ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Kevin Cash experienced another difficult career first Saturday night: telling a veteran he was being designated for assignment.
Cash said RH reliever Grant Balfour handled the news professionally as the Rays took a step toward Balfour's likely release and eating what's left of his $7 million salary.
"Very difficult decision with Grant, just because of what he's meant for the organization and the way he's pitched here in a lot of big games, big moments for this organization," Cash said. "It was kind of out of need for our team going forward. We were getting a little short. We need innings. Where we're at with some injuries and situations like that, that was kind of the deciding factor."
At 37, Balfour was the team's oldest player. His 274 appearances over his two stints are the second most in club history, behind Joel Peralta (296). But Balfour followed last year's rough season (2-6, 4.91 ERA) by allowing three earned runs in 4⅓ innings this year.
"He was a big part of this clubhouse, this team," Cash said. "I think it shocked some guys, but the way he handled it helped everything, made it a little bit better."
The team filled Balfour's spot in the bullpen by calling up RHP Brandon Gomes from Triple-A Durham.
Gomes had an eventful season debut. He caught an 8 a.m. flight Sunday to Baltimore and arrived in Tampa at 12:20. He was ready by the third inning and took the mound in the fifth, inheriting runners on second and third from Steve Geltz. Gomes struck out C John Ryan Murphy to end the threat.
"This is not the first time I've shown up and pitched," said Gomes, who appeared in 110 previous games with the Rays since his 2011 major-league debut. "I've done it before."
At 30, Gomes also inherits Balfour's role as the oldest pitcher on the staff.
MEDICAL MATTERS: LHP Drew Smyly threw 68 pitches (40 strikes) in his third rehab start. Pitching in Jacksonville for Double-A Montgomery, he threw 3⅔ scoreless innings, allowing one hit and three walks with four strikeouts.
Cash said Smyly will be reevaluated today before determining whether he'll need another rehab start before rejoining the team.
1B James Loney (oblique) said he's feeling well and remains on track to join the Rays later this week. He's eligible to return Wednesday and said he'll likely play a rehab game or two with Class A Charlotte in Bradenton to get up to game speed.
"It's been hard, just sitting there and watching games," Loney said of the first DL stint of his career. "It goes by. It's just one of those things."
LHP Jake McGee (offseason elbow surgery) threw a bullpen session and is scheduled to leave today for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham. He expects to pitch in three rehab games before joining the Rays around May 1.
MINOR MATTERS: Top SS prospect Daniel Robertson hit his first Double-A home run Saturday night for Montgomery. The Rays acquired the 21-year-old in the offseason as the top prospect in the trade that sent INF/OF Ben Zobrist to Oakland. Robertson is batting .270 for the Biscuits.
MISCELLANY: Cash unsuccessfully challenged a play in the sixth inning, arguing Allan Dykstra was safe at first on a groundout. The call was confirmed, dropping the Rays to 0-for-7 on challenges for the season. … OF Kevin Kiermaier didn't start after being sick Saturday, but he did pinch-hit. … Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-3 with two walks. He got on base in eight of his 14 plate appearances and scored six runs during the three-game series.