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Hank Blalock says he won't accept minor-league assignment from Tampa Bay Rays

FORT MYERS — Hank Blalock isn't going to give the Rays an easy out.

Blalock indicated Wednesday he'll exercise the out clause in his minor-league contract today, forcing the Rays to either put him on the 25-man roster by Friday night or allow him to become a free agent and eliminating the possibility of them stashing him at Triple-A Durham.

"I don't have any plans on playing minor-league baseball this year," Blalock, 29, said. "At this time in my life, if there's no major-league opportunities for me, then I'll find something else to do."

The Rays are deciding between Blalock and INF Reid Brignac for the final spot among the 13 position players, open in part due to OF Matt Joyce's elbow injury. Both Brignac and Blalock are lefty swingers; Brignac, who has had the better spring, can play the middle infield, offering more versatility than Blalock, who plays first and third.

One theory was if they needed only short-term help, they would pick Brignac, who has options and can be sent up and down, and keep Blalock at Triple A, knowing that once they called him up they would lose him if they later wanted to take him off the roster. That was based on the assumption that Blalock didn't have a better offer elsewhere and would go to Durham.

Maddon said Blalock's position won't change their thought process: "Something like that would not cause us to make a decision or reverse a decision that we may have made otherwise. That would just be unfortunate."

Blalock said he wants to stay with the Rays: "I love it here. I like the way I've been treated, I like my teammates, I like the staff. I'd like to be part of helping the Rays win the World Series. I hope they keep me."

If the Rays keep Blalock, who would earn $925,000, their issues would be finding him playing time, primarily as a platoon DH with Pat Burrell and as a pinch-hitter.

OTHER DECISIONS: Rookie RHP Mike Ekstrom is scheduled to work a couple of innings at the start of today's spring finale, but Wednesday it sounded more as if veteran RHP Joaquin Benoit had become the leader among the in-house candidates for the final bullpen slot.

Maddon pointed out that Benoit did better Tuesday than his line indicated: two innings, two hits, two walks, one hit batter, five strikeouts. "He showed some really good things," Maddon said.

Also, INF Joe Dillon, who added catcher to his multi-position portfolio, and C Alvin Colina were reassigned to minor-league camp. That leaves 30 on the roster, with LHP J.P. Howell and Joyce headed to the DL and INF Elliot Johnson elsewhere since he is out of options.

Maddon and executive VP Andrew Friedman planned to meet late Wednesday and/or this morning to go over the final decisions. The final 25-man roster is due at 3 p.m. Sunday.

PITCHING IN: RHP Rafael Soriano, pitching on back-to-back days for the first time this spring, gave up one run on two hits while striking out one in a Triple-A game. "It's been a really long time since I throw back-to-back, and, to me, I feel fine," he said. … Opening day starter James Shields will get his final tuneup in a minor-league game today rather than face the Orioles since he'll see them Tuesday. For what it's worth in guessing the opening night lineup, he'll be caught by Dioner Navarro (who said he "felt great" the day after returning to the lineup after recovering from a nerve bruise in his left shin). … RHP Andy Sonnanstine made his first back-to-back relief appearances, allowing a homer and two walks to Twins minor-leaguers. … RHPs Wade Davis (6 IP, 4 H, 5 K) and Grant Balfour (2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 K) had their best spring outings in the 10-3 win.

Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

Hank Blalock says he won't accept minor-league assignment from Tampa Bay Rays 03/31/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 8:45pm]

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