OAKLAND, Calif. — The decision to hold back the starting pitchers early in spring training because of last season's extended work may be the reason they haven't been as sharp early in the season, manager Joe Maddon said.
But it was still the appropriate decision.
"The way we handled spring training intentionally, and I believe what we did was right, some of these guys have not really gotten to the point where they feel … 100 percent strong or good about what's going on with their arm and their bodies," Maddon said. "I think they're arriving at that point right about now. … I think they're starting to hit that 'feel-good' stride right about now."
Rays starters are 7-9 with a 4.61 ERA, having allowed 96 hits and 46 walks in 1071/3 innings, 1.323 baserunners per inning.
Last season, the starters were 66-48 with a 3.95 ERA, allowing 958 hits and 305 walks in 9731/3 innings, an average of 1.297.
Maddon said it was important for the starters to be on a slower pace than usual but admitted Saturday that the Rays weren't sure exactly how it would affect them.
"That was part of it," he said. "I didn't know how it was necessarily going to work, but I always believed it was the right way to do it, to not push them early. I keep talking about it; it's about health, and right now I believe we're healthy, and that's the main purpose of the way we did things, to maintain health early and through the entire season. So, so far so good in that regard."
Izzy update: RHP Jason Isringhausen passed the test of back-to-back outings at Double-A Montgomery, but it sounds as if the Rays will use the full 30-day rehab allotment — through May 19 — before making any decision.
Isringhausen will pitch once more for the Biscuits, either Monday or Tuesday, then move up to Triple-A Durham and be used on a situational, rather than scheduled, basis.
"Coming off (elbow) surgery and coming out of spring training he really, I know, would have liked to have made the team at that time," Maddon said. "But I think he's realized, we've all realized, that he needed more time, so there's no real urgency yet. And I would much prefer that he just works himself into feeling real good about himself and what he's doing and regains that consistent form that he's capable of. Because he could be really big for us before the season's over."
Hot Peña: Carlos Peña's two homers keyed Friday night's 8-2 win and also put him in rare company: leading the majors with eight homers and sharing the major-league RBI lead with Albert Pujols at 21. The only other time a Ray led the majors in homers this late in a season was 1999, when Jose Canseco was on top as late as June 26.
The eight homers are three shy of the Rays record for April (Jonny Gomes had 11 in 2006). Peña is the seventh Ray to reach 20 RBIs in an April and is three shy of the record shared by Fred McGriff (1999) and Ty Wigginton (2006).
Hot Joe: Maddon was pleased with the offense and with LHP Scott Kazmir's performance, especially after a shaky start, Friday, but not with some late-game sloppiness: a third strike getting by C Dioner Navarro and an errant throw by Peña that led to extended outings for relievers Joe Nelson (29 pitches) and Lance Cormier (18).
"I just don't like when we let down mentally," he said. "And that's what we can't afford to do to get back to the promised land. Our mental game has to be 100 percent right on every night. Then go ahead and make as many physical mistakes as you need to make. I never begrudge that. It's just about concentration and being in the moment."
Miscellany: With a solo shot Saturday, Jason Giambi has 31 homers and 112 RBIs in 138 games against the Rays. … There will be a watch party for today's game at the Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach, with radio pre- and postgame host Rich Herrera on the scene and prizes. … RHP Chad Orvella, who missed last season after shoulder surgery, has allowed one run in 101/3 innings at Durham and has 10 strikeouts.