Live from Lakeland
Update 5:07 pm: The Rays win 10-9, improving to 4-0, the best spring start in franchise history.
Update 4:57pm: C Hector Gimenez gave the Rays a ninth-inning lead, hitting a two-out double to right-center field gap, scoring Hinske to put the Rays up 10-9.
Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Rays brought in RHP Andy Sonnanstine, brought on the trip as an "emergency" pitcher.
When the game hits a 4-hour mark, I guess emergency is the right word for it (for some fans, at least).
Update 4:50pm: Touted Rays prospect Evan Longoria is scheduled to make an appearance with principal owner Stuart Sternberg on the Rays Hot Stove Radio show at 6 p.m, at Champps in Tampa.
At this pace, Sternberg may be going solo.
Update 4:45pm: Guess Tigers OF Clete Thomas didn't want this game to reach the four-hour mark. Thomas, on third with two out and Ramirez up, raced down the line as if he were stealing home. But this was no squeeze, as Ramirez fouled off a pitch as if he missed a sign.
Howell struck out Ramirez looking a few pitches later, ending the threat and putting us into the top of the ninth. Rays 9, Tigers 9 (Cans of Diet Coke for Joe - 4)
Update 4:43pm: LHP J. P. Howell is trying to get himself out of a eighth-inning jam here. After putting two runners on (first and second) with one out, Howell got Ryan Raburn to hit into a fielders choice at second (not hit hard enough for an inning-ending DP). That put runners on the corners for Ramirez, who in his last at bat drilled a 3-run homer.
Update 4:15pm: Well, there's one thing for certain; the scoreboard operator has been plenty busy today. OF Wilkin Ramirez just ripped a three-run homer on an 0-1 delivery from Mason, tying the game at 9-9 in the bottom of the seventh. Mason was soon replaced by LHP J.P Howell.
Update 3:58 pm: Rays replacements continue to step up. After Elliot Johnson reached base and stole second, Eric Hinske drove him in with a one-out single. That puts the Rays up 9-6 with utilityman Ben Zobrist at the plate.
Update 3:53 pm: The Rays have taken an 8-6 lead in surprising fashion. With one on and one out, INF Andy Cannizaro drilled a Jordan Tata 1-and-1 delivery over the fence in leftfield for a two-run blast. Cannizaro, who spent the past six years with the Yankee organization, told me earlier this spring he was excited for a "fresh start" with the Rays.
Cannizaro has mostly impressed with his defensive plays this spring, including pulling off the game-ending double play Saturday in a win over the Jays. Cannizaro, battling for the utility infielder spot, could count this one as his highlight so far.
Update 3:45 pm Chris Richard just made what could turn out to be the play of the day. The Tigers loaded the bases in the sixth with one out when C Max St. Pierre hit a pop fly to short rightfield. Richard, playing first base, scampered back and made a nice over-the-shoulder catch to save the day. Mason struck out Matt Joyce to end the inning, with the scored tied 6-6.
Update 3:34 pm McGee is pulled with one out in the sixth after giving up a walk and base hit to start the inning. RHP Chris Mason has come in to pitch. Add one more baserunner, and it'd be perfect time for LHP James "Doogie" Houser, the Rays go-to-guy in bases-loaded relief spots.
Update 3:28 pm The Rays tied it up with two runs in the top of the fifth. Jonny Gomes continued to have a hot bat, hitting a towering home run over the left field wall to bring the Rays within 6-5. Then, when the Tigers relievers lost some control, Ben Zobrist scored from third on a wild pitch to tie it up at 6.
McGee is still in there to start the bottom of the sixth, walking the first batter. Navarro, having caught the first five innings has planned, has been replaced by Gimenez. Hinske is at third base, Chris Richard at first, with Zobrist (SS) and Cannizaro (2B) the new double-play combo.
Update 3:12 pm Aybar made up for a 5th-inning error to thwart a Tigers bases-loaded rally. Just a few batters after Aybar dropped a routine pop up to the left of third base, Aybar scooped up a quick grounder and started a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. Tigers 6, Rays 4.
By the way, we got to chat with Mat Garza a few moments ago. He said he was pretty happy with his effort, saying he threw strikes, the tough Tigers lineup just fouled many of them off. Garza said there were a few disappointing things, like his walk in the first, but that he was just excited to get that first start of spring. Garza said he wanted "badly" to get out of the second inning, but he was pulled because he was on a strict pitch count.
Update 3:07 pm After Orvella gave up a double in the fifth, he was replaced by LHP Jake McGee, who continued to have issues with his command. McGee threw a wild pitch, allowing runners to advance to second and third, then tallied a walk to load the bases. Pitching coach Jim Hickey just went to the mound to chat with the Rays young touted prospect.
