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Jason Hammel delivers best spring start in final pitch for Tampa Bay Rays' No. 5 starter's job

Jason Hammel, battling for the final rotation spot, delivers five shutout innings in what he called his best outing of the spring.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Jason Hammel, battling for the final rotation spot, delivers five shutout innings in what he called his best outing of the spring.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays manager Joe Maddon liked everything RHP Jason Hammel did over five innings Saturday in his final pitch for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

Just not enough to announce a decision, which isn't likely until Monday.

But, barring a trade as the Rays explore making room for reliever Jason Isringhausen, it seems Hammel has shown them what they wanted.

"That was very nice. … I really thought he was extremely sharp," Maddon said. "That showed progress there today. Those are things we've been talking to him about: fastball command, keeping it down, being able to throw his breaking ball for a strike when he's behind, all those things. He did that today."

Hammel, 26, felt very good about what he did and the aggressiveness he showed in doing it, allowing two hits while striking out four and walking one in five shutout innings in what he said was — "No doubt" — his best outing. Especially coming off his worst, when he gave up six hits and walked five in four innings Monday against the Pirates.

"It was basically just attack today, that was it," Hammel said.

Jeff Niemann, the other contender, is likely to work in a minor-league game Monday. With Hammel and Niemann out of options, it has been assumed the nonstarter would become the long reliever, but with Isringhausen and reliever Lance Cormier pitching well, the decisions may be more complicated.

"I hope this one helps, of course," Hammel said. "I want the ball. I definitely want the ball, whether it's the fifth spot or the first spot, I don't care."

THE IZZY TIZZY: Isringhausen allowed two runs on three hits and a walk in the sixth, raising his ERA to 7.20, but he and Maddon said he did better than the numbers showed given a misplaced 1-and-1 curveball to Jay Bruce, who singled in the runs.

The Rays will know more today, after Isringhausen makes his first back-to-back appearances of the spring. "I want to see what he looks like two days in a row," Maddon said. "Overall I'm still seeing progress; the command's getting a little bit better, too."

Isringhausen said he is pleased with his progress: "I'll take my chances and see what happens after (today)."

LINING UP: With the Red Sox making it official that RHP Josh Beckett is working opening day, the Rays fielded for the first time what could be their April 6 starting lineup, with Ben Zobrist in center and Gabe Gross in right.

Maddon liked the look but noted the lack of communication on a popup that dropped on the infield and a general malaise. "I just think the length of this camp has gotten to us at this point," he said. "I'd like to see a little more energy beginning next week."

THIRD AT FIRST? DH/OF Pat Burrell has been working out at first base as the Rays explore all facets of versatility and the effects on their typically tidy defense, and ways to get Willy Aybar in the lineup. Burrell played 58 games at first for the Phillies in 2000, but none since.

MISCELLANY: The Rays (12-13-1) got only five hits in a 5-1 loss to the Reds. … Maddon said he is "pretty sure" final cuts will be made by the time the Rays break camp here Wednesday, though rosters don't have to be set until Sunday. … Saturday's crowd of 7,156 was the Rays' eighth sellout, and second largest, of the spring. … CF B.J. Upton was 1-for-3 with a walk in a minor-league game and played five innings on defense. He will DH today in his first back-to-back action.

Jason Hammel delivers best spring start in final pitch for Tampa Bay Rays' No. 5 starter's job 03/28/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 29, 2009 7:55am]

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