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Tampa Bay Rays' Jason Hammel pitching with confidence in bid for starting job

FAST START: Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford, legging out a third-inning triple, had two triples in Sunday’s game and said his legs and bat feel much better than they did during his injury-plagued 2008.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

FAST START: Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford, legging out a third-inning triple, had two triples in Sunday’s game and said his legs and bat feel much better than they did during his injury-plagued 2008.

PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Jason Hammel, making his case to be the club's fifth starter, said after four scoreless innings Sunday his confidence is at an "all-time high."

Hammel, who gave up just three hits in the Rays' 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays, hasn't given up a run in six spring innings.

Hammel, 26, began last season in the rotation but was bumped to the bullpen when Scott Kazmir came off the disabled list.

"I'm ready to show them I can be a starter," Hammel said. "I'll win the ball game for you if you give me the ball."

Manager Joe Maddon said Hammel has been a "different cat" since his pressure-packed save in Fenway in September, when the right-hander survived a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the 14th. Hammel said it was a "benchmark of my career."

"He's pitching with a lot of purpose right now," Maddon said. "I'm very happy for the way he's going about his business."

ON A ROLL: LF Carl Crawford, who had two triples in Sunday's game, said there is a "big difference" in his speed and how his legs feel compared to last season.

"I feel explosive again," he said. "Last year I didn't."

Crawford, who battled hamstring issues last season, also said he is "ahead of the curve" when it comes to his comfort at the plate, especially considering he had finger surgery last fall. "I can't remember coming into spring hitting the ball like this," he said.

PEÑA BACK?: Maddon said the tentative plan is for 1B Carlos Peña, coming off abdominal surgery in January, to start Friday at the Pirates. OF Matt Joyce (right calf strain) said he also could make his Rays debut Friday, adding it has been the "toughest thing in the world" to sit out in his first spring with Tampa Bay.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays (1-4) took a 3-0 lead thanks to Crawford, 3B Evan Longoria's two doubles and a Pat Burrell sacrifice fly. But the Jays scored six in the final three.

GRAB A GLOVE: Burrell, the primary DH, started in rightfield, with Maddon saying he plans to use him there sporadically. "You could see he's very comfortable out there," Maddon said.

REUNION TIME: Adam Kennedy will start at second base today against the Cardinals, who unexpectedly released him after two seasons because an apparent rift with manager Tony La Russa. But Kennedy downplayed facing his former team, saying, "It wasn't like I was there for an eternity so I don't see it being that big of a deal." Ex-Ray LHP Trever Miller, who signed with the Cardinals in the offseason, isn't scheduled to pitch.

MISCELLANY: Maddon said the main starting pitchers will make their debuts beginning Saturday vs. the Red Sox. … RHP Jason Isringhausen said "everything went well" in a bullpen session, and he's planning to pitch in a game around March 12.

COMMUNITY CORNER: The Rays Hot Stove radio show on 620-AM will be live at 7 tonight at Joe Cracker Sportsgrille (1020 El Jobean, Charlotte County). Guests will be Peña and RHP James Shields. … The Rays have partnered with Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity to raise walls on a construction site Tuesday.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Tampa Bay Rays' Jason Hammel pitching with confidence in bid for starting job 03/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 7:40am]

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