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Tampa Bay Rays feeling at ease at end of arduous April

ARLINGTON, Texas — Rays manager Joe Maddon told his team in one of its first spring training meetings how important it would be to start the season off right, even with an April schedule filled with tough tests against several of the American League's best.

As the Rays return home to close out the month tonight against the Mariners, they like where they sit, at 14-8 and tied atop the AL East with the Orioles.

"We had a great April — not a good April, a great April," Maddon said Sunday, "based on the schedule, and not only the teams we played, but the schedule itself. I'm really pleased and proud of our guys."

Tampa Bay opened with three home games with the Yankees, navigated a 10-game, three-city trip filled with day games in Detroit and Boston, and tackled two of the expected top powers in the West, the Angels and Rangers.

And the Rays did so with closer Kyle Farnsworth (right elbow sprain) yet to appear in a game and CF B.J. Upton missing the first 13 games.

"I think we've done wonderfully," Maddon said. "I'd be hard-pressed to say that anybody would have predicted a better record than we have. I'll take it."

GOING LONG: The Rays acquired RHP Burke Badenhop from the Marlins because of his ability to induce ground balls.

This season, however, Badenhop has allowed more long balls than usual. He has given up three home runs in 10 games, including Adrian Beltre's three-run blast for the Rangers on Saturday, after surrendering one in 50 games last year.

"He's gotten some ground balls, and he's left some balls over the plate," Maddon said. "We're going to keep throwing him out there. I really believe he's going to be really good for us this season. He's just not as sharp as he's going to be."

Badenhop, who has been charged with at least one earned run in five of his 10 appearances, said he's not far off: "Everything I throw down in the zone, it's usually pretty good, it's just guys are laying off all those and waiting and waiting and waiting to get a good one. It's tough to be perfect all the time, but that's what I'm going to have to do."

CATCHING ON: With Triple-A Durham C Nevin Ashley on the disabled list with a broken bone in his right hand and expected to be out 4-6 weeks, it further depletes the Rays' organizational depth at that position.

C Robinson Chirinos (concussion) and C Jose Lobaton (shoulder) are also on the DL. Maddon said executive vice president Andrew Friedman has his eye on that spot, though he says it's one of the most difficult positions in sports to fill.

"We're okay up here, but you always look for depth," Maddon said. "That's a very difficult position to maintain with people that you like."

Maddon said Lobaton is getting work done in extended spring and is progressing in his rehabilitation. "I don't think he's really far off at this point," Maddon said.

A LITTLE MO: C Jose Molina is still learning the Rays pitchers, and vice versa, Maddon said. Though "there's certain things I know he'd like to have done better to this point," the manager said he is not concerned.

Molina, who is hitting .200 in 12 starts, has thrown out two of eight attempted basestealers.

"I think you're going to see a major impact from him in a positive way as we move this thing down the road," Maddon said. "He's a very proud man and expects a lot of himself, too, and I know if you talk to him specifically, he'll tell you he's not pleased with what he's done to this point."

When it comes to the number of passed balls/wild pitches Molina has been part of, Maddon said a reason is the veteran often doesn't give up on a pitch and "tries to hold it for a strike longer than most guys will."

MISCELLANY: Rangers OF Josh Hamilton left Sunday's game in the second inning with back tightness and is day to day … Triple-A Durham was no-hit Sunday 2-0 by three Indianapolis pitchers. Durham's 13th consecutive loss ties a franchise record.

Tampa Bay Rays feeling at ease at end of arduous April 04/29/12 [Last modified: Monday, April 30, 2012 12:40am]
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