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Tampa Bay Rays fifth-starter candidates Wade Davis, Andy Sonnanstine both impressive

PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon has said the competition for the fifth rotation spot is still wide open between RHPs Wade Davis and Andy Sonnanstine.

On Tuesday, both candidates were equally impressive, leading Maddon to say the decision is going to be "very difficult."

Davis had his best outing of the spring against the Red Sox, pitching four scoreless innings, giving up just three hits and striking out five and dropping his ERA to 7.04. Admittedly too amped up in his last start, Davis said he had a better rhythm and located all his pitches well.

"It reminded me a lot of what he'd done at the end of last year," Maddon said. "Well-located fastball down, hitting his spots, good breaking ball. He was extremely sharp."

So was Sonnanstine, who also pitched four scoreless innings, giving up one hit while striking out three. Sonnanstine continued his offseason goal of pitching well inside to right-handed hitters, who batted .367 against him last year.

"I'm just absolutely ecstatic with the way my body feels right now," Sonnanstine said. "It's completely different from all the other spring trainings I've been in. I've never felt this strong."

STEPPING UP: INF Sean Rodriguez continued his hot spring, hitting his majors-best fifth homer in the Rays' 7-0 win. Rodriguez has 11 RBIs and a .484 on-base percentage.

"It's always a good feeling, especially when you're trying to make a team," he said. "I mean, it's just surreal."

INJURY UPDATE: Maddon said OF Matt Joyce (elbow strain) will start playing catch soon, and they hope to see "significant improvement" by the weekend. Joyce could get some at-bats as a DH in minor-league games in the next few days, but Maddon said he likely won't play the outfield in a big-league game until next week.

"It's very frustrating," Joyce said. "I talked with Joe and told him nobody wants to be labeled as one of those guys that is in the training room or hurt all the time."

Joyce, competing for a roster spot in the rightfield platoon, hopes missing this much time won't hurt him.

"He hasn't missed enough time to worry about it, but it could get to that point where he just won't be ready, and if he wasn't ready than that's a different set of circumstances," Maddon said. "So for right now, he's still okay."

C Dioner Navarro started for the first time since bruising his left thumb last week and said "everything was fine." Navarro and Kelly Shoppach will both likely catch in the back-to-back games against the Yankees.

STARTER SWITCH: The Rays changed Thursday's scheduled starter against the Yankees from RHP Matt Garza to LHP Carlos Hernandez, since Garza will face New York in the first week of the season. RHP Dan Wheeler will start Friday, with RHP Jeff Niemann following.

MISCELLANY: 1B Hank Blalock picked up his first two hits as a Ray, both doubles. … Tampa Bay is now 10-3. … The Rays will wear green hats today for St. Patrick's Day. … Minor-league exhibitions begin today. For full schedule, check out www.tampabay.com/blogs/rays/. … Hosts Jody McDonald and Jim Duquette will host their Sirius XM show "Power Alley" today live from Charlotte Sports Park (10 a.m.-1 p.m.)

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

Tampa Bay Rays fifth-starter candidates Wade Davis, Andy Sonnanstine both impressive 03/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 2:52pm]

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