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Rays roster nearly final; Jackson named fourth starter

Nice spring: Jason Bartlett is hitting .357 after a 3-for-4 day against his old team, the Twins.

TERRY ALLEN WILLIAMS | Fort Myers News-Press

Nice spring: Jason Bartlett is hitting .357 after a 3-for-4 day against his old team, the Twins.

FORT MYERS — Final decisions may not be announced until Saturday's spring finale, but unless the Rays find help from the outside, they appear to have settled on all roster spots but the final slot in their bullpen.

The way things look now, Joel Guzman and Elliot Johnson will be the reserve infielders, Eric Hinske the fifth outfielder and Shawn Riggans the backup catcher. Still undecided is the competition between relievers Scott Dohmann (who has the better track record) and Grant Balfour (who has had the better spring).

"We pretty much have in our mind's eye exactly what it's going to look like, we still want to give it another day or two," manager Joe Maddon said.

"Quite frankly, that's what's going on. Things can happen over the course of the next few days. There's probably one position, I don't want to be specific about it, that we're still a little bit torn about. The competition's been pretty severe, and we're still not 100 percent there yet."

One big step came Tuesday, when Johnson showed he could fill in at shortstop if needed, though nonroster invitee Andy Cannizaro is another option for a utility role. The Rays are continuing to actively pursue another outfielder, who could replace Hinske or Guzman on the roster.

JACKSON GOES FOURTH: Edwin Jackson was named the No. 4 starter, meaning he opens the second series of the season at Yankee Stadium on April 4, and Jason Hammel No. 5. "No particular reason," Maddon said. "That's where they've been the whole spring so we just stayed with it."

FIRST AT THIRD?: Starting 3B Willy Aybar was "still not ready" to play because of a sore left hamstring, but Maddon said he is not concerned about his availability for Monday's season opener.

The Rays want Aybar, who is 8-for-28, to get more at-bats, and could use him in minor-league games, but may not get the chance to get the four starting infielders in a game together before Monday.

"I still believe he's going to be fine to play in that game," Maddon said. "I'm not hearing anything that leads me to believe that he won't be."

PREP WORK: James Shields gave up seven hits and hit two batters in four innings of the 4-2 loss to the Twins, but said he made "some pretty good pitches" and considered the 67-pitch outing just a tuneup for Monday's opening day assignment. "He got the work he needed to get in today," Maddon said.

MISCELLANY: Johnson made two errors on one play in centerfield, misplaying a hit then throwing errantly past third. … SS Jason Bartlett went 3-for-4 against his former Twins teammates and said he enjoyed the experience. … Maddon said reliever Scott Munter, whose heavy sinker produces a lot of ground balls, is "becoming very interesting." … Ex-Ray Delmon Young received his 2007 outstanding rookie award from the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Rays roster nearly final; Jackson named fourth starter 03/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008 3:06pm]
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