Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Peña happy with health, swing

Running it out: Second baseman Akinori Iwamura dashes down the first-base line after hitting a groundout in the first inning of a 3-2 loss to the Twins, which dropped the Rays to 13-14-1 this spring.

Associated Press

Running it out: Second baseman Akinori Iwamura dashes down the first-base line after hitting a groundout in the first inning of a 3-2 loss to the Twins, which dropped the Rays to 13-14-1 this spring.

FORT MYERS — Coming off unplanned January abdominal surgery, 1B Carlos Peña had two goals for the end of spring training: to be 100 percent healthy and to be swinging the bat well.

After hitting his first homer Monday, a two-run opposite-field shot off LHP Brian Duensing in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Twins, Peña said he has accomplished both.

"I'm satisfied," he said. "As far as the surgery, all I'm trying to do is get over the last little bit of soreness that comes from over-use and getting it stronger, so that makes me very happy.

"And at the plate, just feeling that comfort zone and that ability to be able to trust your hands. … I'm feeling more and more comfortable every time I go out there, so that's good."

Garza good: After going through a "dead arm" period last week, No. 3 starter Matt Garza said he was concerned more with being sharp in his last extended spring outing than facing his former Twins teammates for the first time.

He was sharp, relatively, in the six-inning, 95-pitch session, allowing three runs, scattering eight hits and striking out five. "I felt great," Garza said. "My arm felt live again, and I attacked the zone. … They knew my fastball was coming, so they were gearing up for it, and they really didn't put good wood on it. They had a couple hard hits, but a lot of in-betweeners and little hole-finders, and that was it."

RHP Troy Percival had another no-hit, no-walk inning, his sixth in seven outings, and was effective with his slide-step delivery.

Decisions, decisions: Rays officials met Monday night with plans to make final, or close to final, roster decisions by Wednesday's Grapefruit League finale. "We're real close, believe me," manager Joe Maddon said. "Truly, there are some things we're just not 100 percent sure of yet."

One is the fifth starter spot, with Maddon saying RHPs Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are "damn close." With Lance Cormier (who looked good again Monday) and Jason Isringhausen other options for the final bullpen spot, the Rays are exploring trading one of the starters.

The pitching-poor Padres are among the teams that have inquired about both. But reports out of San Diego are incorrect that in return for Niemann the Rays asked about prospects Simon Castro, Wynn Pelzer, Nick Schmidt and Juedy Valdez, and the Padres "deemed the price too high." The Pirates and Rockies may also be interested.

The other is recovering B.J. Upton's outfield spot, and it sounds more and more like it's going to Matt Joyce, though Maddon said Justin Ruggiano is still an option. Maddon raved again about Joyce's "real special" swing, then when asked what Joyce had to do to make the team said: "Just stay healthy and keep doing what he's doing. B.J. being down, we have to choose somebody."

No Mo: Veteran INF Morgan Ensberg was released, reducing the spring roster to 36, as he wasn't going to make the big-league team and the Rays didn't have room for him at Triple A.

"I'm not mad at all," said Ensberg, 33. "I think you're seeing more just surprise because I thought the worst case would be Triple A."

Ensberg, who hit .227 in 22 games with no homers and four RBIs, said he hopes to sign with another team: "There's still a little bit of time."

Minor matters: Niemann threw 68 pitches and six scoreless innings in a Triple-A intrasquad game, allowing four hits and striking out six, and said he was "pretty much throwing the ball where I wanted to." … Upton, who seems likely to play for the Class A Stone Crabs before rejoining the Rays around April 13, went 0-for-4 and played six innings in the field. … RHP Dan Wheeler pitched two innings, allowing an unearned run on two hits.

Miscellany: Maddon plans to use all five starters in order despite two April off days. … A Saturday dinner featuring Maddon and his staff raised $18,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Charlotte County.

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Peña happy with health, swing 03/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 7:24am]

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