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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon encouraged by pitcher Juan Cruz's spring debut

Rays bullpen candidate Juan Cruz, coming off shoulder surgery and facing hitters for the first time in 10 months, threw a 1-2-3 fourth inning in his spring debut. “He was very calm about things,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I thought he looked really good.”

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Rays bullpen candidate Juan Cruz, coming off shoulder surgery and facing hitters for the first time in 10 months, threw a 1-2-3 fourth inning in his spring debut. “He was very calm about things,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I thought he looked really good.”

PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon had looked forward to RHP Juan Cruz's spring debut Thursday, pointing out that of all the candidates vying for the final bullpen spots, he's one of the few with a lot of experience.

The question with Cruz, 32, was how he would look, and feel, coming off season-ending shoulder surgery in May.

And after Cruz threw a clean inning against the Yankees, both he and Maddon were encouraged. He retired Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, and DH Russell Martin in order.

"I haven't faced hitters in about 10 months, so it felt really good," Cruz said. "I feel almost there, 100 percent."

Cruz, who has spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors, was released by the Royals in April before the surgery. He pitched in the Dominican winter league and signed a minor-league deal with the Rays last month.

Maddon liked his ability to throw a changeup to both right- and left-handed hitters. " … You could see the veteran kind of presence out there," he said. "He was very calm about things. I thought he looked really good."

STRONG SHIELDS: RHP James Shields felt good in his second spring start, albeit not having to face Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter or Jorge Posada, who didn't make the trop.

He threw three scoreless innings (40 pitches), giving up one hit. He said he threw mostly fastballs and was working on his direction to the plate in his delivery. "Shields threw the ball well, really liked the command overall, good velocity," Maddon said.

Shields picked off a runner at second: "(It was) the first pickoff to second I've had since the minor leagues."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Maddon said C John Jaso is out with soreness in his right hip but should be back in the next day or two. … Maddon said it'll be 2-3 days before OF Sam Fuld (elbow) returns to game action, with INF Elliot Johnson (left quad) returning by mid next week at the earliest. … RHP Jeremy Hellickson (hamstring) threw a 44-pitch bullpen session and looked good.

N.Y. STATE OF MIND: Randy Frankel, a limited partner in Stuart Sternberg's Rays ownership group, is part of a group that has formally expressed interest in buying a minority share of the Mets, the New York Times reported. The group is headed by Steven Starker, co-founder of the global trading company BTIG and a former partner with Frankel and Sternberg when all worked at the New York brokerage firm Spear, Leeds & Kellogg. Also reportedly involved are Kenny Dichter, co-founder of Marquis Jet, and Doug Ellin, creator of the HBO series Entourage. Frankel, who lives in the New York area, would have to sell his share of the Rays if the Mets deal goes through.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays tied the Yankees 1-1 after 10 innings, and are 1-4-1 in the spring. SS Tim Beckham had a busy day, hitting a double and getting thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a single. He also knocked in the Rays' only run with a bases-loaded walk. LHP R.J. Swindle and RHP Cory Wade each threw two scoreless innings, with LHP Jake McGee giving up a run and two hits. The attendance (6,303) wasn't a sellout but was the Rays' largest this spring.

LEANING LEFT: LHP prospect Alex Torres is scheduled to start today against the Twins, with Maddon eager to see how he does against big-league hitters. "I think he's got a great look," Maddon said. "I think he's got major-league stuff, it's just a matter of trusting that stuff." RHP Jeff Niemann is scheduled to start a "B" game at 10 a.m. in Fort Myers.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon encouraged by pitcher Juan Cruz's spring debut 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 9:43pm]
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