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Tampa Bay Rays' hustle in meaningless game pleases manager Joe Maddon

Trapped: Rays first baseman Willy Aybar and second baseman Shawn O’Malley catch Durham outfielder Fernando Perez, himself a former Ray, in a rundown.

LISA PEPIN | Durham Herald-Sun

Trapped: Rays first baseman Willy Aybar and second baseman Shawn O’Malley catch Durham outfielder Fernando Perez, himself a former Ray, in a rundown.

DURHAM, N.C. — Manager Joe Maddon didn't really care what happened in Saturday's exhibition against Triple-A Durham as long as no one got hurt.

But he couldn't help but notice how much some of the Rays' frontline players, coming off what Maddon considered one of the best spring camps ever, seemed to care during their brief three-inning stint in the 9-6 win that was the final tuneup before Tuesday's season opener.

"I'll tell you what I liked: Carlos Peña beating out a ball to first base," Maddon said. "Carl Crawford beating out a ball to first base. The way we ran the bases … (including steals by Crawford and Sean Rodriguez), I loved it. Some great plays on defense.

"You get a major-league team in a situation like this, they're normally going to come up, go through the motions and leave. Our guys did not. … That was the most impressive part about (Saturday) for me — how our guys went about their business. I did not try to draw that out of them. And if they had not done it, I would have been fine with it. But they did. That was my takeaway. It was beautiful."

Maddon was excited about a few other things: getting bullpen C Scott "Killer" Cursi in the game for the ninth inning and having bullpen coach Bobby Ramos coach third.

ROSTER MOVES: INF Elliot Johnson cleared waivers and will remain in the organization by rejoining Durham; expect an official announcement today or Monday. … The Rays should know sometime before today's 3 p.m. MLB roster deadline whether Hank Blalock found a big-league job elsewhere or, as expected, is joining Durham.

CHANGING SITUATION: RHP Joaquin Benoit flew up with the Rays and got dressed in their clubhouse Saturday morning, then ended the day getting undressed in Durham's home clubhouse.

The Rays reassigned Benoit to Durham on Friday over concern about his ability to pitch on back-to-back days and opted to keep Mike Ekstrom instead. Benoit, who pitched the fifth for the Rays then moved over to join his new team, didn't sound particularly happy about it but knows there is nothing he can do until his May 15 opt-out date.

"I understand they want me to do some things, and there's not much I can do," Benoit said. "Am I supposed to prove I can pitch in the minors? We'll see what happens in three-four weeks."

OLD TIMES: RHP Jeff Niemann enjoyed being back in Durham, where he spent most of 2007-08; he just didn't have a very good time, allowing five runs on six hits (including a Dan Johnson homer) in four innings.

"Just trying to get Durham ready for the season, get their bats going," he joked.

Top prospect RHP Jeremy Hellickson had a rough outing, throwing 55 pitches in two innings and allowing a grand slam to C Kelly Shoppach in the Rays' six-run second.

MISCELLANY: Top prospects OF Desmond Jennings (Durham) and SS Tim Beckham (Charlotte) will miss the start of their minor-league seasons with wrist injuries; both are expected back sometime in April. … Saturday's crowd was a sellout 10,374. … Maddon is leaning toward starting Rodriguez at second Tuesday. … The returning Bulls, plus Rodriguez and Reid Brignac, received their Triple-A championship rings before the game.

Tampa Bay Rays' hustle in meaningless game pleases manager Joe Maddon 04/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 3, 2010 10:54pm]

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