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Manager Joe Maddon addresses Tampa Bay Rays full squad, stresses importance of fast start

PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon had lots to talk about in an opening address that stretched past 15 minutes.

With so many different faces among the 62 players in front of him, Maddon mixed some old concepts with some new, and one of the themes he made most clear was an emphasis on starting well — both the season overall and in individual games.

"We want to push, push, push the action all the time," he said.

Similarly, he said there needed to be an accelerated learning curve for the new players to learn the Rays way of playing the game.

Among other points, he stressed the need to take care of all facets of the game due to the thin margin between winning and losing, "the controllable components of your game," such as defense, baserunning and situation hitting; re-emphasized their determination to defend their American League East title; and hit on his slogan of the need, because of all the players they lost, to find "another way" to win.

"You pretty much go into that meeting knowing what he's going to say," CF B.J. Upton said. "A lot of us know what it takes to get there, and I think it just brings it back to the forefront of our mind."

TURF WARS: The Rays had an infield installed at the practice complex with the same new AstroTurf that was installed at Tropicana Field, and if it plays the same indoors during the season as it did Monday, it should be good.

"It's real nice," 3B Evan Longoria said. "It's playing just like it should, just like real grass."

Also important, several infielders said, was that there wasn't much spin on balls coming off the turf on the dirt as there had been at the Trop.

"This one was as true as you can get," 2B Sean Rodriguez said.

STEPPING IN: With the first exhibition game Saturday, the spring schedule is a bit compressed, so the hitters had the uncomfortable assignment of stepping in on their first day for live batting practice against pitchers who'd been in camp for a week.

"You're not supposed to hit them right now," LF Johnny Damon said.

RHP James Shields had his fun with Longoria, saying he was going to start him off with a curveball before throwing a fastball. … Upton's offering included one of LHP R.J. Swindle's special 50 mph curves. "Right around my bat speed," Upton said. … Longoria said he enjoyed hitting in a group with Manny Ramirez and Damon.

HELLICKSON UPDATE: RHP Jeremy Hellickson played catch for about 15 minutes Monday, a sign of progress in recovery from the mild right hamstring strain that sidelined him the previous three days.

"He keeps getting better," Maddon said. "(Head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) is seeing improvement every day, so it sounds like all good news."

MISCELLANY: Asked when he was last in this good shape, 38-year-old Ramirez said, "Maybe (when) I was like 22 — it's been a while." … The squad was completed with the arrival of nonroster INFs Joe Inglett and Daniel Mayora. … Rodriguez was proudly wearing around his neck a gift he was handed by a young fan, a small baseball on a cord.

Manager Joe Maddon addresses Tampa Bay Rays full squad, stresses importance of fast start 02/21/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 21, 2011 10:15pm]
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    UPDATE, 3:26: And the Rays indeed have Hechavarria at SS and Beckham at 2B. Also, with no DH Dickerson is in left.

    Rays lineup:
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    Dickerson lf,
    Longoria 3b,
    Morrison 1b,
    Souza rf,
    Ramos c,
    Beckham 2b,
    Hechavarria ss,
    Cobb p

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