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Rays wait to finalize final bullpen opening

WINTER HAVEN — RHP Grant Balfour had his first rough spring outing Thursday afternoon.

The hard-throwing Aussie just hopes it's not his final one as a Ray.

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said that, in terms of the roster, "things will crystallize (today) on a number of fronts." But it appears the tight competition for the final bullpen spot between Balfour and RHP Scott Dohmann could last until late this weekend.

Both pitched Thursday, with different results: Balfour (3.00 ERA), who has had the better spring, went unscathed in the fifth but, in the sixth, gave up a hit and walked three consecutive batters (ione with the bases loaded). Dohmann (8.74 ERA) replaced Balfour, getting the final out and cruising through a hitless seventh.

"It's tough to go out there and pitch every time knowing that you're either on the team or off the team," Balfour said. "It's tough, having that pressure on you, I must admit."

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged it'll be a difficult decision, with more than just the spring considered. What could make it harder is that with Balfour and Dohmann both without options, whomever doesn't break camp could be picked up on waivers by another team. Both said they'd love to stay. But for now, they wait.

"It's a good problem to have; both guys are extremely talented," Friedman said. "It's a much better position than we've been in in the past, that's for sure."

TRADE TALKS: The Rays continue to seek another outfielder, with Friedman saying "we'll be aggressive if something presents itself." The Mariners, Dodgers and Angels are among teams with extra outfielders and could be in the market for pitching help. The Rays — in the right situation — could deal one of their young starters, Edwin Jackson or Jason Hammel, who are out of options. Eric Hinske is a top in-house candidate to fill the spot.

WHO'S ON THIRD? 3B Willy Aybar (sore left hamstring) went 1-for-2 with two walks in a minor-league game, his first game action since Saturday. Maddon said Aybar had a good workout in the morning, which included batting practice and taking ground balls, and he merely had at-bats in the game. He may have a similar day today. Maddon said he still expects Aybar to start at third on opening day but acknowledged it's possible that INF Joel Guzman could get the nod. Another option is INF Elliot Johnson, who started at third against the Indians on Thursday and performed well.

KAZMIR UPDATE: Though the Rays are taking a conservative approach with ace LHP Scott Kazmir's recovery from a left elbow strain, Friedman said the goal is for him to throw 200 innings, or at least keep on that pace when he returns. Whether Kazmir can complete the feat — it took him a club-high 34 starts last year to reach 206 innings — is unclear. Kazmir, who will start the season on the disabled list (eligible to come off April 5), hasn't thrown off the mound in more than two weeks. "The important thing is we have to build him up," Friedman said. "Because, for the most part, he missed spring training."

MISCELLANY: RHP Andy Sonnanstine struggled with his command for the first time this spring, giving up four runs in four innings (including two walks) while throwing about 80 pitches. Sonnanstine had given up one run (and two walks) in six previous appearances. Maddon said he wasn't concerned. … 1B Carlos Pena hit a two-run homer in the Rays' 9-7 win over Cleveland, his team-high fifth.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Rays wait to finalize final bullpen opening 03/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 8:59am]
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