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Rays focus on manufacturing runs

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Between the players they brought back and the players they brought in, the Tampa Bay Rays feel they have the pieces in place for a productive offense.

However, they also are aware they have to do a better job at some of the small-ball aspects of the game.

"We didn't do enough of that last year," manager Joe Maddon said. "We did not run the bases nearly as well as we normally do, we didn't go from first to third as well as we normally do. Whenever asked to bunt, we didn't do that as well as we used to."

The numbers back that up. The Rays, per Baseball Info Solutions, were 10th among American League teams in manufactured runs. They ranked 12th in the AL in steals with 73 (in 111 tries) and attempted the second-fewest sacrifice bunts, 26.

"I feel like we really need to get better in the small things, especially with runners in scoring position," second baseman Ben Zobrist said.

The team made it somewhat of a focal point this spring, and with some good results.

Maddon said a primary key to the running game is getting center fielder Desmond Jennings -- their one player with elite speed -- to be more aggressive on the bases.

"When you don't get on base often enough, you lose a little bit of that musketeer attitude you need to be a really good basestealer," he said. "So I think Desmond getting on would really be uplifting to some other guys regarding basestealing."

Maddon also expressed a willingness to order more bunts.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Jeremy Hellickson started throwing March 12, six weeks to the day from the Jan. 29 surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow. Hellickson said he felt good and it was very encouraging. He is targeting a return to the rotation by June 1.

--LHP David Price not only was pitching well early in spring training, but he was feeling great, pleased with his the condition of his body and his arm. "At this point everything feels really good and I feel like I'm right in line with where I need to be," Price said. "It's definitely a good feeling. I definitely haven't felt this good in spring training since 2009, 2010, somewhere along those lines. It's definitely been a while. It feels good to feel this good at this point in spring training, but we're still a couple weeks away, and that's when it matters."

--RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo still had not reported to camp as of March 12 due to visa issues in his native Dominican Republic, but manager Joe Maddon was not ruling out Oviedo being ready to be part of the Opening Day roster. "We're not there yet," Maddon said. "I'm at the intersection of, 'I'm OK with this,' and 'Let's get this thing going.' ... I'm still counting on Oviedo to be here and be ready."

--OF Wil Myers was known for his offensive exploits during his 2013 AL Rookie of the Year run, but manager Joe Maddon challenged him to improve enough defensively to win a Gold Glove. Myers was doing extensive work and said he is willing to try. "I feel like a lot of people just think that I'm a hitter only," he said. "I'm looking to go out in my first full season and prove that I can play defense pretty well."

--2B Ben Zobrist, who has two All-Star selections and a multimillion dollar contract on his resume, reveals in a soon-to-be-released autobiography, "Double Play," that he considered quitting baseball in 2007 after suffering from anxiety and depression after being sent back to the minor leagues.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This guy is instant energy. He totally is. They should do an energy bar named after him -- the Esco-Bar." -- Manager Joe Maddon, on SS Yunel Escobar.
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