Saturday with a home game at Charlotte Sports Park at 1:05 p.m. against the Braves.

While most of the pitchers are expected to be non-roster players, there will be a fair number of familiar names in the starting lineup. Recent free-agent acquisition Amed Rosario will be the designated hitter and bat leadoff. New shortstop Jose Caballero, centerfielder Jose Siri, catcher Rene Pinto, second baseman Curtis Mead and top prospect Junior Caminero are also penciled in.

The game will be broadcast on WDAE-620 AM and 95.3 FM.

Ready, set, turn two

The Rays worked on their infield defense Friday morning with third-base coach Brady Williams putting a stopwatch on the young infielders while they turned double plays.

“He gave them no time, then a lot of time and then tried to feed that sweet spot, ‘Alright, now we’ve got to get it under 4.1 (seconds),’” manager Kevin Cash said. “To watch how the guys went about it was pretty cool.”

More power to you

After watching Caballero punish some balls during a live batting practice, Cash said he’s looking forward to seeing his new shortstop in games. Caballero hit four homers as a rookie in Seattle last season, but Cash said hitting coach Chad Mottola is encouraging Caballero to turn on pitches and hit more balls in the air.

“His BP just now, I know he had some wind help, but he’s letting it loose,” Cash said. “I think Motor (Mottola) has said, ‘You’ve got the freedom to knock the ball out of the ballpark if you want to pull it.’ He seems to be taking to that.”

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