PORT CHARLOTTE — As he has spent the past seven years bouncing between Triple-A teams in Sacramento and Durham and a season in Japan, Dan Johnson has hoped for one thing: the opportunity to be an everyday player in the big leagues.
Tuesday, he walked into the Rays clubhouse with that chance finally in front of him with the first base job seemingly his to lose.
"It's one of those things where I have the opportunity to go out and prove something this year," Johnson said. "I'm going to take every bit of opportunity I get and try to capitalize on it. This is it."
Johnson, 31, has seen chances evaporate before with the A's, but he is confident he can take advantage of this one, created when the Rays chose to sign Johnny Damon to play leftfield and Manny Ramirez to DH. They did hedge their bets somewhat, bringing in former Angels 1B Casey Kotchman on a minor-league contract (amid reports he has been impressive in workouts), and they have the option of using Ben Zobrist at first.
"I have a chance," Johnson said. "But you cannot take it for granted."
For all his success in Triple A — a .307 average and .980 OPS with 100 homers and 377 RBIs in 477 games — Johnson has yet to produce consistently in the majors. While notching some of the Rays' biggest hits during their 2008 and 2010 postseason runs, he has hit just .199 (with a .752 OPS) in 50 games for them and has a career big-league average of .243 and a .762 OPS.
"I know I can do it," Johnson said.
PITCHING IN: LHP J.P. Howell is excited about his recovery from shoulder surgery, but the Rays are going to be cautious. So while the other seven pitchers in his group throw their bullpen sessions today, he will be on a slightly restricted schedule, held back at least until Thursday.
MISSING CC: The players accept most of the offseason changes as part of the business of baseball, but veteran starter James Shields acknowledged it was especially odd to no longer have Carl Crawford — who signed with the Red Sox — in their clubhouse.
"That kind of got me a little bit," Shields said. "I think Crawford more than anybody. He got drafted in '99, I got drafted in 2000 by the Rays — we've been in this organization for a long time together.
"It's definitely sad to see him go. As far as my opinion, he's the best outfielder in the big leagues overall. And unfortunately he's in the same division still as me. So I have to work on my pickoff move and try to be quicker to home plate."
MISCELLANY: Thirty-seven of the 38 pitchers and catchers are expected for today's 10 a.m. opening workout, with the possibility that RHP Juan Cruz will be delayed due to visa issues. … There's talk that another player or two could be added to the 61-man spring roster. … Position players who joined the early reporters in advance of Monday's first full-squad session included SS Reid Brignac; OFs Sam Fuld, Justin Ruggiano and Matt Joyce; and Johnson. … The Rays are expecting new DH Manny Ramirez in camp by Monday.