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Tampa Bay Rays close to deal with reserve infielder Jeff Keppinger

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays were looking for one more right-handed hitter to fill out their roster and have settled on veteran infielder Jeff Keppinger.

The Rays and Keppinger are finalizing a deal, the Tampa Bay Times learned Wednesday, and, pending a successful physical exam today, an announcement is expected by Friday.

Keppinger, 31, has played parts of seven seasons in the majors, splitting 2011 between the Astros, who traded him in July, and Giants, who let him go after the season.

Keppinger has a career .281 average, .332 on-base and .388 slugging percentages, but of more relevance are his numbers against left-handers: .324/.371/.481. Also, he is a high contact hitter, putting the ball in play in 84 percent of his plate appearances, according to baseball-reference.com. (The major-league average is 70 percent.)

Keppinger seems likely to compete for one of the two open reserve spots, battling with the loser of the shortstop competition between Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac, outfielder Brandon Guyer, and infielders Elliot Johnson, Russ Canzler and Will Rhymes. The other two spots are ticketed for outfielder Sam Fuld and the backup catcher.

Keppinger has played primarily second base and shortstop, with some experience at third and a few games at first and in the outfield.

He missed the first 50 games last season as he recovered from foot surgery, was traded to San Francisco in mid July (for minor-league pitchers Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel), then missed three games, and dropped off offensively after injuring his right wrist in mid August. In 99 games, he hit .277 with six homers and 35 RBIs.

Keppinger made $2.3 million last season, and the Giants chose to nontender him and keep Mike Fontenot, with team vice president Bobby Evans saying the "tiebreaker" was their evaluation that Fontenot was better defensively at shortstop.

SPRING FLING: Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee, the Rays' top shortstop prospects, are among the organizational nonroster invitees to major-league camp. Also invited are catchers Craig Albernaz and Nevin Ashley and pitchers Marquis Fleming, Ricky Orta and Ryan Reid. Also coming is pitcher Bryan Augenstein, signed to a minor-league deal from the Cardinals. … In other news, Rays left-handed pitcher Matt Moore was ranked the game's No. 1 prospect by mlb.com.

Around the majors

CUBAN STAR AVAILABLE: Slugging Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, 26, is eligible to negotiate with big-league clubs. The Marlins are one of at least six teams with serious interest.

BRAUN A NO-SHOW: The Brewers said NL MVP Ryan Braun will not attend the team's fan festival this weekend because it's too "sensitive" a period for the slugger, who awaits a decision of his appeal of a 50-game suspension under baseball's drug policy.

CARDINALS: Closer Jason Motte, 29, agreed to a $1.95 million, one-year contract.

D'BACKS: Right-handed reliever Brad Ziegler, 32, agreed to a one-year contract worth $1,795,000.

ORIOLES: Infielder Robert Andino, 27, who got the winning hit in the regular-season finale that capped the Red Sox's colossal September collapse, agreed to a $1.3 million, one-year deal.

REDS: Right-handed reliever Nick Masset, a former Pinellas Park standout, agreed on a two-year, $5.5 million deal.

ROCKIES: Right-handed reliever Rafael Betancourt, 36, agreed on a new contract that runs through 2013 with an option for 2014.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Tampa Bay Rays close to deal with reserve infielder Jeff Keppinger 01/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 11:43pm]
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