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Tampa Bay Rays keep Matt Joyce, still ponder on pitching

Matt Joyce doubles against the Twins, continuing a strong late spring training run that puts him on the opening day roster.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Matt Joyce doubles against the Twins, continuing a strong late spring training run that puts him on the opening day roster.

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays made a decision Wednesday to put outfielder Matt Joyce on the opening day roster (and potentially in the lineup) and a deal to hang on to veteran reliever Jason Isringhausen.

But they broke camp and sped up Interstate 75 without settling their pitching staff, and will continue to explore options, including trades, up until Sunday's 3 p.m. roster deadline with Lance Cormier, Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann still competing for the final two spots.

Joyce, the 24-year-old Tampa native acquired from Detroit, figured he had "no chance" of making the team after missing the first half of spring training with right leg tendinitis. But Fernando Perez got hurt and Joyce made an impressive late run, showing a thunderous bat and smooth defense. Joyce not only will take recovering centerfielder B.J. Upton's spot on the roster but possibly his place in Monday's lineup.

"It's definitely satisfying," Joyce said. "It's a great feeling to break camp with these guys and come back from what happened. I kind of knew I had to show them that I could play and I deserved to play with them."

Upton is expected back for the April 13 home opener, but Joyce will appreciate whatever opportunity he gets. "They told me it could be for a short stay, it could be for a long stay, and take it for what it's worth," he said. "At least I get to break camp with them and get to play in Boston for now."

Manager Joe Maddon said Joyce, chosen over Justin Ruggiano, earned the job.

"He showed us everything we wanted to see," Maddon said. "The biggest thing was health."

Isringhausen, 36, is confident that with time — "a couple, few weeks," he figures — he will be able to help, too, barring any setbacks as he continues rehab from September elbow surgery, having pitched just six spring innings.

And he is so eager to do so. He passed on other potential opportunities to stay with the Rays, accepting a deal in which he was added to the 40-man roster (and get his $750,000 major-league salary) and will be placed on the disabled list.

"We all agreed I need a few more innings to get to where I want to be with my mechanics and my arm strength and stuff," he said. "So this is the right thing to do, this is the right situation for me."

"I love the team, love the guys, love the management and the GM and everything. Kind of a no-brainer for me. I could have went somewhere else and pitched. I could have, but it's not the same situation. I want to pitch with these guys, and I want to help these guys win as much as I can."

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said there is no timetable, and the Rays will be "fairly methodical" about it, but they expect an eventual payoff.

"We feel like there is a very good chance at some point in 2009 Jason will help us win games," he said.

Isringhausen, who has a home in Tarpon Springs, will be on a throwing program at the Trop and may pitch in some minor-league games. He won't appear in this weekend exhibitions in Philadelphia so his placement on the DL can be backdated, and he could be eligible to be activated on April 12 if needed.

Resolving the pitching questions, either through a deal (with nothing imminent yet) or a tough decision, as all three are out of options, is essentially all the Rays have left to do, barring injuries or an unlikely pursuit of slugger Gary Sheffield when he clears waivers this afternoon.

They informed six nonroster players, including veteran infielder Adam Kennedy, they will be reassigned to Triple-A Durham after Saturday's game. Kennedy, 33, said he appreciated the opportunity he got after being released by St. Louis and would go down without any time limit on how long he would stay: "No real game plan, just go and play."

Cormier will accompany the team to Philadelphia, though Maddon said that was nothing to be read into that, while Hammel (reportedly of interest to the Rockies) and Niemann (Pirates and Padres) will pitch in a minor-league intrasquad game Sunday morning in Port Charlotte, so at least one will be ready.

"I keep saying 'soon,' and the answer's got to be soon," Maddon said. "So we're still working on it."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

For starters?

Monday's opening day lineup against Boston RHP Josh Beckett could look a lot like Wednesday's:

Iwamura, 2b

Crawford, lf

Longoria, 3b

Pena, 1b

Burrell, dh

Joyce, cf

Navarro, c

Gross, rf

Bartlett, ss

Shields, p

Tampa Bay Rays keep Matt Joyce, still ponder on pitching 04/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 6:29am]

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