LAKELAND — DH Luke Scott knows his good friend Tigers RHP Doug Fister well enough to know that when Fister's sinker is on, it's hard to lift balls off him.
But when Fister left his first pitch up to Scott in the fourth inning Tuesday, the ball left Joker Marchant Stadium quickly for a mammoth tiebreaking grand slam in the Rays' 11-5 win.
"The ball jumped," manager Joe Maddon said.
Scott continued his strong spring with two hits, including a double, while making his second start in the outfield. With his surgically repaired right shoulder finally healthy, Scott is feeling like his "former self."
"It's like being able to drive a car on four wheels instead of three," he said.
Maddon said Scott's swing looks more effortless and he could be "very big" this year, with the potential for more than the 14-homer, 55-RBI season of 2012.
Scott thinks Fister is capable of more, too, and gave him some tips in a talk outside the clubhouses. "I complimented him on a nice hit, and he kind of downplayed it," Fister said. "He said, 'You didn't look yourself.' "
PITCHING IN: RHP Jeremy Hellickson had a strong start against the Tigers' tough lineup, allowing three runs and eight hits over six efficient innings (83 pitches). "Outstanding," Maddon said. "By far his best showing this spring."
Hellickson had a rough first inning, giving up two hits on 0-and-2 counts. But he settled in, retiring eight straight during his final four scoreless innings. Maddon liked how he pitched primarily with his fastball. "I just made better pitches when I was ahead," Hellickson said.
GAME STUFF: OF Shelley Duncan hit his team-leading fourth homer. … RHP Brandon Gomes, who Maddon said may be having the best spring of anyone in camp, gave up his first runs in seven outings, a two-run homer. … RHP Kyle Farnsworth threw a scoreless inning.
FOR SHORT: Ben Zobrist went 0-for-4 in his first game since returning from the World Baseball Classic, where he played for the United States. He played shortstop, where he'll spell SS Yunel Escobar this season. "I think when 'Zo' plays that position, it makes him a better second baseman," Maddon said. "I think it benefits the rest of his game."
MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Jeff Niemann won't pitch until Friday's split-squad games, giving him three extra days' rest (and seven total) since his last outing, March 14 in Sarasota, when he showed slightly decreased velocity.
Niemann said again he felt fine. The change, he said, was for scheduling purposes, so he could start in a big-league game rather than working in a minor-league game. He had been pitching on the same day as Hellickson.
"If I have to have a few extra days, that's not the worst thing ever," Niemann said. "It just made things flow better."
OF Sam Fuld, out since March 4 with right hamstring tightness, "felt good" after going through "close to normal" baserunnning drills in Port Charlotte and said the next step could be getting at-bats, though not necessarily playing the field, in a minor-league game as a way of "easing my way back." Maddon said Fuld will likely get in a game by Friday or Saturday and he's still on track for opening day.
PRICE CHECK: Rays ace LHP David Price was smiling Tuesday morning, which already made it a better day for him than Monday. Price was frustrated when rain forced him to cut short a minor-league outing due to bad field conditions and concern of injury. He ended up throwing 37 pitches in one messy inning, then 34 more in the indoor cage. But he was in a better mood Tuesday in the clubhouse in Port Charlotte, and more important to the Rays, he said there were no issues from the bad day. "I feel fine," he said.
MISCELLANY: RHP Joel Peralta worked a 10-pitch inning in a minor-league game, striking out one and picking off one who reached on an error.
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.