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Decisions not getting easier for Rays

The SportsXchange

The decisions the Tampa Bay Rays face in setting their roster for the March 31 opener are not getting any easier.

"Particularly in the bullpen," manager Joe Maddon said, "more difficult."

The Rays started the spring with what looked to be one opening, and right-hander Josh Lueke the strong favorite to fill it, as he was out of options.

But then righty Juan Carlos Oviedo had a delay in getting his visa that lasted more than a month, and then lefty Cesar Ramos was drafted into the competition for the open No. 5 spot in the rotation, and then Lueke had a very inconsistent start to the spring.

So as the Rays headed into the final 10 days of spring training, they had three potential openings to fill.

And they still feel pretty good about their options.

Righties Brandon Gomes, who was injured much of last season, and Brad Boxberger, acquired from San Diego, have made strong pitches with solid springs. As had veteran Mark Lowe, who signed a minor league deal with a late March opt-out.

"Who's not throwing the ball well?" Maddon said. "And not only not throwing the ball well, but who among them does not deserve to be in the big leagues. ... So this is unique for me. I'm not just saying that. It's really, really tough."

Depth is vital priority for the Rays, since they lack the financial resources to make many in-season acquisitions. But Maddon admitted that having too many good relievers could be a problem, too.

"We may end up sending guys back to Triple-A that are major league ready," he said, "and that's always a concern."

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Grant Balfour said he pretty much needs the adrenaline of the regular season atmosphere to get his velocity up to his usual standards. The closer was clocked at 90-91 mph during his March 19 minor league outing, consistent with his work earlier in the spring. In past years, he said he starts the season topping out at around 94 mph. "Nothing against being out here, but it is tough to get the adrenaline going," he said. "With all the emotion, it'll kick into gear in another 10 days and I'll be right around there."

--RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo is expected to play a key role in the bullpen but is now "probably a longshot" to be on the opening day roster after not reporting until March 15 due to a visa delay, according to manager Joe Maddon. Oviedo had been throwing, but the Rays are moving cautiously since he has not pitched in the majors since September 2011 and is coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery. He likely will not pitch in an exhibition until March 22.

--LHP Matt Moore is having another inconsistent spring, though the Rays are not as concerned since he did so last year and started the season 8-0. Moore is in the process of simplifying his mechanics, and the initial returns were mixed. He showed increased velocity (10 pitches 96 mph or better and a sharp curve) in a March 18 exhibition, but also walked six in less than five innings. Manager Joe Maddon called "a great step forward" saying the stuff was Moore's best since his 2011 playoffs start and the command will improve.

--LHP Erik Bedard made a solid case to win the Rays No. 5 starter's job -- a temporary opening until the expected return of RHP Jeremy Hellickson from elbow surgery on or around June 1. But Bedard said if he doesn't win the job, he likely will exercise the March 31 opt-out clause in his minor league contract rather than accept an assignment to Triple-A, noting the wave of injuries to pitchers going through baseball. "Every day it seems like a starter goes down," Bedard said. "So there's a lot of opportunities out there if I'm not on the team."

--OF Wil Myers was not worried about his slow start to the spring, hitting .154 with four singles through March 17, but Rays manager Joe Maddon had some concerns given this is Myers first full big-league season. So Maddon, using a regular-season slump-busting tactic, moved Myers into the leadoff spot on March 18, and it worked as Myers doubled his first three times up, then homered to lead off the March 19 game. "I know it's spring training but we're getting to the end and I want him to feel good about himself going into the season," Maddon said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think this is the year you see Desmond Jennings shine. I know he's had really good numbers in the past in the minor leagues, he's done well in the big leagues. But I think you're going to see Desmond this year put up some really big numbers, I really do. He's very confident, he's healthy, he's ready to go." -- Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, to the Tampa Bay Times, on OF Desmond Jennings.

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