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Rays final roster remains in flux

SARASOTA — With opening day a week from today, the Rays still have a lot of work to do in finalizing their roster.

Though some decisions could be made in the next couple of days, trade talks and injuries further complicate the process.

There's the availability of utility man Ben Zobrist (broken left thumb), which could be figured out today after a doctor's appointment. Manager Joe Maddon said there's a "slight possibility" Zobrist could be ready for the opener, but if he starts on the disabled list, Elliot Johnson and Andy Cannizaro (sore back) are candidates for the utility role.

The timing of the decision on whether to send touted 3B prospect Evan Longoria to Triple A has been slightly impacted by the health of Willy Aybar. Aybar (sore left hamstring), the expected starter if Longoria is sent down, made Sunday's trip to Sarasota, but Maddon wanted to hold him out another day, saying he is "feeling a lot better."

Backup C candidate Shawn Riggans (bruised left hand) is working his way back from injury while competing with veteran C Mike Difelice, though Maddon said he doesn't have concerns with Riggans working nine innings.

Then there's the fifth outfielder spot. Eric Hinske has appeared to take the lead as an in-house candidate, but as the club considers outside options, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "This time of year, conversations with other teams get a little more pointed — you get a little better sense of what's available."

Two interesting outfielders who recently became available are Reed Johnson (released by Toronto) and Jeff DaVanon (released by the Padres). DaVannon, 34, has experience with Maddon with the Angels.

"Some of our trimming has something to do with trade discussions out there," Friedman said. "There's a lot of moving parts that we need to balance."

PERCIVAL'S TOUGH 7TH: Veteran closer Troy Percival had his first rocky outing, and blown save, of the spring, giving up seven runs in the Reds' seventh-inning rally (which included six hits and two hit batters and put Cincinnati up 9-7). Maddon wasn't concerned, saying Percival "threw some strikes and they hit them." The Rays rallied, scoring three in the final two innings, including the winning RBI double by SS Reid Brignac to clinch the 10-9 win and a club-record 15th spring victory.

TRAINING TABLE: Maddon said ace LHP Scott Kazmir is getting better but remains limited to playing catch. Though there's no timetable for him to return to the mound, Maddon said he could have some answers today. Riggans (bruised left hand) and Cannizaro (sore back) played Sunday, with Riggans adding a double and sacrifice fly.

MISCELLANY: RHP Matt Garza said he feels "ready" for the regular season after throwing five innings (and 96 pitches) while giving up just one run, battling out of two bases-loaded jams. … The Rays will use Tropicana Field for morning workouts Friday and Saturday.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Rays final roster remains in flux 03/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 4:18pm]

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