ST. PETERSBURG — MLB president Bob DuPuy lauded the Rays for continuing to make "dramatic" improvements and enhancements to Tropicana Field, deeming it "a very, very good place to watch a ball game."
But not necessarily for long.
DuPuy also continued to push the merits of the planned waterfront stadium the team wants to open in 2012, saying it would be a "huge" benefit for the franchise and suggesting it could be tough — or at least tougher — for the Rays to succeed without it.
"The owners are committed to putting a quality product on the field," he said. "They're doing it the right way. They're doing it with young talent that hopefully they'll be able to retain. And the way you retain it is to have a ballpark that generates enough revenue.
"Is the Tampa Bay area ever going to be New York or ever going to be Los Angeles? No. But there's no reason they can't be right up there with the Detroits and the Cincinnatis and the Denvers and the Milwaukees and the Philadelphias of the world and generate enough that they can keep a competitive team on the field year after year."
KAZ ENCOURAGING: Manager Joe Maddon was "very encouraged" after watching ace LHP Scott Kazmir's 42-pitch live batting practice session.
"I'd say the velocity was in the low 90s pretty consistently," Maddon said. "Really good change-up, and then he broke out the slider toward the end and had some nice sliders. Very encouraged by what we saw today."
Kazmir, recovering from a Feb. 26 elbow strain, said he felt "great" afterward. How he feels today will help determine the next step, whether he throws another live BP or advances to an extended spring training game, where he would pitch two innings under controlled situations. He's likely to make two regular minor-league starts after that, with hopes of returning to the majors by the end of the month.
"It feels like everything is right where I want it to be," he said. "I'm ready to start games, but if they say I need another live batting practice, I'm not going to argue."
Elliot Johnson, one of the hitters, raved about Kazmir's stuff: "Seems to me like he's ready to go. I'm not a doctor, but he looked good."
MORE MEDICAL: DH Cliff Floyd remains limited to pinch-hit duties due to a sore right knee. & LHP Kurt Birkins (on the DL with an inflamed elbow nerve) threw a second batting practice and said he'll advance to an extended spring game Friday.
ALL RIGHT: Johnson seemed to be a surprise choice to start in rightfield, especially since Jonny Gomes (who has started 77 big-league games there) was also in the lineup at DH.
But Maddon explained it as a matter of having more options to make moves later in games (such as pinch-hitting for Gomes and reducing the risk of losing the DH if an infielder were injured). And Johnson, despite not having played rightfield since he was 10 and promoted to the majors division of a 10-12 league, said it was not a big deal, not even under the tricky Trop roof.
MISCELLANY: B.J. Upton's steal of home was the seventh in team history, his second. & The Rays dropped to 5-6 in home openers. & Carlos Pena received his Players Choice AL Comeback Player of the Year award, with teammate James Shields representing the players. & The Rays Baseball Foundation today will award more than $125,000 in grants to 28 local charities. & OF Rocco Baldelli, sidelined indefinitely with a rare fatigue disorder, was included in the pregame introductions. & About 700 fans, many clad in the new blue, were lined up when the doors to the rotunda were opened shortly before 4:30 p.m., greeted by eight players and principal owner Stuart Sternberg. & Carissa Peros stepped in and handled the national anthem.
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.