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In his 19th MLB season, Tampa Bay Rays' Manny Ramirez still gets butterflies

New DH Manny Ramirez signs autographs before his first spring training game in a Rays uniform.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

New DH Manny Ramirez signs autographs before his first spring training game in a Rays uniform.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Of all things, Manny Ramirez was nervous.

The Rays were opening the exhibition season Saturday — successfully, it turned out, with a 9-5 win over the Pirates — and Ramirez was playing his first game for them. But still, at 38, in his 19th big-league season, DH-ing in an exhibition, nervous?

"I always get nervous the first game," he said. "Opening day you get kind of butterflies in your stomach."

Manager Joe Maddon, having raved earlier about Ramirez's work ethic, said he took the nerves as another positive.

"That impresses me," Maddon said. "It tells you how much he cares right now, and I think it's actually a good thing."

Ramirez went 1-for-2, singling hard to right after taking two strikes his first at-bat, then flying out. "I wasn't really concerned about getting hits," Ramirez said. "I just want to get the feel, feeling it like the way I was. And I'm getting there."

Fellow newcomer Johnny Damon went 0-for-2.

MORE FIRST IMPRESSIONS: RHP Matt Bush was used in the third inning, which means his bosses wanted to see him face the big-league hitters before they leave the game.

And Bush, a 25-year-old trying to make the Rays as a reliever after dealing with alcohol issues, put on a show, keeping his nerves under control and his fastball low, striking out Andrew McCutchen and Matt Diaz and getting Pedro Alvarez to pop out.

"I had fun," Bush said. "I was excited. I love it. The more guys I can throw against to get my confidence up and to know I can face those guys and have success against them is just, in the long run, going to get me going a lot quicker."

C Robinson Chirinos, acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade, came up big with four RBIs, delivering a bases-loaded double on an 0-and-2 pitch and later singling in another run. "It was nice to have a first game like that," he said.

PRICE CHECK: The four-pitch walk to former college teammate Pedro Alvarez aside, LHP David Price was relatively happy with his 17-pitch, one-hit inning, and particularly pleased with the 1-and-2 fastball that struck out leadoff man Jose Tabata. "I felt better than I thought I was going to, to be honest," he said.

BOTTOM LINE: RHP Jeff Niemann agreed to a one-year contract for around $950,000, marking a slight pay cut (despite a solid 12-8, 4.39 season) from last season's $1.032 million due to the unusual circumstance of reaching the end of his original big-league contract without being arbitration eligible. The other 26 pre-arbitration players got one-year deals within the standard salary structure, at or slightly above the $414,000 major-league minimum.

GAME DETAILS: After the Pirates took a 2-0 lead against RHP Adam Russell, the Rays tied it on homers by Evan Longoria and Sean Rodriguez, then broke it open with Chirinos' double. … RHP Dirk Hayhurst and Rob Delaney each worked a pair of clean innings.

MISCELLANY: Ramirez is scheduled to play leftfield Monday, with Damon as the DH. … RHP Jeremy Hellickson will be back on the mound to throw a bullpen session for the first time since straining his right hamstring Feb. 17. … RHP Albert Suarez will be sidelined another 1-2 weeks after having exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his bruised left knee.

In his 19th MLB season, Tampa Bay Rays' Manny Ramirez still gets butterflies 02/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 26, 2011 8:55pm]
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