BRADENTON — Coming back from right shoulder surgery, new Rays DH Luke Scott has been confident he will be ready for opening day. Saturday, he looked it with his best day of the spring, singling and homering in the 2-1 win over Pittsburgh.
"Things are starting to feel a little bit better," Scott said. "I'm getting better timing, getting a better rhythm. I'm starting to use my hands more, which is my main focus right now."
Scott was pleased with the results as well as the process, specifically the adjustments he made during his at-bats. Manager Joe Maddon said that on the home run, a loud blast to right off Jeff Karstens, "his hand action was spectacular."
Getting Scott ready requires balance in not taxing his shoulder too much but getting him enough at-bats to regain his form after a winter off; he has 12, and the Rays would like him to get close to 50. A key will be playing back-to-back days, and Scott said he plans to do so today.
"There's no doubt I'll be ready," he said. "The last couple days I've made some really good strides. I've hit the ball to all sides of the field, driven balls to all sides of the field."
SHIELDS SHARP: Opening day starter RHP James Shields was so sharp he worked an unscheduled sixth inning, throwing only 67 pitches total (46 strikes) while working in his curveball for the first time this spring.
"Today I was ahead in the count and real efficient with my pitches — that's a recipe for success," he said. "For the most part, I felt great."
Shields struck out seven and allowed four hits, the only blemishes a homer by Andrew McCutchen and an unusual balk call, the result of catching his cleat on the rubber.
UPTON STILL DOWN: CF B.J. Upton said he felt better but was still sore from Wednesday's collision with LF Desmond Jennings and not ready to play. Tuesday sounds like the new target, either in Jupiter or a minor-league game in Port Charlotte.
"Nothing's wrong," Maddon said. "It's the different movements required to hit that sometimes grab him a little bit."
ST. PETE BOUND: The Rays will send a squad of minor-leaguers to St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field for the 1:05 p.m. international series finale against the Netherlands.
LHP Kyle Lobstein will start with Mark Thomas, who was in big-league camp, catching. Double-A Montgomery's Billy Gardner Jr. will manage.
Tickets are $12.50 and $10, gates open at 11, kids can run the bases postgame. Fans are asked to bring a canned food item for the Free Clinic.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays (4-9-3) went up 2-0 when Scott homered and 1B Carlos Peña tripled, his first hit of the spring, and scored on a wild pitch. … RHP Brandon Gomes, returning from back surgery, got out of a jam in the eighth, though Maddon said "I think there's still more velocity to be had out of him." … Relievers Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney each worked one inning in minor-league games, Burke Badenhop and J.P. Howell worked two.