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Balfour has his swagger back as Rays closer

NEW YORK — The two W's were the Rays' most important product of Thursday's doubleheader sweep of the Red Sox.

But a close second was the swagger closer RHP Grant Balfour got back after saving both games.

"I want to believe and I've got to believe and I think I do believe that moving forward based on what he did (Thursday), it's got to really pick up his confidence a lot," manager Joe Maddon said.

Balfour, pitching for the first time since blowing a save April 25 in Chicago, said Friday the biggest difference was regaining his aggressive approach.

"It wasn't me, and I got hurt by it," Balfour said. "So I got back to what I needed to do, where I wanted to be. It was more of pitching how I want to pitch. And it working out for us is great."

Balfour is typically animated on the mound, but 3B Evan Longoria said it was more obvious Thursday.

"It was good to have that back and just see that fire and that intensity come out of him," Longoria said.

HELLICKSON PUSHED BACK: Though the Rays are pleased with RHP Jeremy Hellickson's rehab from Jan. 29 right elbow surgery and say there are no setbacks, they are now projecting his return to the rotation for late June.

Hellickson, who is set to throw the third of at least six planned mound sessions Sunday at the Trop, will need to build arm strength by going through, essentially, a full six-week spring training. There initially had been talk of an early June return.

RHP Alex Cobb is progressing well from his April 13 oblique strain. He is set to throw off the mound for a second time today and is on track for an early June return, possibly late May.

RHP Alex Colome, suspended 50 games for using a performance-enhancing drug, could be back first as he is eligible to be activated May 25. But he seems likely headed to Triple-A Durham. Colome has been working out with the extended spring group in Port Charlotte and is allowed to make rehab starts in advance of his activation date.

LHP Matt Moore, who will be out at least a year after April 22 Tommy John elbow surgery, is doing range-of-motion exercises.

THE GREAT TANAKA: The Rays are cautiously awaiting today's first up-close look at RHP Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees' high-priced Japanese import who is 3-0 and working on a 31-game regular-season winning streak dating to August 2012.

"I know he's off to a pretty good start. I'm eager to see it for myself," Maddon said. "I would think having such a wide range of things he can do and have one oppressively good pitch to put hitters away with, that's always a pretty good combination.

"We'll see if we can come up with any ideas regarding how to go about our business against him, but I know he's very impressive."

Longoria planned to check out video after Friday's game.

"I've seen some other guys kind of pooh-pooh him, so to speak, and I'm not going to do that," he said. "He's looked pretty good, and obviously, his numbers show it right now."

ODORIZZI'S BLUES: RHP Jake Odorizzi takes the mound today confident a series of adjustments made with pitching coach Jim Hickey this week will end a streak of four disappointing starts.

"It's probably the most difficult stretch of my career," Odorizzi said. "I've never really had this amount of struggle this many starts in a row. It just kind of (stinks) being up here at the highest level, doing it and not doing well."

LOGAN'S RUN: INF/DH Logan Forsythe has been one of the Rays' biggest disappointments thus far, specifically the .185 average (5-for-27) and .526 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handers, whom he was supposed to dominate.

But Maddon said they remain confident and will continue to give him chances.

"I think it's probably a confidence issue right now because he probably just needs more at-bats," he said. "I know there's more in there. We've just got to keep putting him out there to get it out of him."

MISCELLANY: Maddon said they were leaning toward keeping the rotation in order after Monday's off day but hadn't made a final decision. One question is whether to separate LHP David Price and RHP Chris Archer, who are most likely to work deep into games. … C Ryan Hanigan went into Friday leading the majors by catching 40 percent (4-of-10) of would-be stealers. … Maddon said he had no idea why Archer lost command of the strike zone in the fifth inning Thursday night after zipping through the first four.

Balfour has his swagger back as Rays closer 05/02/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 3, 2014 1:11am]

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