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Rays keeping outfield options open

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:05 AM
BRADENTON -

Rays manager Joe Maddon went with Matt Joyce in left field, Desmond Jennings in center and Ben Zobrist in right Friday against the Pirates, making it two consecutive games with that alignment.

That could be the Rays outfield April 6 when they open the regular season against the visiting Yankees.

"It's possible, yes," Maddon said, "but it's not necessarily locked that way."

Maddon may change the lineup because the Yankees will start left-hander CC Sabathia, a move that could send Joyce to the bench as Maddon goes with a right-handed hitter in left.

Or, because the Rays open the season with another outfielder, one who joins the team within the next week or one who returns from minor league camp.

Or Maddon could choose to go with utility fielder Elliot Johnson in left field.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and his staff are conducting their due diligence on any outfielder released from a big league camp or available in a trade.

"Andrew is still doing his Andrew thing, checking everything out," Maddon said. "When we talk it is all over the map, and that's how you (have to) be. You just got to not miss anything. When you get a little quick with decisions like this you may miss something, so it's good to take your time, get everybody's opinion and see what you can possibly do, so it's important to us to put the right group out there early."

Andrew doing his thing, according to Maddon, is, "The Andrew thing is under the hood. It's that rock that needs to be turned over. I'm going wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning and have to jot something down on a pad next to my bed before I forget it, that's the Andrew thing."

That's not to say Friedman is desperately searching for help.

Maddon said Friday he likes the in-house candidates, even if outfielders Jeff Salazar and Jesus Feliciano come with limited big league experience – 168 games for Salazar, the last in 2009; 54 games for Feliciano, all with the 2010 Mets.

Utility infielder Will Rhymes could also factor into the mix, though he, like Salazar and Feliciano, bats left-handed.

Since the need for outfield help occurred because of injuries to center fielder B.J. Upton and outfielder Sam Fuld, the Rays can even recall someone like Brandon Guyer, who was optioned to minor league camp March 18.

Guyer could be a leading candidate because he bats right-handed.

"He's the strongest possibility probably, being a right-handed hitter," Maddon said. "I think that's an obvious situation right now."

Guyer could become the left fielder against left-handers and Joyce could play there against right-handers.

"Left field or right field, I'm really comfortable with either," Joyce said.

Jennings will stay in center field until Upton returns. Zobrist could also play left field, but since he has the strongest arm of any active out fielder, it's likely he will remain in right.

"We're all comfortable," Joyce said. "I don't think there's going to be any issues defensively."

All the in-house candidates are solid defenders. It's which side of the plate they hit from that is the issue.

And that's why Friedman is checking under hoods and turning rocks.

"We were all over the map talking about this thing, because it's really wide open and we're just trying to figure out how to best balance it out vs. the righty, vs. the lefty and what permits us or helps us to get off to this better start (to the regular season)," Maddon said. "We'll do anything to set this up properly."


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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