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Injury to reliever J.P. Howell forcing Tampa Bay Rays to make quicker decision about pitchers' roles

With LHP J.P. Howell out of the bullpen for at least a month, the Rays may move up their decision on who will be in the final slot of the rotation.

"We may be able to get that done this week, and it's all linked to J.P," manager Joe Maddon said before Sunday's rainout in Bradenton. "We'll meet at some point very soon to discuss all this, because I'd rather start hammering out some options so people get more comfortable regarding what actually is going to be their role this season."

The reason it's linked is because with Howell out, it seems much more likely that the 12-man opening day staff will include both candidates for the fifth spot, Wade Davis, who had an ugly two-inning, 61-pitch outing in Sunday's 12-3 loss to the Twins in Fort Myers, and Andy Sonnanstine, who was to face the Pirates.

And it would seem much more logical that Sonnanstine, a 27-year-old who spent part of last season as a reliever, would be used out of the bullpen than Davis, the 24-year-old who is considered one of the Rays', and the game's, top young starting prospects.

But Maddon said no assumptions should be made, about their assignments or even that both will make the team.

"Theoretically, it would look that way," Maddon said. "(But) I don't want to jump any guns right here. Anything's possible. Part of this is also (executive vice president Andrew Friedman) is continuing to attempt to augment us from the outside."

WADING IN: If the decision is made before Davis pitches again, he didn't leave a good impression.

Davis was not sharp at all, allowing a one-out walk followed by six consecutive hits in the 39-pitch first inning, and nine hits overall to the 16 batters he faced.

"I don't know if today mattered or not," he said. "It always (stinks) to not throw well."

Davis said he had "a little bit of dead arm," was leaving too many balls up and when he did pitch to contact, "a couple found some holes." He also said he learned something: that he should have switched sooner from his four-seam to his two-seam fastball, which is easier to keep down.

In four spring starts, Davis (1-1, 10.24 ERA) has gone more than two innings only once and allowed 25 of 52 batters to reach base over 92/3 innings.

SONNY DAY: With Sunday's rainout, Sonnanstine (0-0, 2.00 in nine innings) will throw today, either against the Red Sox in Fort Myers or in a minor-league game.

BACK IN BIZ: OF Matt Joyce expects to return to the field in the next 4-5 days after throwing from 90 feet Sunday morning with no issues from his strained right elbow. "I'm really looking forward to getting in a game," he said. He returned to the Rays lineup as a DH Sunday, after hitting in three minor-league games, and homered in the sixth.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays (12-6) were sloppy while playing in a strong wind as both 3B Dan Johnson and 1B Hank Blalock dropped foul popups that proved costly, and they made three errors overall for the second straight day. … Down 7-0 after two innings, fill-in manager Dave Martinez said: "I was like, 'Come on, rain.' " … RHP Dale Thayer didn't make much of a case for the open bullpen spot, allowing three hits and two walks in his inning: "Just one of those days. It (stinks) so late in camp to have one of my worst days, but hopefully they look at it the same way."

MISCELLANY: OF Gabe Kapler was scratched from the Bradenton lineup due to tightness in his right hip, but Maddon said only as a precaution as the field was wet. … The Rays had RHP Matt Garza pitch in a minor-league game rather than face the Yankees last week, but Shields — who already had one start rained out — is scheduled to pitch against the Red Sox today. … Howell's rehab will include work in the pool, but not actually swimming, as he indicated Saturday.

Injury to reliever J.P. Howell forcing Tampa Bay Rays to make quicker decision about pitchers' roles 03/21/10 [Last modified: Sunday, March 21, 2010 11:19pm]
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