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Manager Maddon cautious when talking of Rays' improvements

A MEMORABLE MONTH: One of the stars of the Rays’ best April ever was starter James Shields, who set a club record for the month with a 2.54 ERA.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

A MEMORABLE MONTH: One of the stars of the Rays’ best April ever was starter James Shields, who set a club record for the month with a 2.54 ERA.

BALTIMORE — The Rays just finished their best April ever. Now manager Joe Maddon wants to see what they can do in May. And June. And so on.

Maddon has been pleased with the attitude and the performance, especially given the slew of injuries, but in breaking down the team's play into specific thirds of the game — offense, defense and pitching — is a bit more circumspect.

In short, he thinks that they've played pretty good defense, is curious to see if they can keep pitching so well and expects them to hit better and score more.

The defense, he said, "is really radically different in a good way" and can be a constant. "You look at our defenders and you know with normal work on a regular basis they're going to look like that nearly every day."

With an impressive 3.67 ERA that ranks third best in the league, Maddon said: "Pitching-wise, are we over our skis? I don't know. Are we pitching to our level of capabilities now? I don't know. That's going to be tested over a period of time and we'll find that out. … I want to see if we can maintain somewhere near this level of competence."

And he expects the offense, which ranks in the middle of the league with 4.81 runs a game, to get better. "We really haven't arrived at our peak yet,'' he said.

Among specific accomplishments, the team 3.74 ERA (excluding the March 31 opener) is the best for any month, RHP James Shields' ERA of 2.54 is the best for a Ray through April, Carl Crawford scored an April record 24 runs and B.J. Upton is the first Ray to have a second April of 20 or more RBIs.

WHAT'S UP WITH THAT: Carlos Pena didn't know what to think when O's reliever Dennis Sarfate started yelling at him during an eighth-inning at-bat, so Pena yelled back. When he found out later from teammates that Sarfate accused him of peeking at the catcher's signs, Pena said it was "totally ridiculous" and Sarfate was "just making things up in his mind.''

Sarfate refused to explain, and O's catcher Ramon Hernandez said he didn't know what the issue was since he hadn't even put down a sign at the time.

HAPPY BOSS: While repeating his spring training pledge that the Rays would consider making in-season acquisitions if needed, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said he is quite satisfied with the pieces the Rays have.

"I think if the guys play up to their capabilities — and a lot of them are, some of them are obviously playing above and are playing a bit below — the talent is there, the cohesiveness is certainly there, which is nice to see, and they're poised to win a bunch of ballgames," he said.

Though mindful of the calendar, Sternberg also said he felt the Rays were closing the gap on the AL East heavyweight Red Sox and Yankees.

"We haven't been in sniffing distance of it before, and I think we're probably in the ballpark now," he said. "I'm not saying we're sitting in the box seats and can really touch it and feel it, but we're in the ballpark."

PITCHING IN: RHP Al Reyes will pitch one inning in an extended spring training game today, but how he feels Friday will determine when he rejoins the Rays. Under one scenario he would meet the team in Boston and be activated on Saturday; in another he would throw again in extended spring on Friday, to be sure he can handle back-to-back duty, and not rejoin the Rays until after Monday's off day.

Also, LHP Scott Kazmir threw freely and looked "real good" during a bullpen session Wednesday in preparation for his Sunday season debut.

HUFF DADDY: Ex-Ray Aubrey Huff is sticking to his story that there is no secret to his remarkable success against the Rays: a .333 average (30-for-90), nine HRs and 20 RBIs in 24 games. "Total coincidence," he said. "I don't know what's going on."

MISCELLANY: DH Cliff Floyd has been sick, which could delay for a day or two his participation in extended spring games as he starts his rehab following right knee surgery. … Gametime temperature was 62, and went down. … The Rays continue to garner national attention, with reporters from Fox Sports, the New York Times and USA Today on hand Wednesday.

Manager Maddon cautious when talking of Rays' improvements 04/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 5:14pm]
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