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Former Astros pitcher Carlos Hernandez strong in Tampa Bay Rays' spring opener

Carlos Hernandez, trying to come back from three shoulder surgeries, pitches two shutout innings in the spring opener.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Carlos Hernandez, trying to come back from three shoulder surgeries, pitches two shutout innings in the spring opener.

PORT CHARLOTTE — LHP Carlos Hernandez was admittedly emotional and a bit too excited facing major-league hitters for the first time in three years.

You couldn't tell by the results.

Hernandez, an unexpected candidate for the No. 5 job in the Rays rotation, got a good start on the competition Wednesday. The 28-year-old former Astros starter, trying to make it back after three shoulder surgeries, worked two crisp innings without allowing a hit or a walk.

"It feels good to be back, it feels good to face big-league hitters," he said. "I'm encouraged the way everything went today. I know it's just the first game, but I'm looking forward to getting some more outings."

RHP Jason Hammel, another candidate, allowed three consecutive singles in his second inning of an otherwise solid outing, but CF Fernando Perez got him out of trouble by throwing out Joey Votto at the plate. "I owe him a dinner," Hammel said.

Manager Joe Maddon liked what he saw: "I thought both those guys pitched pretty well."

CONTRACT ISSUES: The Rays renewed the contracts of CF B.J. Upton and RHPs Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine when they wouldn't agree to one-year deals, as did the 14 other pre-arbitration eligible players on the 40-man roster.

It was the second year Upton was renewed, as he got just more than $435,000, up from last season's $412,200, and again forfeits the incentive awards package.

"B.J. is an unusual player," agent Larry Reynolds said. "He just does not fit into the system the team has set up for pre-arbitration players. His contributions are above the norm. It's a matter of principle with us."

GAME DETAILS: The Rays were held to four hits, two in the first six innings by Reds starters Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto, who are preparing for the World Baseball Classic and looked ready. … Maddon found some good despite two errors and 14 hits allowed, such as Perez, whom they are urging to play shallower, and RF Justin Ruggiano throwing out runners and Gabe Kapler taking an extra base on a ball in the dirt. … LHP Randy Choate allowed a fifth-inning grand slam to Jerry Hairston and RHP Mitch Talbot a two-run shot to Adam Rosales.

UNION BUSINESS: Players union chief Don Fehr had what amounted to a standard spring training meeting with the Rays in the morning. Fehr said he "certainly hopes" names of other players who tested positive during the 2003 sampling don't get released, as Alex Rodriguez's did. "It's unfortunate that what came out came out, and we'll hope, and do our best, to ensure that that's the only one," he said.

MISCELLANY: Ex-Ray Rocco Baldelli is expected to be in the Red Sox lineup for Friday's exhibition in Port Charlotte. … Despite being a late addition to the Dominican Republic World Baseball Classic team, INF Willy Aybar is excited by the opportunity: "I'm very happy that I'm going to represent my country." … With Aybar and starting 2B Akinori Iwamura in the WBC, the Rays will use Ben Zobrist, Adam Kennedy, Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac at second. … One of the realities of training in Port Charlotte rather than St. Petersburg: An 8 a.m. bus for today's trip to Tampa.

Former Astros pitcher Carlos Hernandez strong in Tampa Bay Rays' spring opener 02/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 7:30am]
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