PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Roberto Hernandez said every pitch is important for him as he competes for a spot in the Rays' rotation. And the way the former All-Star is throwing, he's making a strong argument.
Hernandez continued his impressive spring by allowing just one run, three hits and no walks over six innings in Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays at Charlotte Sports Park. The sinkerballer kept the ball on the ground, including getting Toronto slugger Jose Bautista to ground into a double play in the first inning.
Manager Joe Maddon said everything was working for Hernandez, describing his outing, which put his ERA at 3.00 in six spring appearances, as "very sharp."
"I told him in the dugout, every time we send him back out there, he looks better," Maddon said. "Command has gotten better. Velocity has gotten better. Balls were on the ground. Everything you would expect of him keeps getting better."
RHP Jeff Niemann, vying for the final spot with Hernandez, will have his turn today in a split-squad game against the Orioles in Port Charlotte. Maddon said they're not in a rush to make a decision, so both pitchers will likely get another start next week. "They're both looking very good," Maddon said. "We have some nice difficult decisions to make."
Hernandez, who signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal in the offseason, said he's not letting the decision weigh on his mind. "I can't control that," he said.
A CASUAL OUTING: Because of Wednesday's rainout in Fort Myers, LHP Matt Moore took his turn in a more casual setting Thursday, throwing a 60-pitch simulated game on a back field.
The team believed that was a better way to control Moore's workload, and after a session against OF Shelley Duncan, INF Ryan Roberts and INF Sean Rodriguez, Moore said he felt like he got what he needed out of it. "It felt fine," he said. "Everything felt like a workday, not quite what (Wednesday) would have been like. It has its perks, but at the same time it's also nice to be under the lights."
GAME STUFF: LF Matt Joyce and SS Yunel Escobar had a minor collision in the fifth, converging on a pop to shallow left, with Maddon saying they called for it at the same time. Both are fine. … C Jose Lobaton went 1-for-4 and is hitting .188 in the spring, but Maddon isn't concerned. "It's a timing thing more than anything," he said. … RHP Joel Peralta gave up three hits and one run in the eighth.
MINOR MATTERS: OF Sam Fuld (right hamstring tightness) wasn't scheduled to play Thursday, but after an encouraging morning outfield workout, first-base coach George Hendrick said Fuld's ready to go. Fuld didn't play the field but had a walk in four at-bats in a minor-league game, saying he was cautious on the basepaths. Fuld said he felt good enough to do the same today in a minor-league game, and maybe play the field. … C Jose Molina, used sparingly for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, had six at-bats in a minor-league game. "It wasn't great, but it was okay," he said. Molina said he plans to catch today against the Orioles.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.