PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays manager Joe Maddon said the remaining three candidates for the fifth starter spot still had the ability to influence the team's thoughts before Saturday's decision.
If so, LHP Cesar Ramos likely helped his cause with an impressive start in a 5-4 win over the Twins on Thursday night. Ramos threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings, scattering four hits while striking out six and walking none in a 64-pitch outing.
"It's the best I've ever seen him pitch," Maddon said. "Not just talking about the results or the zeros — his composure, the quality of the pitches he was making, repetition of his delivery, his breath in the moment — I was really impressed with all that."
Ramos credited the defense behind him, including another dazzling double-play turn by SS Yunel Escobar. But after a strong spring, in which he issued just one walk in big-league exhibitions, Ramos admitted he'd be disappointed if he's in the bullpen and not the rotation.
"It'll be interesting," Ramos said. "Hopefully I made it tough on them."
Maddon thought RHP Jake Odorizzi pitched well, too, despite giving up four runs (three earned) on six hits (all singles) in four innings of relief. Odorizzi started with two perfect innings against Twins regulars, before his catcher and results changed.
Though it was a "frustrating result," Odorizzi said he was happy with his stuff, especially his new splitter, which is "good to go" and a "huge weapon."
"I'd be disappointed if I'm not the fifth starter," Odorizzi said. "I hope it goes my way."
The third candidate, veteran LHP Erik Bedard, will make his final audition in today's start.
MORE CUTS: The Rays cut the field of candidates for the open spots in their bullpen by optioning RHP Brad Boxberger to Triple-A Durham after Thursday's game.
Also reassigned to the minors were OF Justin Christian, INFs Cole Figueroa and Jerry Sands, C Ali Solis, LHP Adam Liberatore, and RHPs Steve Geltz and Juan Sandoval.
After Boxberger's departure, the Rays have Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and Mark Lowe competing for one to three spots. There was one opening at the start of camp, but because Juan Carlos Oviedo reported late and is now a long shot to be ready for opening day there likely will be a second. If Ramos, who was the long reliever, wins the No. 5 starter job, there would be a third spot available.
GAME DETAILS: 3B Evan Longoria hit a two-run double and 2B Ben Zobrist had an RBI double as the Rays (14-4-2) won their sixth in a row. RHP Grant Balfour looked good in the back end of a back-to-back, striking out his only batter, Twins 2B Brian Dozier, with Maddon saying he had better carry on his fastball.
PEN NOTES: Maddon confirmed that Oviedo's spot on the opening day roster is "in jeopardy" because of his visa-related delayed arrival from the Dominican Republic. Maddon said Oviedo looked and felt good in throwing another 35-pitch batting practice session Thursday. But because Oviedo has not pitched in the majors since September 2011 because of elbow-ligament replacement surgery, the Rays don't want to rush him.
MEDICAL MATTERS: RF Matt Joyce, who left Wednesday's game after one inning because of a stiff neck, said he still felt sore Thursday but expects to be back soon. Joyce isn't sure how it occurred, but the training staff advised him to buy a Tempur-Pedic pillow. Maddon said the hope is for Joyce to return to game action by Saturday.
MISCELLANY: The Rays will hold their annual dinner and auction benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte at 6:30 tonight at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda. Maddon, his coaching staff, plus Balfour, RHP Heath Bell and C Ryan Hanigan will attend.