PORT CHARLOTTE — With less than two weeks left in spring training, manager Joe Maddon is running out of time to get his starting players on the field together for a preferred 10-game stretch.
CF B.J. Upton was scratched from Wednesday's lineup and won't play today after a setback in his recovery from a March 14 outfield collision. After taking swings and playing in minor-league games Tuesday, Upton had soreness in his lower back and side again Wednesday and was seen by Dr. Robert Stchur.
"I figured it would get better and it didn't," Upton said. "I don't really know what it is. We just don't know. The only thing anyone really knows is that it didn't get better."
Upton said it's "frustrating knowing you make strides and then you take a step back," but he remains confident "it's not anything serious" and that he'll be ready for the April 6 opener.
The Rays aren't as certain about SS Reid Brignac, who is expected to be out at least a few more days due to a painful plantar fascia condition in his right foot. And when he does get back on the field, Maddon said "he's still going to be impacted by it, that's that one injury that's constantly bothering you. … We'll know more in the next couple days."
GOOD PITCHING: LHP J.P. Howell had the most impressive of his five exhibition outings, retiring all five batters he faced and looking a bit like the pre-surgery Howell in doing so. "Stuff-wise it was not my best, but all around being a pitcher probably it was," he said. … RHP Kyle Farnsworth started, clocking at 95 mph and getting four outs, including a strikeout of Alex Rodriguez with a man on. … RHP Burke Badenhop also had a solid two-inning outing, including a 10-pitch walk to A-Rod. "I thought they were really good," Maddon said. … RHP Jeff Niemann worked five innings in a minor-league game, allowing three runs on four hits and a walk, striking out three.
NOT SO GOOD PITCHING: LHP Cesar Ramos and RHP Brandon Gomes, competing with Badenhop for the last bullpen spot, had rough outings. Ramos gave up the Rays' 2-0 lead in a 5-2 loss with a messy 12/3 innings, allowing three hits (two doubles) and two walks. Gomes allowed three runs in the ninth, including a Gustavo Molina homer, still working his way back from offseason back surgery. "He's not quite there yet, but I love his tenacity and how he fought through that particular inning," Maddon said.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays (5-11-3) got a massive homer by OF Matt Joyce off Yankees starter Phil Hughes that struck halfway up the hitting background beyond center. "Pin-high when it landed," Maddon said. "He was definitely putting from there." … 3B Evan Longoria's errant throw was his fourth spring error. … C Jose Molina caught all nine innings, part of the plan to prep him for extended duty.
MISCELLANY: Maddon said plans for the rest of the rotation, including the anticipated decision between Niemann and RHP Wade Davis, could come by Sunday. … Howell and OF Sam Fuld will be guest bartenders at Punta Gorda's Wyvern Hotel tonight for charity and guests on the Countdown to Opening Day radio show, 7-8 on 620-AM. … Sports Illustrated picks the Rays to win 92 games and the second AL wild card then be eliminated, again, by Texas.