Maddon said pre-game he isn't worried about McGee or Wade Davis, for that matter, even if there's two rough outings. We'll see if he can get himself out of this jam, with one out in the fifth and the Rays down 6-4.
Update 2:50 pm: Orvella probably thought he was out of a fourth-inning jam when Sheffield ripped a 350-foot plus shot just left of the leftfield foul pole. But afer striking out Sheffield, Marcus Thames hit Orvella's first delivery over the leftfield fence for a three-run homer, giving the Tigers a 6-2 lead. Most of the Rays regulars are still in for the top of the fifth.
The Rays put a two-out rally together, with Aki delivering a double and Crawford knocking him in with a double to center. That brought up Pena, who ripped an RBI single to center, bringing the Rays to within 6-4.
Update 2:28 pm: Evan Longoria may have stole the third-base thunder with big hits the past couple games, but Willy Aybar is taking his turn now. Aybar ripped a two-out double to the left-centerfield wall, scoring Carlos Pena and Jonny Gomes to tie the game 2-2 in the top of the fourth. Aybar, who also singled in the second, was stranded at second when Bartlett flew out, but his two-out hit is another example of what Maddon has been preaching so far. RHP Chad Orvella just took the mound for the Rays in the bottom half.
Tigers 2, Rays 2
Update 2:16 pm: Balfour got in a little jam in the third, with back-to-back singles by Guillen and Cabrera to start it off. But he got the next two batters to fly out, and Aybar made his first play at third, barely throwing out Rodriguez on a slow grounder.
Update 2:04 pm: The Rays had a mini-threat in the top of the third, with Jason Bartlett leading off with a double to the leftfield corner. But after Dioner Navarro flied out to left, and Justin Ruggiano struck out, Iwamura swung at the first pitch and grounded out to end the inning. Tigers 2, Rays 0
Update 1:55 pm: Grant Balfour walks the first batter - Placido Polanco - but gets out of the second without any further damage, as Sheffield flies out to B J Upton in centerfield. Tigers 2, Rays 0. Jeremy Bonderman came out for the third (probably because he didn't throw too many pitches to six hitters over the first two).
Update 1:41 p.m Garza almost made it out of the second, but got the hook from Joe Maddon after Curtis Granderson sliced a two-out, RBI double down the rightfield line, scoring Edgar Renteria, who led off with a single. Maddon said he was eager to see Garza pitch, and just wanted him to throw strikes. Garza did, but got caught up in a lot of long at-bats by patient Tigers hitters.
Official line: Garza worked one and two-thirds innings, giving up four hits and one walk (and two earned runs).
Tigers up 2-0 with Granderson on second. RHP Grant Balfour is warming up.
Update 1:41 p.m Willy Aybar got his first hit of the spring, a two-out liner to right-center. But he quickly got caught trying to steal second on a ball that bounced in front of Ivan Rodriguez. Inning over. Still 1-0 Tigers.
Update 1:24 p.m Garza has gotten off to a rocky first start. After getting the first two Tigers hitters out, he walked Sheffield and gave up back-to-back singles to Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera, giving Detroit a 1-0 lead. Garza then got Timo Perez to ground out to Aki to end the threat.
Update 1:06 p.m. Jeremy Bonderman makes quick work of the Rays in the first, with the 1-2-3 inning including a strikeout of Carl Crawford and a shattered-bat groundout by Carlos Pena.
The Rays, coming off their best spring start (3-0) since 2000, will get a shot at one of the American League's best today against Detroit on a beautiful day in Lakeland.
RHP Matt Garza will make his first start as a Ray and take on RHP Jeremy Bonderman from Detroit.
The other pitchers scheduled to appear today are J.P Howell, Chad Orvella, Grant Balfour, Jake McGee and Chris Mason. Andy Sonnanstine and Mitch Talbot made the trip as emergency pitchers.
Plenty of Rays regulars in the lineup today, with RF Cliff Floyd and RF Rocco Baldelli among those not making the trip. The Tigers lineup also has plenty of their starters, with CF Curtis Granderson, DH Gary Sheffield, 3B Miguel Cabrera and C Ivan Rodriguez.
Among the things to watch will be C Dioner Navarro, making his first start of the spring behind the plate. Manager Joe Maddon had given him a few extra days to get his arm game-ready; Navarro had missed a few days of camp to be at the side of his mother in Venezuela, whom Navarro is happy to report is doing fine after suffering a brain aneurysm and is out of othe hospital.
Then there's Willy Aybar, who will make his second start at third base.
On the training table front, Maddon said LHP Scott Kazmir is still in "stage 2" of his recovery from a left elbow strain suffered last Tuesday in the Rays first intrasquad game. Maddon said Kazmir is close to the drill where he throws a ball with his hand wrapped in a sock, but he'll know more soon.
As for top pick LHP David Price, Maddon said there's a chance he can see some action Wednesday when the Rays host the Astros.
-- JOE SMITH