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Tampa Bay Rays anticipate announcement on extra playoff team

PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays officials are eagerly awaiting official word from Major League Baseball that the playoff field will be expanded to include an additional wild-card team in each league for this season.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said he expects the change to be implemented. With all parties operating under commissioner Bud Selig's deadline of today, an announcement is expected today and FoxSports.com reported Wednesday the plan is "a go."

The new format would seem to help the Rays in that it allows another team — potentially a third-place team — to make the playoffs. But it also puts a greater premium on winning the division because the two wild-card teams would first meet in what is expected to be a one-game playoff.

Because the regular-season schedule has been released, MLB, players union and TV network officials have been working out details of when the games will be played, how revenues will be split and where they will be shown.

MOORE BETTER: LHP Matt Moore said his mildly strained lower abdomen "felt great" after playing catch at 75 feet, but there is still no timetable for him to return to the mound.

The Rays say they are not concerned but just being cautious and that unless Moore's absence carries into next week, it will not prevent him from being ready to start the regular season.

"(Head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) is going to try to accelerate it a little bit more (today)," manager Joe Maddon said.

GAME BOYS: Most of the Rays will participate in a four-inning intrasquad game after an abbreviated workout this morning.

The concept is for pitchers to get the chance to face hitters in more game-like conditions. But the bigger benefit is the situational work the Rays will do between innings on specific offensive and defensive plays and implementing their signs (which is a reason why the game is not open to the public.)

"We have this opportunity to set things up and have our guys react accordingly to that," Maddon said.

LHP Cesar Ramos and RHP Josh Lueke will start followed by RHPs Alex Cobb, Matt Torra, Marquis Fleming, Matt Bush and LHP Alex Torres. The teams will be managed by bullpen catcher Scott Cursi and video coordinator Chris "Chico" Fernandez. Among those not listed to play: 1B Carlos Peña, C Jose Molina, LF Sam Fuld and DH Luke Scott.

THE RUNDOWN: The Rays worked on pickoffs and rundowns Wednesday, a focal point of their efforts to control opponents' running games.

"We're not any smarter than anybody else," Maddon said. "At the end of the day, it always comes down to who executes better than the other team."

PITCHING IN: After LHP David Price starts Saturday's exhibition opener, the rest of the rotation has RHP Jeremy Hellickson on Sunday, RHP Wade Davis on Monday, RHP Jeff Niemann on Tuesday and RHP James Shields on Wednesday.

MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria taped a national TV commercial for MLB, one of 10 players to be featured. … The Rays will partner with four Charlotte County area charities to raise funds during the spring: the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and the Homeless Coalition. … There is an event tonight for spring season-ticket holders, including a question-and-answer session with Ben Zobrist and broadcast of the Countdown to Opening Day radio show from 7 to 8 on 620-AM.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays anticipate announcement on extra playoff team 02/29/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 8:18pm]
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