BALTIMORE - Hours before his third season as the Rays' principal owner began, Stuart Sternberg found himself in an unlikely position - talking about tempering expectations for a team that went 127-197 in his first two years in charge.
Sternberg, executive vice president Andrew Friedman and Manager Joe Maddon all made attempts to bank the fires of optimism a bit during the latter half of March. They were concerned their players might be feeling a bit too good about themselves in the midst of the overwhelmingly positive buzz that greeted them to open the spring.
"I do believe that for the first couple weeks of spring training and then when we started winning some games, I do think people were getting ahead of themselves a little bit,' said Sternberg. "I do believe the organization straightened that out and put ourselves on the right course in a hurry. It's a good problem to have, but it can become a problem, I think, if we hadn't all realized what was going on."
Sternberg, who made headlines going into last season when he set a goal of 50 home wins for the Rays, has been very careful to avoid publicly setting such specific benchmarks this year.
"Expectations and goals are completely different animals," he said. "I think we have a goal but we don't have an expectation."
Having left himself and the team plenty of wiggle room, Sternberg went on to express his confidence that the team would be noticeably improved from the previous two seasons.
"As we said last August, most teams didn't really look forward to playing us at the end of last year and I think they're looking forward to it even less this year," said Sternberg. "It's clear, regardless of how our record goes the first week to a month, that we're no laughingstock anymore."
MISUNDERSTANDING: The action paused briefly with two out in the top of the seventh inning when home-plate umpire Mike Reilly whipped off his mask and began yelling toward the Rays' dugout - specifically at Carl Crawford.
"He thought I was talking to him in the dugout, and I explained to him it wasn't me, it was the wrong guy," Crawford said. "He was hollering at the wrong person."
Maddon hustled out to meet Reilly and the matter was settled quickly.
"It got kind of animated, but there were no hard feelings," Maddon said.
BACKING UP: The Rays seem set to platoon Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes in right field, with a few starts by the newly acquired Nathan Haynes mixed in.
In other backup plans, Maddon said Hinske likely would DH and Haynes would play right against a right-handed pitcher if Cliff Floyd needs a day off, and Hinske likely would be the starting choice over Elliot Johnson at third base against a right-hander if Willy Aybar needs a breather.
Maddon indicated he would like to get all of his position players a start during the first week to keep them fresh.
NOTEWORTHY: The Rays must decide by today whether to pick up their 2009 contract options on Crawford ($8.25 million) and Rocco Baldelli ($6 million). They are expected to exercise Crawford's option and decline Baldelli's, instead paying him a $4 million buyout. ... Maddon said he doesn't expect IF/OF Ben Zobrist (fractured left thumb) to come off the disabled list Saturday, the first day he is eligible. The Rays want Zobrist to get some at-bats, either in extended spring training or with one of their minor-league teams, before activating him. ... Quality assurance coach Tim Bogar, who cannot be in the dugout during games, watched Monday's game from the press box.