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Flawless Rays bullpen keys series sweep

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 10:37 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

The Rays' four-game sweep of the Tigers will be remembered in large part for Matt Garza's no-hitter Monday, but it was made possible by shutdown work by the bullpen.

Rays relievers didn't allow a run in eight innings during the series and pitched in some high-leverage situations during Tampa Bay's first four-game sweep at Tropicana Field since July 28-31, 2005, against Kansas City.

Setup man Joaquin Benoit pitched scoreless eighth innings Tuesday and Wednesday and lowered his ERA to 0.76, best among all qualifying relievers, and Rafael Soriano earned his 27th and 28th saves.

With Benoit, Soriano and Grant Balfour unavailable Thursday, Dan Wheeler pitched two perfect innings in the Rays' 4-2 victory.

"You just want to do your part to help this team win," Wheeler said after earning his longest save since a three-inning save with the Mets at Florida in 2003.

In the seventh inning in each of the last three days, Manager Joe Maddon intentionally walked AL Triple Crown threat Miguel Cabrera to load the bases with two outs to bring up Brennan Boesch.

Balfour retired the standout rookie twice, and LHP Randy Choate got him to ground out Thursday with the Rays clinging to a 3-2 lead.

Maddon admitted he was nervous about tempting fate a third time. And Boesch came to the plate against Choate with an AL-best .429 average against lefties.

"But I liked the idea that it was a different pitcher (Thursday)," Maddon said. "I liked the idea that, all of a sudden, it switched over to the left side with Choate. That wasn't so bad, because Boesch had not seen him yet."

Mending starters

CF B.J. Upton (sprained left ankle) and RF Ben Zobrist (stiff lower back) missed the game, and Maddon didn't know if either would play tonight.

Upton, who rolled the ankle Tuesday night, ran and did some lateral movements on the field Thursday and said his straight-ahead running was fine.

Zobrist, who left Wednesday's game after the third inning, said Thursday he was still stiff and couldn't predict how his back would respond to stretching and treatment. He said he might have caused the condition by taking too many swings in the batting cage.

"They do a great job around here of giving us an opportunity to get good rest and make sure our bodies are healthy and everything," Zobrist said. "I kind of ignored the warning sings of feeling a little stiff, and then I tried to push through it."

Price's new move

Maddon said it was "kind of a compliment" that LHP David Price was called for a balk in the seventh inning Thursday en route to his club record-tying 14th win.

"I kind of liked that, because his (pickoff) move has been kind of non-existent," Maddon said. "To be balked, it means he now has something of a move. And it's something to refine."

Maddon said base runners have been taking advantage of Price, and the pitcher recently began working with pitching coach Jim Hickey on his move.

Garza plaque

To raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida Suncoast Region, Nikco Sports is selling 500 framed and double-matted photo plaques of Garza from his no-hitter.

Each plaque, costing $99, includes a piece of skin from a baseball used in the game inset into the matting next to the picture.

Fans can order by calling 1-800-345-2868 or visiting www.nikcosports.com.

Odds and ends

Top pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson left after three innings in his start Thursday for Triple-A Durham (three hits, no runs). The Rays said there was nothing wrong and they were merely monitoring his workload. Hellickson (12-3, 2.45 ERA) is a candidate to pitch out the Rays' bullpen after Sept. 1. ... With Upton and Zobrist down, Gabe Kapler made a rare start against a right-handed pitcher (Rick Porcello). Kapler went 0-for-3, although in the third inning his groundout advanced a runner who scored. ... The Rays' streak of 11 games with a stolen base ended Thursday.

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