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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon tweaks rotation to line up aces for big games

ST. PETERSBURG — The idea behind the unexpected shuffle of the Rays rotation was long-term, to maximize the matchups in future series, such as having top starters David Price and James Shields in line to face the Red Sox in a few weeks.

The short-term result, however, is that thus-far ineffective RHP Andy Sonnanstine will make a fifth start Friday in Seattle, and the bullpen will be a man short for most of the next week.

"There's a lot of little tomfoolery going on there to try to set it up the way we wanted to,'' manager Joe Maddon said.

The addition of the June 13 makeup game in Detroit forced the re-shuffling, as the Rays clearly want to keep Price and Shields on a specific schedule, though Maddon declined to reveal much more about the plan beyond this weekend.

Shields will face Seattle RHP Felix Hernandez in an aces-high matchup on Thursday, then Sonnanstine will pitch Friday with RHP Jeremy Hellickson moved back one day to Saturday and RHP Wade Davis to Sunday.

Price will start on Monday in Anaheim, then the Rays will look at further tweaking and making use of the June 9 off day — perhaps pushing Shields back a day to June 8 in Anaheim so he could face the Red Sox in the June 14 series opener on five days' rest, with Price in line for the June 16 finale. July matchups with the Cardinals and Yankees were also part of their plan.

Maddon admitted a big part of the shuffle "was to put Shields and Price in the optimal position against the other teams.''

A decision will be made between RHP Alex Cobb and Sonnanstine for the temporary fifth spot, with the expected late June return of RHP Jeff Niemann also factored in.

"We're going to move things around, and there's going to be other movement is my point,'' Maddon said. "So I'm not ready to announce all the movement. That's the only part of the movement I want to announce right now.''

They decided to make the initial adjustment sooner than later and picked what could be a good spot to use Sonnanstine: against a Mariners team that ranks last in the league in hitting and home runs, and in spacious Safeco Field.

Sonnanstine seemed headed back to long relief when Cobb was recalled to start Tuesday, but the Rays are willing to do without and go with a six-man bullpen. Since Cobb, who threw 99 pitches over 61/3 innings, wouldn't start again until next Tuesday at the earliest, he could be available in relief during a couple of the interim days.

REHAB REPORT: Niemann will start a three-game rehab assignment Friday with the Class A Stone Crabs in Port Charlotte, throwing 60 pitches or four innings. Niemann, out since May 4 with a lower back strain, is expected to make two more starts for Triple-A Durham.

MEDICAL MATTERS: 1B Casey Kotchman's sprained right ankle was feeling better, good enough that he was considered available to pinch-hit Tuesday. … INF Elliot Johnson's sprained left knee has improved enough that he will accompany the Rays on their 12-day road trip with the expectation he'll be ready on or shortly after June 8, the first day he can return from the DL.

MAY DAYS: OF Matt Joyce's .414 May average and .782 slugging percentage were the best in club history and Hellickson's 1.36 ERA trailed only Scott Kazmir's 1.22 in 2008.

MISCELLANY: DH Johnny Damon extended his streak of reaching base to 25 games, the second longest active streak in the majors behind Florida's Logan Morrison's 31. … The Rays got just their fifth win of the season while being out-hit. … Texas' two stolen bases were the first against the Rays in 11 games. … With 3B Evan Longoria going back to the cleanup spot after three days at leadoff, Maddon moved slumping Ben Zobrist to the top spot to see if it helped him. Zobrist went 0-for-4. … SS Sean Rodriguez called his team record-tying three-error game Monday "just one of those days, I guess.''

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon tweaks rotation to line up aces for big games 05/31/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 1:25am]

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