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Tampa Bay Rays on verge of signing former Rangers infielder Hank Blalock

RUN PREVENTION: Rays catcher Jose Lobaton tags out Phillies speedster Domonic Brown on a strong throw from leftfielder Justin Ruggiano to end the eighth and keep the score tied at 3.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

RUN PREVENTION: Rays catcher Jose Lobaton tags out Phillies speedster Domonic Brown on a strong throw from leftfielder Justin Ruggiano to end the eighth and keep the score tied at 3.

CLEARWATER — The Rays were very close Sunday night to finalizing a deal with former two-time All-Star INF Hank Blalock.

The longtime Ranger will sign a minor-league contract but will provide the Rays depth and the option of another left-handed bat at the major league-level.

Blalock, 29, hit .234 with 25 homers and 66 RBIs for Texas last season, splitting time between first base and DH, but had only a .277 on-base percentage. He missed major portions of the 2007-08 seasons with a series of injuries.

SHIELDS ON TARGET: The only reason James Shields hasn't been named the Rays' opening day starter yet, manager Joe Maddon admitted, is because he hasn't gotten around to officially telling him.

"I've got to do it soon," Maddon said, "and I will do it soon."

Shields took the next step in his preparation for the likely April 6 date with a 22/3-inning, 50-pitch outing in Sunday's 5-3 10-inning win over the Phillies.

It was pretty much a typical second spring start kind of outing where it's more important to feel good than to do good.

But there was one moment — actually, one pitch — where it looked a little different. With the bases loaded in the second inning of a 0-0 game, two outs and a full count on Jimmy Rollins, Shields reached back and threw a fastball that the Phillies star swung through.

Shields joked that it was probably his "heavy 87(-mph)" fastball, but if the pitch wasn't quite regular-season form, Shields' strut off the mound afterward certainly appeared to be.

"You go into spring training, you want to stay within yourself," he said. "But when you get the bases loaded you just have it in you. … I don't know if I was trying to do that or not, I was just glad J-Ro swung at that high fastball. That's pretty much all it was."

CLEANING UP: Maddon hasn't finalized his complete batting order yet, but he said he plans to keep Carlos Peña in the cleanup spot.

What he hasn't decided yet is whether to keep Evan Longoria in the No. 3 spot or to put Ben Zobrist third and drop Longoria to fifth.

"The curious spot is Zobrist being such a high on-base guy (.405 percentage) getting on in front of those other guys, now that's interesting," Maddon said.

The rest of the order is relatively set, with Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford at the top and Pat Burrell and B.J. Upton sixth and seventh, followed by the catcher and the rightfielder or second baseman depending on where Zobrist is playing.

Peña was pleased: "It just feels right to me, it really does. If it was my preference, there's where I would want to hit."

GAME DETAILS: After giving up a 3-1 lead in the eighth, the Rays (4-1) scored twice in the 10th to win their fourth straight. … They started the inning with five straight singles, non-roster INF Angel Chavez driving in the decisive run. … LF Justin Ruggiano made a strong throw to nail Domonic Brown at the plate to end the eighth and keep the score tied. … LHP Jake McGee had another impressive relief outing in his return from Tommy John surgery. "I thought Jake once again threw the ball extremely well," Maddon said.

MEDICAL MATTERS: OF Desmond Jennings returned to action for the first time since being hit on the left elbow Wednesday, playing five innings and going 2-for-2, and is in line for his first start today. … Maddon had no definitive update on non-roster LHP R.J. Swindle, who strained his right oblique on Friday, but said "he's not going to play for a while." … INF Willy Aybar, out since the start of camp with a left wrist sprain, is "coming along quicker than we thought" and should start taking batting practice soon.

MISCELLANY: MLB Network's 30 Clubs in 30 Days tour hits Port Charlotte today.

Tampa Bay Rays on verge of signing former Rangers infielder Hank Blalock 03/07/10 [Last modified: Sunday, March 7, 2010 10:11pm]

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