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Tampa Bay Rays have little controversy during spring training

The Rays got through their longest, and first long-distance, spring training with relatively little controversy and in relatively good shape, with OF Fernando Perez (dislocated left wrist) the only casualty.

Here's a quick look at the biggest issues, and how they worked out:

• The biggest health question involved closer Troy Percival, coming off back surgery after an injury-marred year. He quite frankly has looked great, allowing one hit in eight appearances.

• The most high-profile roster decision involved LHP David Price, and it went pretty much the way it was expected. Price looked good but not overwhelmingly great, and the Rays sent him back to Triple A, saying he needed some further development and they could better limit his innings.

• The biggest competitions were for the extra outfield spot (until B.J. Upton returns from the DL) and for the fifth starter/long reliever spots.

The Rays could have used a right-handed hitter, but lefty-swinging Matt Joyce made a late run to make the team, impressing manager Joe Maddon with his powerful bat and smooth defense. If he gets off to a hot start, it will be interesting to see what the Rays do when Upton returns, such as looking into trading Gabe Gross and playing Joyce in rightfield.

Jeff Niemann appears to have won the rotation battle, a product of his higher upside than Jason Hammel and the potential he could be used in relief. And the Rays seem confident Lance Cormier, who would get the long relief spot, is on the verge of consistency.

• The decision that most impacts the team is the one to move Upton to leadoff and drop Akinori Iwamura, who had a .349 on-base percentage (Upton was .383). The move may not play well in Japan, but it should make the lineup better, with a dynamic top five of Upton, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell.

NO RESPECT: Being AL champs only brings so much privilege, the Rays found out. With spring training moved out of St. Petersburg, the Rays reversed course and asked MLB to open at home, figuring their offer of a site with no weather concerns would be welcomed. Not to MLB, which instead has the Rays opening in Boston, where it may snow.

TAMPA TWOSOME: Lou Piniella's three-year reign as Rays manager gets 34 pages of coverage (though little news) in the just-out book, Sweet Lou, by Chicago Tribune writer Melissa Issacson. … There's also a new book about Tampa's other big-name manager, Tony La Russa Man on a Mission, by St. Louis-based writer Rob Rains.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: If Upton plays, as expected, for the Class A Stone Crabs in Thursday's opener, he won't be the best player on the field in Port Charlotte: Hall of Famer Cal Ripken is throwing out the first pitch. … Using stats-based projections, ESPN's Baseball Tonight crew named LF Carl Crawford and SS Jason Bartlett the top defensive players at their positions.

Tampa Bay Rays have little controversy during spring training 04/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 5, 2009 7:57am]
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