ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays know how important it is to have a good April. And Joe Maddon couldn't feel any better about their chances based on their tremendous work in February and March.
"That was the best spring training I've ever witnessed, and I'm not talking about 20 victories," he said.
"I felt, and I told the players, it had nothing to do with the manager, it had nothing to do with the coaches, it had everything to do with them. How they went about their business, how they got ready for the day, their prep work, their attitude, their focus, all that stuff.
"It truly was all about the players. And that to me was really gratifying to see because I think that's how it's supposed to be."
Of course, their MLB-best 20-8-2 exhibition record didn't hurt.
BLALOCK STAYS: INF/DH Hank Blalock couldn't find a job with any of the other 29 big-league teams either and told the Rays he will report to Triple-A Durham. While there, he gives the Rays insurance in the event of an injury to 1B Carlos Peña, 3B Evan Longoria and DH Pat Burrell, as well as a hedge if Burrell gets off to another poor start.
Blalock, 29, will still have an out clause, in which he can notify the Rays and they have 48 hours to put him on the big-league roster or allow him to become a free agent.
JOHNSON, TOO: The Rays officially announced that INF Elliot Johnson cleared waivers and will stay in the organization after an outright assignment to Durham.
ROSTER SET: Formally putting LHP J.P. Howell on the 15-day disabled list (backdated to March 26) was the last step before the Rays submitted their 25-man opening day roster by MLB's 3 p.m. deadline.
PITCHING IN: The Orioles officially set their rotation after RHP Kevin Millwood working the opener, naming RHP Jeremy Guthrie to start Wednesday and LHP Brian Matusz on Thursday. … The Yankees set their rotation with plans to skip No. 5 starter Phil Hughes, so they'll trot out RHP Javier Vazquez on Friday, LHP CC Sabathia on Saturday and RHP A.J. Burnett on Sunday. … With more than a week between their last exhibition and first regular-season games, Nos. 4 and 5 starters LHP David Price and RHP Wade Davis are scheduled to throw something of a simulated game today.
MINOR MATTERS: The minor-league teams broke camp Sunday, though rosters can be tweaked until Thursday. Among assignments of note, based on releases from some of the teams and reports from the Montgomery Advertiser, LHPs Jake McGee and Alex Torres were sent to Double-A Montgomery along with C Nevin Ashley, INF Matt Sweeney (part of the Scott Kazmir trade) was sent back to Class A Charlotte, and INF Jeremy Beckham (brother of top pick Tim) was released.
MISCELLANY: The Rays and Orioles will work out today at the Trop. … Tickets remain available for Tuesday.