ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon has made it clear that playing time at second for INFs Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac will be based largely on how they match up with the opposing pitcher.
And that was the reasoning behind the lineup for opening day today against the Orioles, with Rodriguez getting the nod at second base and C Dioner Navarro starting behind the plate. Maddon said he liked Rodriguez and Navarro (chosen over Kelly Shoppach) against Orioles RHP Kevin Millwood, and the lineup could be different Wednesday against another right-hander, Jeremy Guthrie.
Though none of the four has a significant track record against Millwood — Navarro is 0-for-2, Shoppach 0-for-6, Rodriguez 0-for-2 and Brignac 0-for-1 — Maddon said with their "strengths regarding attacking the hitting zone, we thought this would work out best."
That didn't make the honor any less special for Rodriguez, 24, who earned a roster spot with an impressive spring and will be experiencing his first big-league season opener.
"It's a good feeling," he said. "First opening day, and actually get to start, it's something you remember."
NO WORRIES: RHP James Shields said everything is going well with his wife, Ryane, who is due to give birth Saturday, and it shouldn't keep him from making his third straight opening day start. "The baby is cooperating," he said, smiling.
Shields said he's especially looking forward to pitching in front of the home crowd after his past two openers on the road.
"Just to have the opening day nod is definitely special," he said. "It's something every starter wants to have, and I'm definitely going to take it to heart and hopefully everything goes well."
FIRST-TIMERS: Other than Rodriguez, there are four other Rays in their first opening day: Brignac, LHP David Price and RHPs Wade Davis and Mike Ekstrom. Brignac said his parents, Linda and Phillip, are in town from Louisiana for it. "It's been a dream of mine my whole life to start out and be on a big-league team all year," Brignac said. "So to see opening day, I'm very excited to be part of it."
INJURY UPDATE: LHP J.P. Howell (weakness in left shoulder) had another strength test Monday, and the results were encouraging; he said he plans to start throwing again Thursday (from 45 feet) and still is hoping for a mid to late May return.
FAMILIAR FACE: Ex-Ray INF Julio Lugo, recently acquired by the Orioles, is excited for an opportunity to play more, with a familiar face (ex-Ray Ty Wigginton) helping ease the transition. "I'm familiar with this division, I've played here before, know the cities," he said.
MISCELLANY: Davis and Price threw simulated games Monday afternoon (four innings, 60 pitches), and Maddon said both threw well. … Maddon said the lineup for Wednesday hasn't been set, but Thursday against LHP Brian Matusz, Gabe Kapler will be in right and Ben Zobrist will be at second, with Shoppach likely behind the plate.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]