ST. PETERSBURG — Even with his recovery from left shoulder surgery ahead of schedule, Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton expects to miss the first week of the regular season.
Upton and the Rays have plotted a cautious path and, though still "hoping" to be ready for opening day April 6, he is targeting the April 13 home opener after the team returns from Boston and Baltimore.
"They said cold weather is probably going to be an issue with it, make it ache a little bit," Upton said Wednesday. "So we're going to be careful with it and hopefully when they get back off the road, I can start up. … There's really no rush to it. We just want to make sure I'm 100 percent before I get back on the field."
Upton, 24, said the shoulder feels "definitely" stronger since the Nov. 11 surgery to repair a torn labrum. "It actually feels like there is something there," he said. "All (last) year it was kind of weak and it kind of felt like it didn't have anything behind it."
He hopes after a follow-up doctor's visit in about 10 days to be cleared to start "swinging a little bit," but he doesn't expect to do much hitting during spring training.
With Upton out, rookie Fernando Perez and free agent signee Gabe Kapler are the mostly likely starters.
• Outfielder Gabe Gross avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $1.255-million deal, a hefty raise from the $414,00 he made last season after hitting .242 with 13 homers and 38 RBIs in 127 games for the Rays. The Rays are negotiating with their four remaining arbitration eligibles: INF Willy Aybar, RHP Grant Balfour, SS Jason Bartlett and C Dioner Navarro.
• Left-handed pitcher Scott Kazmir has added close to 20 pounds of muscle since the end of last season due to an increased off-season training regimen designed to improve his strength and balance.
• Third baseman Evan Longoria said he was contacted informally about playing for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic but declined because he "would rather play for my country first," but thus far he has not been invited by the U.S. team, which includes Chipper Jones and David Wright.
• The Rays unveiled a new dark blue alternate jersey that features light blue trim and a larger sunburst and will be worn occasionally, starting May 1 against Boston.