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Tampa Bay Rays outfield candidate Matt Joyce suffers setback in calf injury

PORT CHARLOTTE — OF Matt Joyce said his recovery from a strained right calf took a "step back" Tuesday, with the frustrating and puzzling injury leaving his Rays debut up in the air.

Joyce said an MRI exam revealed a strain, but considering he first suffered the injury in December and has been treating it since January, "if it was a strain, it would have been healed by now," he said.

Joyce, 24, acquired from the Tigers in the offseason trade of RHP Edwin Jackson, was hoping to make an impression and get in the mix for the platoon in rightfield. Joyce said he was at "90 percent" when hitting in the cage and taking fly balls Monday, but the pain started to resurface.

Joyce said he has yet to sprint or hit live pitching in camp.

"It wasn't as bad as it was a week ago," Joyce said. "So that's a good thing. (But) I wish I could be out there."

ON POINT: RHP Jeff Niemann continued to make his case for a spot in the rotation or bullpen with another strong performance, giving up one run in three innings while striking out five. Manager Joe Maddon liked his breaking ball command and how he attacked with his fastball low in the zone. "When you're in this position, you can't let it slide," Niemann said. "It's taken a while to be in this position, so I'm gonna do everything I can to make the most of it."

PENA A GO: Maddon confirmed what he predicted this week: 1B Carlos Pena will make his spring debut Friday in Bradenton against the Pirates. Pena, who had abdominal surgery in January, has said he's feeling good and may be in "better shape" because of the extra rehab exercises.

PERCY UPDATE: RHP Troy Percival will throw his first live batting practice session today, the next step in his rehab from offseason back surgery. Percival, 39, said he'll be ready for his first spring game March 12. "Today's three months since my back surgery, and I'm already pitching in a game — so that's substantially ahead of schedule," Percival said.

BARTLETT'S BAT: Maddon said he has preached to SS Jason Bartlett to cut down on the fly balls he hits. Bartlett has responded with several line drives this spring, including three hits Tuesday to bump his average to .636. "When he stays on the line, line drives and ground balls and is able to bunt for hits, this guy is capable of hitting .300," Maddon said.

GAME DETAILS: INF Reid Brignac homered, breaking an 0-for-11 slump in the Rays' 12-2 win over Astros. RF Gabe Kapler made a great defensive play, throwing out Jason Michaels, who tried to go from first to third. … INF Adam Kennedy started at third base for the first time in a big-league game.

TALBOT'S TURN: RHP Mitch Talbot, who gave up five runs (on three homers) in his last outing, hopes to make adjustments more quickly tonight against a Puerto Rico lineup that could include Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rios. "If you can go up and face a team like that, you know you can pretty much pitch anywhere," Talbot said.

MISCELLANY: Bartlett, LF Carl Crawford, 3B Evan Longoria, DH Pat Burrell and C Dioner Navarro are slated to start tonight. … The MLB Network was at Charlotte Stadium to film the Rays segment for their season preview, 30 Teams in 30 Days, which airs tonight at 8.

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

Tampa Bay Rays outfield candidate Matt Joyce suffers setback in calf injury 03/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 6:53am]

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