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Bullpen candidates continue to impress as Tampa Bay Rays snap winless streak

BRADENTON — The immediate gratification for the Rays on Monday was the 4-2 victory over the Pirates that ended an eight-game spring winless streak that was third longest in team history.

"Casey (Kotchman) just said, 'Well, there's no need for a team meeting,' " manager Joe Maddon said. "It was nice to shake hands. It's always nice to win."

The more significant development was a continuation of the positive performances by candidates for the three open spots in the bullpen. After raving again before the game about Sunday's show by LHPs Cesar Ramos and Jake McGee and RHPs Juan Cruz and Brandon Gomes, Maddon added praise afterward for the efforts of RHPs Mike Ekstrom and Rob Delaney, plus prospects RHPs Alex Cobb and Matt Bush.

"All these guys are kinda stepping up," Maddon said. "One of the first things I talked about when they came in here was opportunity, and there's plenty of opportunity in our bullpen. It seems to me guys are settling in a bit, they're kinda fresh, they're throwing strikes, they're making pitches."

PRICE CHECK: LHP David Price threw 59 pitches (38 strikes) over four innings, though he needed 27 to get through the fourth. Price focused on his changeup, pleased with most of the dozen or so he threw, and also with his two-seam fastball, though he did allow a two-run homer to Matt Diaz. Overall, the expected opening-day starter allowed two runs on four hits, struck out two and walked one. "I felt pretty good," Price said.

MANNY BEING MANNY: Manny Ramirez did something unusual that had people talking — but in a good way. Given Sunday totally off — meaning he didn't even have to come to the field — Ramirez instead showed up and was in the batting cage before 8 a.m. Last week, Ramirez asked to be added to the lineup for a game. "This is what we're getting right now," Maddon said. "He's been a joy."

TIM TIME: Maddon said SS prospect Tim Beckham's biggest challenge in getting to the majors is improving the mental aspects of his game, such as making "real sophomoric mistakes" on easy defensive plays. "There's no reason why he should not be able to play shortstop in the big leagues based on his abilities," Maddon said. "The only thing that would prevent that would be that he doesn't focus and doesn't pay enough attention to the little details, those kind of mistakes that kill you."

HELLICKSON READY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will throw batting practice again today then make his exhibition debut Friday. Hellickson, sidelined earlier with a hamstring strain, said he's confident he can be ready to start the season. "I don't see anything causing me to miss any starts," he said. But the Rays won't need a fifth starter until April 10, so it's possible he'll be placed on the DL until then.

GAME DETAILS: B.J. Upton doubled in one run and scored another, then the Rays (2-7-1) broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth with Jose Lobaton walking, going to third on Kotchman's single and scoring on Desmond Jennings' sac fly. Justin Ruggiano later drew a bases-loaded walk.

MEDICAL MATTERS: OF Sam Fuld (right elbow) returned to action after being out a week, making a diving catch in left and singling. … INF Elliot Johnson (left quad) is expected back today, having been sidelined since the Feb. 26 opener, though INF/OF Ben Zobrist (right ankle) might need until Wednesday. … SS Reid Brignac (groin tightness) said he is much improved — "10 times better than a couple days ago" — and hopes to be back before the projected end of the week. "I feel fine; I could play right now," he said.

MISCELLANY: With health and more development time, Bush, Maddon said, "could be very good. … An interesting fellow." … OF Matt Joyce, who singled off Cliff Lee on Sunday, faces lefties again today and Wednesday. … Ramirez is scheduled to play leftfield against the Red Sox on Thursday.

Bullpen candidates continue to impress as Tampa Bay Rays snap winless streak 03/07/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 7, 2011 9:52pm]
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