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Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Joyce likely to miss opening day because of elbow strain

Solid tuneup: Jeff Niemann shuts out the Red Sox in six strong innings, throwing 100 pitches.

Associated Press

Solid tuneup: Jeff Niemann shuts out the Red Sox in six strong innings, throwing 100 pitches.

FORT MYERS — Manager Joe Maddon said OF Matt Joyce "more than likely" won't be ready to start the season.

Joyce, hampered by an elbow strain, hasn't played in the outfield since March 10 and doesn't know when he will. He hasn't been able to throw hard from a distance and says it's frustrating that it has taken longer than he thought to recover.

"I'm not highly optimistic at this point he's going to be ready for the season, but we're still holding out on it a little bit to make sure," Maddon said. "I talked to (athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) again. More than likely (he will) not be ready, but we don't want to rule it out yet."

Joyce has been getting at-bats in minor-league and Grapefruit League exhibitions, with Maddon saying he's on pace to have around 90 by the time camp ends.

"But it's more about his arm," Maddon said.

STANDING TALL: RHP Jeff Niemann appeared to be in regular-season form, tossing six scoreless innings in the Rays' 9-3 win over the Red Sox. Niemann scattered seven hits, striking out six and walking just one while throwing 100 pitches, 72 for strikes.

"That was a great one to end the spring on," he said. "Everything was working, and I felt good."

Niemann had to work out of jams in the fifth and sixth, when Boston had two runners on with no outs. He held the Red Sox to 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"It was pretty much their 'A' team out there, so to be able to get out of jams is huge," he said. "You're going to be in jams during the season, so it was nice to get those high-intensity at-bats."

BUSY DAY: C Nevin Ashley, who has impressed in camp, left his mark Monday, going 3-for-3. He hit a solo homer off RHP Josh Beckett and made a great hustle play to lead to another run in the fifth, advancing to third on a throwing error by Beckett. He stole a base and scored in the seventh. "It's deceptive speed for a catcher," Ashley said, smiling.

Maddon said Ashley has carried over a strong Arizona Fall League into camp, where he has played a "complete game." Ashley, who said he's likely to start the season in Double-A Montgomery, said, "I'm having the time of my life right now."

"Whenever you get the opportunity, you just try to turn some heads and show them what I can do," he said. "And if they need me, I'm here waiting in the back seat."

GAME DETAILS: 3B Evan Longoria hit his fourth homer of the spring. … SS Jason Bartlett and 2B Sean Rodriguez each had an error. … RHPs Dale Thayer and Mike Ekstrom, candidates for the final bullpen spot, weren't particularly sharp. Thayer gave up one run on two hits in an inning, Ekstrom two runs on four hits in two innings.

MISCELLANY: C Dioner Navarro (bruised nerve in his left shin) came through a minor-league game Monday okay, and Maddon said he'll catch today against the Red Sox. … LHP David Price is scheduled to start a minor-league game today in Fort Myers, with C Kelly Shoppach behind the plate.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Joyce likely to miss opening day because of elbow strain 03/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 12:24am]

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