PORT CHARLOTTE — LHP David Price is excited to make his pitch today for the fifth starter's job, even though it's a competition he seems unlikely to win.
"It's not very fun if I'm not here competing for a job," Price said Monday. "That's what I came here for, to compete for that fifth spot, and that's what I want to do. … I want them to not be able to look me in the eyes at the end of spring training and tell me I'm going to (Triple-A) Durham."
Manager Joe Maddon didn't want to classify Price, 23, as a long shot but acknowledged he "might be behind" the others, including Jeff Niemann, Jason Hammel and Carlos Hernandez. That's because the Rays still consider Price in need of minor-league development, specifically in improving fastball command and developing his changeup, and they want to limit his innings in his second pro season.
"If he just blows people away, things obviously can change," Maddon said. "We can change our thinking. … (But) we still consider him in the development process. … If you were watching the playoffs last year, you see him as the finished product, but we don't necessarily see it there yet."
Price will pitch in relief today after the debuts of RHPs Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.
Percival progress: RHP Troy Percival tuned up for his Thursday exhibition debut with a 42-pitch bullpen session and reiterated that he is confident he will be recovered from back surgery and ready to resume closer duties by opening day.
"There's no doubt in my mind," he said. "I haven't had any setbacks to say otherwise. My velocity is getting up there, low 90s pretty consistent now, and my command has been pretty good."
Medical matters: OF Matt Joyce said it was a "big relief to know there was no serious damage" and called the diagnosis of tendinitis in his right lower leg "a minor setback."
Fitted with orthotics and receiving treatment, Joyce said he hoped to make his exhibition debut by this weekend; Maddon said that might not be realistic. Joyce did acknowledge that the setback reduced his already long-shot chance to win the rightfield job.
RHP Grant Balfour's right arm, bruised by a line drive Saturday, was better, and he is likely to return to the mound Thursday.
Delmon's day: Ex-Ray and current Twin Delmon Young had a big day, with a two-run homer off Joe Nelson and an RBI single: "You spend five years in the organization, it's still fun to come back and play against the guys you grew up with."
Debut time: RH relievers Dan Wheeler and Nelson made their spring debuts, giving up a couple of hits each but coming out relatively happy. "I was very pleased with all my pitches," Wheeler said. "I felt like I had good life, had a few swing and misses," Nelson said.
Game details: Niemann threw four more scoreless innings, dropping his ERA to 1.00, and drew more praise from Maddon for limiting the number of pitches to each batter. … Ben Zobrist had a double and a triple, and Elliot Johnson added a solo homer (his third) in the ninth as the Rays (5-6) lost 4-3 to the Twins.
Miscellany: Maddon said RHP Lance Cormier has made an impressive bid thus far for the long relief job. … Triple-A pitching coach Xavier Hernandez was named the Rays player development man of the year and Brad Matthews was named scout of the year. … The annual charity golf tournament to benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation is Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton Members Club in Bradenton.