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Spring training performance will carry more weight for Tampa Bay Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon was only joking when he suggested Monday that the new Rays pitchers yell out their names before they started throwing so everyone would know who they are.

But with 13 of the 31 rostered pitchers — and 24 of the 61 players overall — new to the organization, some introductions are going to be necessary.

Also, a slight change in approach, as Maddon and Rays officials likely will have to put more weight on spring training performance and results than they typically do in making their decisions.

"I will have to pay more attention during the games," Maddon said. "We've often talked about spring training is not the time you really want to evaluate regarding going into the season, but we might be forced to do that this year because it's just different. There's no history from last year that we can really look at and say, well, this guy did this last year with us, thus he's pretty much locked in."

Maddon said the unfamiliarity will also put more importance on the early camp meetings they hold with each player. He doesn't anticipate having longer workout sessions but said the pitchers might throw more batting practice, and they could add a "B" game to make more innings available.

PACKED PORT: Nineteen players, including three members of the starting rotation — Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson — worked out on the field Monday morning. And several others, including LHP J.P. Howell, showed up at the Charlotte Sports Park facility even though camp doesn't officially start until Wednesday.

Maddon said the turnout was encouraging.

"I was just here to drop some stuff off and get my office settled in and I saw a bevy of pitchers walking out, so I had to come out and see what was going on," Maddon — wearing a 2008 edition "9=8" T-shirt — said. "I'm really impressed. … Does it surprise me? No. But it's really nice to see actually, that they're out here doing this. When you're self-starters like this, it makes everything so much easier. … I love the enthusiasm. This is awesome."

LOCKED IN: The clubhouse was already set up and the jerseys hung by Chris Westmoreland's staff. Manny Ramirez gets the three-locker "suite" that Rafael Soriano had last year, OF Johnny Damon moves into the corner spot previously occupied by Pat Burrell, and OF prospect Desmond Jennings takes over the locker used by Carl Crawford, the four-time All-Star who signed for $142 million with Boston. "I hope I get some of the other things he's got," Jennings joked.

PITCH COUNT: Howell said his surgically repaired left shoulder felt great and he was eager to get going. … Niemann said he comes into camp with no concern about the shoulder issue that forced him to the DL in August.

MISCELLANY: Workers are installing AstroTurf on the half-field so infielders will be able to practice on the same new surface that is being installed at Tropicana Field. … Maddon and executive VP Andrew Friedman will hold their pre-spring news conference this afternoon. … Maddon said he had a good talk Monday with Mike Butcher, the former Rays and current Angels pitching coach who is recovering after having a cancerous module removed from his thyroid: "He sounded good … and we were laughing by the end of the conversation, so I felt good about that."

Workout details

When: Pitchers and catchers beginning Wednesday, with the full squad starting Monday. Workouts start around 9:30 a.m. (10 a.m. Wednesday) and last 2½-3 hours. Admission and parking free.

Where: Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte

How to get there: 1-75 South to Toledo Blade Road, go west 6½ miles to El Jobean Road (SR 776), go right 2 miles, stadium on left. Driving time from Tampa Bay area 1½-2 hours.

Information: (941) 235-5025

Spring training performance will carry more weight for Tampa Bay Rays 02/14/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 14, 2011 10:24pm]
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