For starters, Rays vs Mariners; Blalock's debut
Update 12:41 p.m. Though Hank Blalock has been to two All-Star games and played eight seasons in the big leagues, it was still special for him to see his name on the lineup card today, considering a humbling offseason that resulted in just one offer.
"When I was with Texas for a long consistent string of being in the big leagues, sometimes you get a little bit used to it," Blalock said. "It was really good feeling to show up yesterday and have a locker and put on a big league uniform again, it was really special."
Some pre-game tid-bits from manager Joe Maddon:
*On his lineup: Maddon said he put Gabe Kapler in the three-hole because he's good against lefties (and Mariners have Cliff Lee on the mound), and he wanted to set the table for cleanup hitter Evan Longoria. Maddon also wanted to find a day to give Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena a day off, and get Sean Rodriguez in the lineup.
*On J.P. Howell: Turns out, LHP J.P. Howell will throw his simulated game Monday - not Tuesday, as Maddon originally said. Maddon said Howell will throw at full speed, and if everything goes well, he could begin a rehab assignment later this week.
Developing: Hank Blalock will make his Rays debut today in the series finale against the Mariners.
Blalock, a two-time All-Star selected from Triple-A Durham Saturday, will start at first base, with Willy Aybar - who hit the walkoff homer Saturday - back at designated hitter. An interesting lineup without Ben Zobrist and Carlos Pena, as Gabe Kapler moves up to the third spot in the order.
One of the biggest things the Rays felt Blalock brings was positional (and lineup) flexibility, due to his improved defense. Manager Joe Maddon feels comfortable with Blalock playing first, as well as third, saying that Durham manager Charlie Montoyo texted him recently to say Blalock was playing Gold Glove caliber third base.
Of course, Blalock won't see much time there, not with the Rays already having a Gold Glover at third in Evan Longoria. But Blalock said some arm exercises he's been doing have helped strengthen his arm quite a bit, helping him defensively.
RHP Matt Garza will get the start on the mound, having been arguably one of the Rays most consistent starters all season.
The Rays lineup: