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Rays' Rodney aims for season ahead

PORT CHARLOTTE — Fernando Rodney was back bouncing around the Rays clubhouse Thursday, with the champions medal he and his Dominican Republic team won in the World Baseball Classic and without the "magic plantain" he comically made part of the narrative.

Most relevant for the Rays, their closer said he returns with no concerns that his heavy usage in the tournament — eight appearances in 13 days — would have any impact on his performance during the regular season, which starts April 2.

"I'm ready to go right now for the season," Rodney said. "My arm feels good, body, mentally, physically, everything's good. … I don't feel any problems. I feel great."

He sounded equally confident that there won't be a residual effect later in the season.

"I don't think about September," Rodney said. "I think about staying healthy. If I stay healthy, I know I can do my job."

The Rays aren't as sure, manager Joe Maddon saying he's "curious" to see what the impact might be given how much they need Rodney, who last season saved 48 games in a career-high 76 appearances.

"The beginning of the season, I really feel he's going to be fine with that," Maddon said. "I think this actually could help him get off to a good start.

"I'm concerned more about the backside (of the season), and that's what I'm saying we need to watch. … Is there going to be a time that we're going to have to back off his innings or appearances based on that? I'm not planning on that, I'm just going to try and wait and read that."

To start, the Rays will give Rodney close to a week off, scheduling him to work in just two of their remaining exhibitions: Wednesday in the Port Charlotte finale and March 30 at the Trop.

During the season, Maddon said the one adjustment he has already thought of would be limiting Rodney to pitching on two straight days rather than three.

"You might want to skip that third one and give it to someone else on that particular night, which just means that we're playing well," Maddon said. "Again, this is all up in the air; just trying to be anticipatory and trying to stay ahead of it."

Rodney said he started offseason workouts in November to be ready for the Classic because of how much it meant to him. "I wanted to represent my country 100 percent," he said.

And he couldn't have been more pleased with how it went, noting that from the first exhibition the Dominicans played he could tell they were serious about winning.

"We played like a family," he said.

Rodney was at the center of attention, especially as most of his Dominican teammates joined him after each final out as he shot his celebratory imaginary arrow: "We had a lot of fun there."

He also created some headlines and punch lines when he sported a giant plantain, similar to a banana, for Monday's WBC semifinal, which was also the day he turned 36.

He tucked it into his waistband, waved it during the baseline introductions and carried it with him in the dugout. He even toted it around again for Tuesday's final against Puerto Rico, including during his postgame interviews.

Rodney told writers in San Francisco he had it flown in from the Dominican as a good luck charm, but he said Thursday that wasn't really true. Actually, he said, he got it from a fan, who also might have been a friend, before the semifinal game in exchange for an autographed ball.

"I put it in my belt and kept in there the whole game," he said. "I said that must be the lucky plantain, because we won two games."

Rodney doesn't plan on anything similar for the regular season because they were "WBC plantains." But watch out if the Rays make it to the World Series.

"We'll think of something different," he said.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Rays' Rodney aims for season ahead 03/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 9:40pm]

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