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Tampa Bay Rays' Dan Johnson finding his groove

OLD FRIENDS: Rays DH Manny Ramirez embraces his former teammate, Red Sox DH David Ortiz, before the game. The two played for Boston from 2003-08 and won two World Series titles together.

Associated Press

OLD FRIENDS: Rays DH Manny Ramirez embraces his former teammate, Red Sox DH David Ortiz, before the game. The two played for Boston from 2003-08 and won two World Series titles together.

FORT MYERS — A notoriously slow starter during spring training, Dan Johnson is starting to get hot at the right time.

Johnson homered for the second straight game, this one a two-run shot off Red Sox RHP John Lackey in Tuesday night's 7-4 win, and now has hit safely in his past five games.

"I'm starting to kind of feel it out there, where you'd like to be during the season," Johnson said. "Where you feel like you kind of know what you're doing, getting good swings on balls, seeing the offspeed pretty good. I'm kind of right where I want to be."

Johnson said a key for him has been relaxing at the plate, and knowing he'll likely have a chance to be the everyday first baseman helps in that. Manager Joe Maddon said Johnson often goes into the clubhouse between at-bats at DH and fills out his crossword puzzle.

"Instead of being real amped up, I'm trying to calm it down and take the same swing," Johnson said. "And the results have been good so far."

PRICE CHECK: LHP David Price looked good in giving up just one run over 61/3 innings against the Boston regulars, striking out seven over 103 pitches. What stood out to him was that he was able to make that "big pitch" when he got into jams. "That's exactly who he is, he's got that extra gear when he needs it," Maddon said. "When it got hot, he got better."

Price said he'd like to get his slider back to where it was earlier in spring, but he threw his curveball for the first time in a game and was encouraged.

HIGH PRAISE: LF Manny Ramirez, booed before each at-bat against his former team, had a good day for the Rays (11-12-1) with two walks and a single. And his former Red Sox teammates say he'll have a big impact with the Rays.

"Manny is going to bring run-producing," Red Sox DH David Ortiz said. "He's not too much of a talker, but he's humble and he's good people. Nobody works harder than Manny. He works really hard. That's why he's one of the best in the game."

CUT TIME: The Rays further reduced the field of pitchers competing for spots in the bullpen, sending RHPs Chris Bootcheck and Mike Ekstrom and LHP R.J. Swindle to minor-league camp.

Ekstrom, who is on the 40-man roster, had the best chance of the three to win an opening-day spot but had a rough spring. Bootcheck and Swindle were nonroster invitees who could end up helping the Rays later in the season.

"I didn't pitch very good, so it's not exactly a surprise," said Ekstrom, who gave up 11 runs and 15 hits in eight innings. "I know I can pitch, it's just frustrating that I didn't get it done here."

MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Kyle Farnsworth, who hyperextended his left knee during Monday's game, went through a pitcher's fielding practice session Tuesday and felt good. He said he'll pitch as scheduled in back-to-back appearances Thursday and Friday.

C John Jaso, who is out after getting hit in the groin by a foul tip Saturday, played catch and took some swings but is still sore, and he likely won't return for a few more days.

SCOUT CHATTER: LHP Cesar Cabral, the Rule 5 pick from Boston, has impressed more than the Rays as several teams are showing interest, creating the possibility the Rays could have another option besides giving him up on waivers or keeping him on the big-league roster. After a rocky first outing, Cabral, who hasn't pitched above Class A, has pitched six scoreless innings over four games, allowing two hits and striking out five, and was most impressive his last time out against the Twins.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Dan Johnson finding his groove 03/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 9:58pm]

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