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Yu Chang takes a big swing in battle for spot on Rays’ roster

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays re-signed infielder Yu Chang last week for his defensive wizardry.

Sunday, he showed he also can flex his muscle at the plate, launching a second-inning homer to the back of the boardwalk beyond the right-centerfield fence in a 9-9 tie with the Tigers.

“He’s got some pop,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s a big guy, very strong. I think he has some comfort here and some comfort working with (hitting coach Chad Mottola). And anytime you have early success, it’s only going to provide that much more comfort, so good for him. He made some nice plays on defense, too.”

Shortly after signing Chang (who spent part of 2022 with Tampa Bay) to a minor-league deal on Tuesday, the Rays added a more established candidate for a roster spot. They inked Amed Rosario, known more for his bat than glove, to a $1.5 million, major-league contract.

That would seem to leave Chang competing with Osleivis Basabe, Curtis Mead and Jonathan Aranda — all of whom are on the 40-man roster — for what could be one spot on the 26-man opening day squad, depending on the configuration behind expected starting infielders Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe, Jose Caballero and Isaac Paredes. Taylor Walls will join the fray when he completes rehab from hip surgery, likely in May.

“I feel like no matter who the team signs, for myself, I’ll just get myself ready every game and get ready when the team needs me and give 100%,” Chang said via interpreter Patrick Chu.

Showing he can add offense could help Chang’s chances of making the team.

“I did some adjustments on my swing over the offseason, just trying to hit the ball harder,” he said. “When I was here in 2022, I really liked the culture here. I feel like I fit in (with) the team. After these couple days, I feel more involved and I feel more like being myself during the game, so I’m pretty much enjoying the game right now.”

Catching on?

Could catcher Francisco Mejia, who spent most of the past three seasons with the Rays, be coming back?

Mejia was released Sunday from his minor-league contract by the Angels, who said they want to give more playing time to younger catchers.

Though it’s early in the process, there already have been initial talks with the Rays about a potential return, and likely with other teams.

The Rays could use some experienced depth either as a backup to Rene Pinto, with Alex Jackson currently the leading candidate, or at Triple A.

Game details

For the second straight day the Rays (0-1-1) fell behind early and rallied back, turning a 9-3, seventh-inning deficit into a 9-9 tie. … Non-roster invite Ruben Cardenas blasted a long and loud homer to left, and Kameron Misner had an inside-the-parker on a pop fly to shallow right-center that dropped between four Tigers. … Minor-league relievers Keyshawn Askew, Ian Seymour and Austin Vernon, in camp early to provide backup coverage for games, impressed with 1-2-3 innings. “Encouraged by the strike-throwing,” Cash said. “They came in and said, ‘Here it is, hit it.’” ... Erasmo Ramirez started for Tampa Bay, allowing hits to the first three batters but only one run. ... Diaz struck out twice in his spring debut.

Miscellany

Prospect Trevor Martin, who spent 2023 at Class A Charleston, starts Monday’s game at the Orioles. Zack Littell, Ryan Pepiot and Zach Eflin are lined up for the next three. … Randy Arozarena and Brandon Lowe are tentatively set to make their spring debuts Tuesday. … Alonso High product Alex Faedo, competing for a roster spot, started for Detroit. He said he “was really happy” with his work, allowing two runs on four hits in two innings. “He had a nice outing,” manager A.J. Hinch said. … Cash chatted briefly pregame with Tigers special assistant/former manager Jim Leyland, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July.

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