PORT CHARLOTTE — That slight intercostal muscle strain that Rays OF Steven Souza Jr. felt on Feb. 21 will keep him sidelined through at least the first week of exhibition games.
"I feel great right now and I'm probably ready to go," Souza said Monday. "But, like I've said the whole time, it's a process. So there is no need to rush it right now. I think we'll end up with the same amount of at-bats as if I started Day 1."
Souza has started taking swings in controlled situations — "dry" with a short stick and a regular bat but no ball, "wet" where he simulates the motion with a foam-covered weight in the therapy pool.
Souza, limited to 110 games during an inconsistent 2015 rookie season due to an assortment of injuries, said he doesn't consider this a setback, with March 9 a rough target for his debut.
"You prepare yourself all offseason and I think I came in pretty prepared. I feel confident I can get back in there," Souza said. "Obviously, nobody likes standing on the side, but I don't think it will be a setback. It's definitely a slowdown. And it's going to be a blessing in disguise, I think, to slow down and get back in there and take my time."
FOR STARTERS: The Rays set their rotation for the first three exhibitions, with RHP Jake Odorizzi facing the Nationals on Wednesday, RHP Erasmo Ramirez the Orioles on Thursday and All-Star ace RHP Chris Archer the Red Sox (but not mentor David Price) on Friday in Fort Myers. Each will work one-two innings.
Manager Kevin Cash joked that it was set up that way because that was how pitching coach Jim Hickey wanted it, but there are scheduling issues, including the planned-but-not-official March 20-22 trip to Cuba and limiting their starters' exposure to division opponents.
On a five-day plan, Odorizzi lines up to pitch the March 22 game in Havana, and Archer, as expected, the April 3 regular-season opener. Cash said RHP Matt Andriese and top LHP prospect Blake Snell are among those likely to also get starts during the spring.
PITCHING IN: RHP Ryan Webb (left hamstring) was rested again Monday, but Cash said he isn't likely to be set back much and could pitch in Thursday's game. … RHP Alex Colome and LHP Xavier Cedeno, who are on a slower schedule by design due to 2015 workload, threw bullpen sessions Monday and are slated for the first of two live batting practice sessions Thursday and game debuts the middle of next week. … Snell and RHP Taylor Guerrieri, another top prospect, are slated to make their exhibition debuts in relief Wednesday. … Cash noted the "electric stuff" of nonroster RHP Jamie Schultz, who was 9-5, 3.67 at Double-A Montgomery last season with 168 strikeouts in 135 innings.
MISCELLANY: Today's onfield will be limited to 9:30-10:30 a.m. due to the team's annual charity golf event at the Ritz Carlton Club in Bradenton. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg is expected to make his annual camp visit today. … Cash praised the energy level of the returning veterans and newcomers, which was noticeable during pickoff and rundown drills. … 1B coach Rocco Baldelli will lead a morning meeting on baserunning, raising questions and showing videos aimed at improving their decision-making.