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Tampa Bay Rays hoping extra spring work for regulars translates to quicker start to season

FIRST IN LINE: James Shields, chatting with catcher Kelly Shoppach, is set to start the spring opener Wednesday.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

FIRST IN LINE: James Shields, chatting with catcher Kelly Shoppach, is set to start the spring opener Wednesday.

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays' frontline players are going to do a little more work this exhibition season.

The decision is part of the overall effort to get the team off to a better start and to tap into some of the players' more successful pasts.

New hitting coach Derek Shelton did some research that showed several of the veterans had better seasons after busier springs. The net increase won't be much, an extra 10-15 at-bats for a total in the 60-70 range for most players, maybe 70-plus for a few.

"With last year being a longer camp and everything we were trying to do, I'm not going to say they weren't ready because they were ready; it was just a different time," manager Joe Maddon said. "But coming into this camp just looking at it, trying to get off to the better start, looking at their best histories, what seemed to have worked with them in the past? This did."

The pitchers will have a standard workload, more than last spring when they were held back until the second week of March coming off the longer 2008 season.

For starters: Likely opening day starter James Shields will start Wednesday's exhibition opener, with No. 2 starter Matt Garza working in relief. And RHP Andy Sonnanstine will get the first shot at competing for the No. 5 spot as he'll start Saturday's exhibition with Wade Davis pitching in relief.

"I'm ecstatic about getting the shot," Sonnanstine said. "It's a good problem to have a lot of options for the rotation. It's going to be stiff competition. Wade's been great; I'm a big fan. I like the way he pitches. But I'm going to go out there and do my best."

Rain drain: Heavy rain chased the Rays off the field less than an hour into Saturday's session, but Maddon said they got most of their work done on the indoor mounds and batting cages. The only thing they didn't get to was the daily fundamental drill, which was pickoffs and rundowns, so they'll double up today.

Miscellany: INF Willy Aybar (left wrist sprain) should rejoin workouts in the next few days but will probably miss at least the first week of exhibitions. … Maddon was impressed with his first extended look at two of the Rays' top young arms. Of RHP Jeremy Hellickson, he said: "You can understand what the hubbub is all about." And of LHP Alex Torres: "He's really interesting. Don't let the 5-(foot-)9 fool you; he's got a big arm, and he's got good stuff."

Tampa Bay Rays hoping extra spring work for regulars translates to quicker start to season 02/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2010 6:13pm]

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