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Carlos Peña feels right about return to Tampa Bay Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE — Carlos Peña felt good at the plate and comfortable at first base.

But most of all Tuesday, he felt at home.

Peña played his first game since re-signing with the Rays, and the two well-struck flyouts and the handful of plays in the field in the 3-2 loss to the Twins were bonuses. As was the ovation from the crowd before his first at-bat.

"It felt really good to be out there," he said.

Manager Joe Maddon held Peña, 33, out of the first three days of games so he could be sure he was ready, and Peña, who starred for the Rays from 2007-10, said he was.

He worked counts, he moved briskly around the infield, he went to the mound to calm pitchers. "It just felt good getting back in the action," he said.

NIEMANN'S DEBUT: RHP Jeff Niemann didn't start well, allowing two singles then throwing away a pickoff attempt, but was pleased to limit the damage to one run. He ended up throwing 30 pitches (18 strikes) over two innings.

"I think it went very well," he said. "It was good to go out there and get the full two innings."

Niemann and Wade Davis are battling to stay in the rotation, though Maddon said again Tuesday that rookie LHP Matt Moore is not assured a spot, either. "I thought Jeff threw the ball really well," Maddon said. "I liked him a lot today."

WHAT, HIM WORRY? Maddon said he was not concerned at all by the first-ever 0-4 spring start: "Once the hitting comes around we're going to be just fine."

LONGO "IMPATIENT": 3B Evan Longoria took dry (no ball) swings to test his bruised right hand but is resigned to needing at least a few more days before getting into games.

"It's slowly going in the right direction," he said. "I'm as impatient as everybody. My tendency is to push it, but I think right now the smart decision is to just let it run its course. All it is is swelling, getting the swelling out of there."

Longoria, hit on the hand by a pitch March 1, said there are no plans for additional X-rays or concern of further injury. "There's no breaks," he said.

He hopes to progress to hitting off a tee and swinging at flipped balls today but would still need to go through a full batting practice before playing.

SHIELDS UP: RHP James Shields seems likely to start the April 6 season opener against the Yankees; today he'll make his spring debut against them in Tampa. "I'm just going to work on what I need to work on," he said. "I've still got a few kinks to work out as far as my mechanics go."

GAME DETAILS: Niemann's errant pickoff and an ill-advised flip toss by SS Sean Rodriguez led to an early 3-0 deficit. "He had other options and he just chose the most difficult play to make," Maddon said of Rodriguez. … The Rays closed to 3-2 in the eighth when Stephen Vogt doubled, Elliot Johnson's fly to left was misplayed and Jose Lobaton singled. … Prospects Ryan Reid and Marquis Fleming teamed for four innings of one-hit relief.

MISCELLANY: The first summer concert was announced — a triple bill of ZZ Top, Gretchen Wilson and 3 Doors Down following the June 17 game. … Attendance was 4,023. … Three of the Rays' four losses have been to the Twins, but Maddon noted with nine spring meetings "we still have a chance to win the season series."

Carlos Peña takes a throw at first base in his first spring game since his return to the Rays. “It felt really good to be out there,” said Peña, who hit the ball hard twice and got an ovation before his first at-bat.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Carlos Peña takes a throw at first base in his first spring game since his return to the Rays. “It felt really good to be out there,” said Peña, who hit the ball hard twice and got an ovation before his first at-bat.

Carlos Peña feels right about return to Tampa Bay Rays 03/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 11:19pm]

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