WINTER HAVEN — Though CF B.J. Upton left Thursday's game in the first inning after getting hit by a pitch, X-rays on his left arm proved negative and he suffered just a tricep bruise.
The Rays believe Upton will be fine, saying he is day to day, but the injury could temporarily challenge the club's already-depleted outfield depth.
Upton was plunked just above the elbow by Indians RHP Paul Byrd, and was grimacing in pain as he slowly walked to first base. Assistant trainer Paul Harker walked Upton to first, then back to the clubhouse for treatment.
"I don't think it's anything serious," manager Joe Maddon said. "It hit him in a bad spot, where it can swell up very quickly — which it did. He just couldn't get a good feel or grip or close his fist."
Ironically, Maddon had pulled a pregame lineup switch, putting Upton at DH to play it safe when a large rain puddle left the middle of centerfield soggy and spongy; the Indians made Grady Sizemore a late scratch, likely for the same reason. Jon Weber replaced Upton in center (going 3-for-5 with a homer). RF Jonny Gomes played the last half of the 4-4 tie in center and could be an additional option if the Rays don't land a backup centerfielder.
ROTATION BATTLE: RHP Jason Hammel, who gave up three runs and four hits in just over four innings (86 pitches) Thursday, said he feels he hasn't made as strong a case as other candidates for the final rotation spots. There are five Rays, including RHPs Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson and Jeff Niemann, along with LHP J.P. Howell, in what Maddon calls a "close" battle for three remaining slots. Sonnanstine (today) and Howell (Saturday) will start the next two games, with Maddon saying the final decision could come Sunday. Like Jackson, Hammel (0-1 with a 7.64 ERA in four spring starts) is out of options, so he's likely to make the team no matter what. But Maddon was pleased to hear Hammel's taking accountability in his self-evaluation.
"Honestly, those other guys have thrown better than me," Hammel said. "I know I haven't pitched to my potential, and I'm going to. But up until this point, I can definitely do better."
INJURY REPORT: Ace LHP Scott Kazmir (left elbow strain) didn't throw Thursday, making it more than a week since he was last on the mound. … 2B Akinori Iwamura left Thursday's game in the third after feeling back tightness, but Maddon said he plans to play Iwamura tonight. … 3B Willy Aybar (sore left hamstring), the likely starter if prospect Evan Longoria is sent down, could play tonight against the Yankees. … Maddon said backup catcher candidate Shawn Riggans (bruised left hand) could play Saturday.
TOP CREW TO TAMPA: Pretty much all the Rays regulars are traveling to tonight's game with the Yankees, including Gomes, who certainly garnered his share of attention from Yankees fans for charging in from rightfield after Shelley Duncan's hard slide in the March 12 brawl game. Maddon had held out Gomes from Saturday's game against the Yankees, wanting to let the situation "cool down." But Maddon said, things now are "pretty chilly."
MISCELLANY: According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Rays offered a major-league contract for more than $1-million to Kenny Lofton, and the soon-to-be 41-year-old deemed it not good enough despite not having better options at this time. … RHP James Shields, the opening day starter who would make his second regular-season start against the Yankees, will pitch today at the minor-league complex (Dioner Navarro will catch). … Navarro had a homer and double hitting in the No. 2 slot.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.