PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays took care of the easy, or at least the obvious, stuff before breaking camp in Port Charlotte on Thursday, putting OF Matt Joyce on the disabled list and INF Elliot Johnson on waivers.
But they'll wait until at least tonight's exhibition at Tropicana Field to make, or announce, the hard decisions, picking between INFs Reid Brignac and Hank Blalock as the 13th position player, and between RHPs Joaquin Benoit and Mike Ekstrom as the seventh reliever.
Manager Joe Maddon indicted they might have already made the position-player pick, saying "we have a pretty good idea what we want to do."
If it was just based on spring performance and roster flexibility, it would definitely be Brignac, who hit .362 with a team-high 18 RBIs, can play second base and shortstop and has options so he can be sent up and down; Blalock hit .175 and can only play first, third and DH, all positions at which the Rays have regulars.
Blalock's contractual situation is part of the issue as the Rays, by tonight, either have to put him on the roster or allow him to become a free agent. Blalock said he wouldn't consider going to Triple-A, so the Rays might have explored the possibility of him re-considering. Maddon met with him Thursday morning, and after the 4-3 exhibition loss said: "We're still talking with him."
Blalock declined comment on the situation; agent Scott Boras did not return calls.
The decision between the relievers — assuming it actually is between the two as executive VP Andrew Friedman explores external options — is difficult, especially after Ekstrom's three one-hit innings Thursday.
"It is pretty even I think, actually," Maddon said.
MATT OUT: Joyce hasn't played in the field since March 10 because of a right elbow strain that still prevents him from throwing hard, and he was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to March 26 (making him eligible April 10).
Joyce, who could have been the opening day rightfielder, rested the elbow for three days, hoping to "get to a point where it's manageable, where I can hit the cut-off man and play in the outfield."
JOHNSON, TOO: Johnson, who is out of options, was unlikely, barring several injuries, to make the team. But if he clears waivers, which is likely at this time of year, he could be at Triple-A Durham anyway.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that we're done," said Johnson, still most known for his spring 2008 collision with Yankees C Francisco Cervelli. "We're just done for now."
SHIELDS UP: RHP James Shields tuned up for Tuesday's opening day start with a four-inning, 56-pitch outing in a Class A game, allowing one unearned run while striking out eight. "The ball was coming out of my hand good like last outing," Shields said. "I feel good about all my pitches."
He has been especially pleased with his curveball, after working on it much of the spring. "It's not my greatest pitch in the world, but it's nice to have some confidence in it going into the season," he said.
GAME DETAILS: Evan Longoria's two-run homer, his fifth of the spring, gave the Rays a 2-0 lead, but the O's rallied against Triple-A LHP Carlos Hernandez. … Ben Zobrist's sac fly tied it in the fifth, but, with mostly minor-leaguers on both sides, the O's took the lead in the ninth and the Rays left the tying run on third.
MISCELLANY: Top OF prospect Desmond Jennings told Stacy Long of the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser he won't be ready to start the Triple-A season due to his left wrist sprain. … El Nuevo Herald reported the Rays signed Cuban Sergio Espinosa, a lefty reliever who was suspended before defecting in 2008. … The Rays averaged 6,060 for their 14 games at Charlotte Sports Park.
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.