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James Shields in line to start opening day for Tampa Bay Rays

James Shields, right, and Matt Garza will start the first and second spring games, respectively, which likely corresponds with the rotation for the regular season.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

James Shields, right, and Matt Garza will start the first and second spring games, respectively, which likely corresponds with the rotation for the regular season.

PORT CHARLOTTE — The schedule manager Joe Maddon provided Friday officially only covers the first five exhibition games, but it offers a pretty solid idea of what the Rays rotation will look like when the games count:

James Shields followed by Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis.

"Glean from that information what you may," Maddon said.

Shields is lined up to make what would be a team-high third straight opening day start April 6, though Maddon said he wouldn't make that official until he talks to the chosen pitcher.

"If I do, I do. That's awesome," Shields said. "Obviously, it's every starter's goal to be the ace of the staff, and that'd be great.

"But it's up to those guys. We have such a tight niche with the starting five, with all of us, I don't think it really matters. We're out here to compete. We have a good relationship with each other, and we're going to help each other out."

The only real intrigue in the rest of the rotation was in the middle as the Rays chose to put Niemann, who was 13-6 in his rookie season, ahead of Price, the only lefty of the bunch. There could be further discussion on that as the spring unfolds, though this way Price would face the Yankees in the season's fourth game.

And because Andy Sonnanstine is technically competing with Davis for the fifth spot, they will pitch on the same days for now.

Shields and Garza will pitch in Wednesday's spring opener at Sarasota. Then Shields will come back a day sooner and work March 7 in Clearwater.

WIN is the word: The slogan Maddon unveiled Friday for the team came from Ken Ravizza, the team's performance consultant and sports psychologist with whom Maddon talks regularly.

The slogan is a question: What's Important Now? And the answer is to stay in the present moment, Maddon said: "That's kind of a phrase I want to use with the guys a little bit this year."

But it's not by coincidence that the acronym is WIN.

A sign was put up above the entrance to the clubhouse at the Charlotte Sports Park. They're still deciding whether to use it on T-shirts as well.

Step forward: Nonroster RHP Joaquin Benoit threw to hitters for the first time in this camp and just the second time since recovering from the right shoulder surgery that forced the veteran of seven-plus years to miss all of last season.

Benoit, 32, said he felt good, and the batters said he looked sharp.

"His fastball was firm, and his changeup looked good," CF B.J. Upton said; "exactly like I remembered him."

OF Gabe Kapler said Benoit's fastball had nice life and some movement and his changeup good depth, though his command wasn't precise.

Benoit, competing primarily with Sonnanstine for the final bullpen slot, was pleased overall.

"To throw my changeup for strikes was the best thing that happened to me in a year-and-a-half," he said. "I don't feel that I'm 100 percent, but I think it was good."

Miscellany: Single-game tickets, previously available only on the Internet, go on sale at 9 a.m. today at the Tropicana Field box office, Tampa team store and through Ticketmaster. … There will be an intrasquad game at 10 a.m. Tuesday primarily to work on bunt plays and defense at game speed. … Maddon said INF Willy Aybar (left wrist sprain) is "feeling a lot better" and should return to full action in 2-3 days. … Garza limited himself to fastballs and changeups in his bullpen session and said he won't start throwing breaking balls until the second week of March.

James Shields in line to start opening day for Tampa Bay Rays 02/26/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2010 7:49am]
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