Rays say goodbye, part I
Carl Crawford hits a two-run home run off Indians pitcher Cliff Lee in the third inning. [AP Photo]
Update 4:33 pm The Rays retook the lead 7-5, partly due to a Carlos Pena 2-run homer, but the Indians - in their final game at Chain of Lakes Park - tied it up with a ninth-inning rally.
But the Rays got them back in the top of the 10th, with veteran catcher Mike DiFelice hitting an RBI double to right-center. The next batter, John Rodriguez, drilled a single to rightfield for another RBI.
Rays 9, Indians 7 (FINAL)
Update 3:20 pm Balfour had his first rocky outing of the spring, leaving in the sixth after walking three straight batters (including one with the bases loaded). The past few outings, Balfour had looked as good as Maddon has ever seen him, throwing strikes and getting the ball down.
But, interestingly enough, it was Balfour's biggest competition for the bullpen spot (Scott Dohmann), who came in for him to end the threat. Dohmann got the final fly out to end the inning.
Indians 5, Rays 4 (top 7th)
Update 2:40 pm RHP Grant Balfour has come in to pitch the fifth. The hard-throwing Aussie is in the camp's closest position battle, competing with RHP Scott Dohmann for the final spot in the bullpen. Though Balfour has had the better spring, Maddon & Co. say the spring performance isn't the biggest part of their decision process.
Dohmann struggled at times last spring and turned into one of the Rays most consistent relievers last season.
Update 2:25 p.m The Rays four-run lead was short-lived. In the bottom of the fourth, the Indians loaded the bases on Sonnanstine, drawing a visit from pitching coach Jim Hickey to the mound.
The next batter, Andy Gonzalez, ripped a grand slam just inside the leftfield foul pole, tying the game at 4-4.
Rays 4, Indians 4
Update 2:18 p.m. The Rays continued to show their aggressive baserunning, forcing the issue - and manufacturing a run (and nearly two) in the fourth. B.J. Upton led off with a single. Then, on his attempted steal of second, the throw went into the outfield, allowing Upton to advance to third.
Navarro singled Upton in with a blooper over the drawn-in infield. Navarro stole second (no throw) and then advanced to third on a flyout by Guzman.
Then came arguably the play of the day so far. On a liner to shallow-left center, Indians CF Grady Sizemore showed why he's one of the best in the game, making a spectacular diving catch to rob the Rays of a run.
Rays 4, Indians 0
Update 1:54 p.m. Carl Crawford came through with two outs in the third, hitting a two-run homer to leftfield.
The Rays are up 3-0. Sonnanstine is cruising along, having given up just one hit in three innings
Update 1:19 p.m. Rays leadoff man Akinori Iwamura, who's having a solid spring at the plate, just hit a solo homer to leftfield to open Thursday's game.
It's his second leadoff homer of the spring, and gave the Rays a 1-0 lead.
RHP Andy Sonnanstine is starting today, and it began well as he struck out Grady Sizemore with a nasty breaking ball.
Rays 1, Indians 0
The Rays left early for Winter Haven for what will be the last game there, as the Indians are moving to Arizona next spring. And that's just a farewell warmup act for Friday, when the Rays and Reds play the last spring training game in St. Petersburg.
There are some issues on field, as the Rays try to finalize their 25-man roster in advance of the 3 p.m. Sunday deadline (the same time their busses leave Tropicana Field for the airport on the way to Baltimore).
And of some concern is the status of new starting 3B Willy Aybar.
Aybar has been sidelined since Saturday with a sore left hamstring, and the Rays - while being outwardly confident - are clearly considering contingencies. Aybar is scheduled to play in minor-league games today and likely again Friday rather than with the big-league team, and that makes sense for two reasons.
If all is going well, he can bat in every inning giving him a chance to make up for lost time. But if he continues to have problems with the leg, the Rays preserve the option of putting him on the 15-day disabled list backdated to March 21 (since he hasn't played in any major-league exhibitions since then), allowing him to be eligible to return April 5.
And who would be the starting third baseman on opening day? Well, based on today's lineup, how about spring sensation Elliot Johnson? Another option is Joel Guzman.
Also, Cliff Floyd will play in a minor-league game today as he tries to get extra at-bats.
The Rays are also continuing to seek another outfielder, and those trade talks should intensity in the next couple days.
The Mariners, Dodgers and Angels are among teams with extra outfielders and might be in the market for pitching help. The Rays - in the right situation - could deal one of their young starters, Edwin Jackson or Jason Hammel, who are out of options anyway and could be surplus when Scott Kazmir returns, and then bring back Jeff Niemann to start now.
Some pre-game updates from the session with Maddon
*Aybar is scheduled to get some work in a minor league game today, with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield on hand. Aybar will lead off every other inning, but won't get any action in the field. Maddon said how Aybar does today could go a ways in whether he's still on track to start opening day, though Maddon re-iterated his belief Aybar will start on the hot corner.
Maddon also said "it's possible" Joel Guzman will get the start at third opening day (if Aybar isn't ready), though Elliot Johnson is starting at third today in Winter Haven..
Here is the Rays lineup for the Indians:
Cliff Lee, P
Andy Sonnanstine is starting, and the two relievers battling for the last spot - Grant Balfour and Scott Dohmann - are both scheduled to work.
-- JOE SMITH