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Rays' Shields might get call to start opening day

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP James Shields is not officially the Rays' opening day starter.

Not yet anyway.

Manager Joe Maddon said he wouldn't make an official pronouncement until he spoke first with the honored hurler then acknowledged that he'd chat with Shields "relatively soon," possibly Tuesday when the Rays reconvene after their only day off in the spring.

With LHP Scott Kazmir headed to the disabled list, Shields is the obvious replacement and after working into the fifth inning on a sweltering Sunday remains lined up for the March 31 opener at Baltimore.

"It feels great knowing the team has enough confidence in me to take Kaz's spot in that situation," Shields said. "I've always said he's going to be the ace on this staff no matter what. I'll be happy to be able to take his spot if it happens."

Shields labored a bit in the heat (and with a cold) and struggled with his control early but seemed satisfied with his overall work, allowing two hits, three walks and hitting a batter but not allowing any runs. In four spring starts, he is 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA.

Riggans okay: As much as his left hand hurt, Shawn Riggans was feeling pretty good to know it was only bruised by a pitch in Saturday's game and not broken, which would have knocked him out of the race he seems to lead for the backup catcher's job.

"At first I thought it was bad news," Riggans said. "Finally I got a break that I'd really been looking for."

Riggans said his return to the field will be determined by when he can tolerate the pain of catching pitches, and he hoped to do some work as soon as Tuesday.

More medical: LHP Kurt Birkins, a long shot for a bullpen job, is expected to be out five to seven days after his left elbow problem was diagnosed as irritation of the ulnar nerve. "It's not anything major," he said. … LF Carl Crawford expects to return to action Tuesday after sitting out the past two games with tightness in his left hamstring. … Nonroster INF Andy Cannizaro, who has a chance at a utility job, remains sidelined by back problems and could resume on-field drills Tuesday. … RHP Chad Orvella is improving, Maddon said, but remains sidelined by shoulder issues.

Given recent events: Veteran C Mike Difelice had no complaints after being run into at the plate by Detroit's Edgar Renteria on what was the final out of the sixth. "I didn't think anything of that play except that it was an out," said Difelice, who hung on to the relay from Jason Bartlett. Maddon called it "a good play all-around." Tigers manager Jim Leyland said it was "unavoidable."

Miscellany: The Rays won 7-2, improving to a majors-best 13-3. … Yankees 1B Shelley Duncan decided to appeal his three-game suspension from Wednesday's melee, joining teammate Melky Cabrera and Rays OF Jonny Gomes in doing so. … After working a perfect inning in his first three outings, RHP Troy Percival allowed three hits in the sixth Sunday. … Two members of the U.S. military all-star team took batting practice with the Rays.

Rays' Shields might get call to start opening day 03/16/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 16, 2008 10:52pm]
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