NEW YORK — Jason Hammel has waited a long time for tonight's start.
It's not just the eight days since he last pitched in a minor-league game, or the 13 days since his last spring training start — so long ago that Hammel joked, "I don't remember."
This is about the six years he has spent developing in the Rays system, and the parts of the past two seasons he has spent in the big leagues without much success, a 3-11 record and 6.70 ERA.
For Hammel, 25, tonight is the start of proving he can be a successful major-league pitcher.
"It's been expectations … expectations … now let's see the potential," he said. "I'm not hopeful; it's time for, without a doubt. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to pitch like I know how to pitch."
As the No. 5 starter, Hammel is going to have to show it quickly, given that the Rays will have to make room for Scott Kazmir by the end of the month, and because Hammel, like No. 4 starter Edwin Jackson, is out of options, which means the Rays can't just ship him back to Triple A for more work.
Manager Joe Maddon has said both will have less room for error than in past seasons, but it sounds as if the Rays will be understanding about Hammel tonight given the circumstances.
"To sit around that long is never easy," Maddon said. "I believe he's going to be ready; how sharp he's going to be, we'll find that out based on the time in between."
HOT TICKET: The Rays expect to sell the last of the 34,000 or so tickets for Tuesday's home opener today, and principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Sunday he couldn't be happier.
"The first year (in 2006) we went right to the end hoping we sell it out," Sternberg said. "It's an interesting progression. Last year we were at like 3 or 4 o'clock and we were able to announce a sellout. This year to be able to do it a day or two in advance, that's what we wanted. That's great, great progress."
SHIELDS DOWN: Sunday's loss made James Shields 0-5 (with a 7.83 ERA) in six starts against the Yankees. He's one of four active pitchers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, to make at least five starts against them without a win, joining Glendon Rusch (0-7 in eight games), Jeff Suppan (0-5 in six) and Bronson Arroyo (no decisions in six).
OLD HAT: Troy Percival on Saturday earned his 325th save, one shy of tying ex-Ray Roberto Hernandez for 11th all time and six from cracking the top 10. But having been injured then retired, and having gone since July 2005 without one, Percival, 38, said it doesn't mean much personally.
"I thought I was done where I was at, so at this point what a save means is that I preserved another win," he said.
Maddon plans to limit Percival to save situations and to be cautious even then, such as in day games after night games, but Percival doesn't want special handling. "I'll try to be available every day I can possibly be available," he said.
ERIK THE M: An inflamed left hip kept new Seattle ace Erik Bedard from starting Sunday against his former Baltimore teammates, but he'll supposedly be recovered enough to start Tuesday against the Rays — against whom he is 10-3, 2.94 — in the Trop opener. "Well, there should be a lot of people there," he told MLB.com. "Usually, there aren't that many at (Rays) games. I'll try to keep them quiet."
MISCELLANY: So much for 3B Evan Longoria getting off to a hot start at Triple-A Durham: through Sunday's game he was 0-for-14. … Veteran C Mike Difelice, signed to a minor-league deal and called up Saturday, tonight makes his first start for the Rays since July 24, 2001. … Tonight's game, and future Monday night games, will be simulcast on the more powerful 620-AM WDAE, starting with the first pitch. The pregame show can be heard only on 1250-AM WHNZ. … The Rays will get more national exposure with tonight's game carried nationally on ESPN2, but blacked out in Tampa Bay and New York.