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Monday, Dec 22, 2014
Rays

Rays open spring slate today with few spots to fill

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Published:   |   Updated: February 28, 2014 at 12:27 PM

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PORT CHARLOTTE — The Tampa Bay Rays open their spring schedule today with virtually the same team that will begin the regular season March 31 against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.

Today's starting lineup against the Baltimore Orioles at Charlotte Sports Park likely will mirror the one manager Joe Maddon sends out against the Blue Jays with the exception of the starting pitcher (David Price instead of today's starter, Erik Bedard) and second base (Ben Zobrist over today's starter Logan Forsythe).

So much has remained the same from the 92-win club that won the AL wild card last season that the Rays enter the 29-game Grapefruit League slate looking to fill only four roster spots — the final spot in the bullpen, the final spot in the rotation, the last spot on the bench and the last spot in the outfield.

So the competition begins today in earnest, except it doesn't.

“You really want to stay away from that emotional spring training decision, because you'll get burned most of the time,” Maddon said.

OK.

The Rays will judge the candidates on their resumes and projected abilities over what they accomplished on sun-splashed afternoons and a few evenings during the next month.

“If it's a super-close call,” Maddon said, “you might have to consider spring performance.”

Jake Odorizzi is competing with Bedard for the fifth starter spot. Bedard, in camp on a minor-league contract, could find himself in the bullpen if he pitches well but the Rays decide to go with Odorizzi, a rookie who was impressive during his final two stints with the Rays last season.

Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, Mark Lowe and Brad Boxberger are vying for the final spot in the bullpen. Lowe is on a minor-league contract, and Lueke is the only one of the remaining three out of options, so the edge might go to Lueke.

Brandon Guyer is out of options, so he could claim the final outfield spot. That will happen if the Rays want to go with a traditional outfielder for that spot.

Versatility will factor into most decisions, and that's where Forsythe and Jayson Nix come into play. Forsythe can play second base, shortstop and third base, plus the two corner spots in the outfield. Nix has played the same positions during his big-league career.

The Rays traded for Forsythe, giving up Alex Torres, who had a strong rookie season in 2013, in the exchange with San Diego.

Nix, who signed a minor-league contract, is the type of player the Rays crave.

“You see him on other teams, you think this guy is a solid pro. You think that, and he does good work wherever they had put him,” Maddon said. “Then you get him and you have conversations with him and you know you're absolutely right on. He's an uber-professional. That's all he's about. He just wants to play the game, play it right.”

So Nix and Forsythe could both make the team if the Rays make Zobrist the fifth outfielder.

If not, Forsythe has an option remaining and could open the year at Triple-A Durham until something opens up on the big-league roster.

The Rays, who learned their lesson after a lack of depth at Triple-A was exposed during the injury-riddled 2012 season, added depth during the offseason. Include Wilson Betemit in that group, providing the infielder works out his visa issue and makes it to camp.

“You know something is going to happen,” Maddon said. “Somebody's going to get dinged up. You know that. But then, again, we don't go over the top just trying to do this cattle call, where you bring a whole bunch of guys in and promise things we can't live up to. We're not like that.”

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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