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Rays pick Shields to start opening day

ST. PETERSBURG — The circumstances aren't ideal given the injury to ace Scott Kazmir, but the honor of being the opening day starter — which the Rays made official Wednesday — is still significant to James Shields.

"It's one of the biggest honors a starter could ever have," Shields said. "Four years ago I thought I was done (due to injury). But I came back. I think a lot of that has to do with perseverance and hard work, like my offseason workouts. And now it's paid off. Yeah, this means a lot to me."

Though Kazmir is headed to the disabled list, manager Joe Maddon waited until Wednesday to give Shields, 26, the official word.

"This young man is quite a competitor," Maddon said. "He said, 'I'm ready, I'm ready to do this.' And I said, 'We know you're ready to do this,' and I told him we have a lot of confidence in him in this situation, and he appreciated that. Speaking for the whole group, if Kaz can't do it, of course we have a pretty good alternative in Mr. Shields."

Maddon said the rest of the rotation could be set by Sunday. As it sets up now, Shields would be followed by Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel, with the fifth spot between Andy Sonnanstine and J.P. Howell.

KAZ UPDATE: Kazmir officially played catch for about five minutes, which apparently was a step up from Tuesday when he tossed a ball around but didn't have a "formal" throwing session.

He hoped to throw a bullpen session today, which would have been his first time on the mound in a week, but that seems unlikely as the Rays continue to take a patient approach with his return from an elbow strain. Kazmir again said all is well: "I'm good, I'm fine, I'm wonderful."

MORE MEDICAL: 3B Willy Aybar, the likely starter if prospect Evan Longoria is sent down, will be out at least a few more days with "soreness and tightness" in his left hamstring. … Backup C candidate Shawn Riggans' bruised left hand is still sore and puffy, but he hit off a tee and caught some pitches Wednesday and hopes to play today. … INF Andy Cannizaro (sore back) is closer to returning to game action; LHP Kurt Birkins (ulnar nerve irritation) and RHP Chad Orvella (shoulder tightness) are doing better.

RIGHT IN RIGHT? ESPN's Jayson Stark reported the Rays "are believed to have made an offer to free agent Kenny Lofton in the last 48 hours, but apparently got shot down."

hey, evan, going somewhere? It didn't look good when Longoria unexpectedly returned to the clubhouse about 20 minutes after he left following the game and sat impatiently by himself as executive VP Andrew Friedman met with Maddon in his office.

Was this the end of the road for Longoria? No, he just needed help getting down it. Turns out Longoria's car had died, and he was waiting for a ride from teammate Reid Brignac, who lives in the same apartment complex.

MISCELLANY: Jackson was extremely sharp in his first five innings, retiring his first 11 (five by strikeout) and keeping the ball down in a 3-1 win over the Phillies. … Troy Percival had his third 1-2-3 inning in four outings. … With an RBI single, nonroster C Mike Difelice is hitting .429. … LHP Trever Miller and RHPs Gary Glover and Dan Wheeler threw at the minor-league complex.

Rays pick Shields to start opening day 03/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 6:05pm]
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