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Left-hander Alex Torres adds to Tampa Bay Rays' starting pitching depth

FORT MYERS — Manager Joe Maddon says left-handed pitching prospect Alex Torres has major-league stuff but will be a starting pitcher in Triple A to start the season, not competing for one of the Rays' final bullpen spots.

Maddon said the organization sees Torres, 23, as providing valuable depth, along with RHP Andy Sonnanstine and RHP Alex Cobb, in case the Rays rotation gets hit by injury.

Torres had a good audition Friday, making his first spring start against the Twins, throwing two scoreless innings while striking out two, including veteran Jim Thome. Torres said he was excited, felt comfortable and is open to whatever way the Rays want to use him.

"I just want the chance they give me," said Torres, who was acquired from the Angels in the 2009 trade involving LHP Scott Kazmir. "I'm just going to be ready; I want to stay healthy and want to be ready for that time."

In Friday's outing, Torres showed the fastball, breaking ball and changeup mix that helped him lead the Southern League in strikeouts last season with Double-A Montgomery, and then striking out 11 (nine straight) in a Venezuelan winter league game.

But Torres also displayed what the Rays have wanted him to improve; he fell behind several hitters before getting out of jams, allowing a hit and a walk.

"The stuff is really good; it's high-end stuff," Maddon said. "You get a young pitcher like that, once he finds fastball command, he will take off."

STEPPING IN: Manny Ramirez originally wasn't supposed to play Friday, but he approached Maddon on Thursday and asked if he could be in the lineup so he could get more at-bats. Ramirez started in leftfield and went 1-for-2 with a double. He is hitting .500.

HAIL CESAR: Maddon said that LHP Cesar Cabral was impressive in Friday's "B" game. Cabral, 22, acquired in the Rule 5 draft, is a long shot for one of the bullpen spots considering he hasn't pitched above Class A. But Maddon said he has the stuff for it, and it showed, throwing two scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and striking out two.

STANDING TALL: RHP Jeff Niemann acknowledged his numbers in Friday's start didn't look great.

He gave up six runs (four earned) on seven hits (six singles) over two innings in a "B" game played against mostly Twins minor-leaguers. But Niemann and Maddon were pleased with how he felt and threw while working on his slider and split.

Niemann had no walks, threw 40 of 50 pitches for strikes, but he was hurt by two errors (one by himself).

"They got some hits on him, but he was pounding the strike zone, had some good angles, threw some nice breaking pitches," Maddon said. "They just found some holes."

GAME DETAILS: The Rays lost 5-4 to the Twins, who scored two in the bottom of the eighth off RHP Alex Cobb. Tampa Bay fell to 1-5-1. 3B Evan Longoria, John Jaso and 1B Casey Kotchman each had RBIs. OF Justin Ruggiano hit a triple.

MEDICAL MATTERS: Ben Zobrist was scratched from the lineup due to a tender right ankle, with Maddon saying he likely would have played if it were a regular-season game. Jaso (sore right hip) served as the DH. … RHP Jeremy Hellickson (hamstring) will throw a live batting practice session Sunday, and likely again Tuesday, before his spring debut March 11.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Left-hander Alex Torres adds to Tampa Bay Rays' starting pitching depth 03/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 10:16pm]
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