PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Jake Odorizzi, competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, is bringing a new weapon to the battle.
Odorizzi said he is experimenting this spring with a different changeup, using the same split-finger grip as RHP Alex Cobb. It's Cobb's best pitch, and Odorizzi is hoping he can have similar success.
"That's the goal, to get it just like his," Odorizzi said. "He's a great guy to learn from. I think it'll play in very well, better than my previous changeup from years past. And it's an easier pitch for me to throw for a strike, too. I think it'll be a huge weapon going into the year after I get some work on it."
Odorizzi has thrown the changeup during the past two live batting practice sessions, including Monday, receiving positive feedback from hitters as well as Cobb, who has been teaching him along the way.
"I was really happy with the way he's throwing it, and the confidence he's showing in it already," Cobb said. "It's fun watching him kind of embrace that pitch and do so well with it quickly."
Cobb said the two have talked often this offseason, with Odorizzi hoping to join him in the rotation; LHP Erik Bedard and RHP Alex Colome are also in the mix for the No. 5 spot. Cobb believes part of what makes the Rays staff special is its willingness to collaborate.
"It's crazy people are asking me things now," Cobb said. "When they see something that they like and want to imitate that, it's pretty cool."
FOR STARTERS: The Rays revealed their pitching plans for the first weekend of exhibition play, with LHP Cesar Ramos getting the start in Friday's opener against the Orioles. Ace LHP David Price will start Saturday against the Pirates in Bradenton, putting him on schedule for the March 31 season opener. Cobb pitches on Sunday at home vs. Minnesota, and it sounds as if RHP Chris Archer will work Monday vs. the Phillies, though that is not official.
PITCHING IN: RHP Grant Balfour, unhappy with his last live batting practice session, said Monday's was much better. "I thought I threw the ball pretty good," Balfour said. "It was a flip side of the last one. That's how it should go, you should progress." LHP Jake McGee continued to test his curveball, happy he could throw it against lefties such as INF Vince Belnome. "If he gets that down," Belnome said, "people are going to be in trouble."
MEDICAL MATTERS: 2B Ben Zobrist, sidelined with a sore back, continued to progress Monday, playing catch and hitting in the batting cage. But with the team taking a cautious approach, he said he likely won't be able to start full workouts until at least Wednesday. "I'm getting close," he said. Zobrist said there's no longer any pain, and it's just about loosening it up. A key test will be bending today to field ground balls. Manager Joe Maddon said he appreciates Zobrist wanting to get back on the field, but the Rays are more concerned with him being ready for the opener.
MISCELLANY: Still absent from camp are INF Wilson Betemit and RHPs Juan Carlos Oviedo and Juan Sandoval, all delayed in the Dominican Republic with visa issues. Maddon said he hasn't heard any updates but is not concerned.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TBTimes_JSmith.