SARASOTA — RHP Andy Sonnanstine had all the proper justifications — that it was his first appearance, that it was only March 1, even that his control was too good. But what consoled him the most after giving up five homers — in an 11-batter span — in the Rays' 12-6 exhibition loss to the Orioles was a talk about pitch location with Manny Ramirez in the shower.
"In past years I might go into a little bit of a panic mode," Sonnanstine said. "But my arm feels great, I'm ecstatic how my body feels. This one I think is going to be a lot easier to let it go down the drain."
Sonnanstine, projected as the long man in the bullpen, was taken deep by No. 2 hitter Brian Roberts, No. 4 Vlad Guerrero and No. 6 Adam Jones in the first, then No. 9 Jake Fox and Markakis again in the second.
"A little bit of an anomaly," Sonnanstine said. "I feel like I came in trying to throw strikes and they were catching a little bit too much of the plate, so if we can refine that command a little bit, I think that's the main thing I can get out of today."
Manager Joe Maddon said he wasn't concerned: "He's healthy, he's well, it's fine."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Sonnanstine was the first pitcher to allow five or more homers in a spring game since Toronto's Ted Lilly in 2006.
JASO ON TOP: Maddon reserves the right to change his mind — and often does —but acknowledged Tuesday his plan is to keep John Jaso the primary leadoff hitter and bat Johnny Damon second.
"Without anything changing, I see it that way," Maddon said. "I still like the way (Jaso) works his at-bats, I like his baserunning skills."
While not major news, Maddon previously was saying he hadn't decided between the two. When Jaso isn't in the lineup against lefties, B.J. Upton appears the most likely candidate for the leadoff job.
Maddon said he would be open to using Damon, 37, at the top. "I'm not anticipating that, but I would not run away from it if he was amenable and I thought it was necessary," Maddon said.
FIRST PRIORITY: Ben Zobrist will play first base today and again Friday, part of an intensive effort to make him comfortable for what could be regular duty against lefty starters. "I would say he's like 75 percent comfortable with doing it," Maddon said. … Sean Rodriguez started at short Tuesday for a similar reason, as the Rays prepare him for possible backup duty to Reid Brignac depending on the final composition of the team (in other words, if Elliot Johnson is on the roster).
PITCHING IN: RHP Jeremy Hellickson threw a 35-pitch bullpen session with no problems from his previous strained right hamstring and is on schedule to make his spring debut around March 11 and be ready for the season opener. … RHP Joel Peralta, hit on the left calf by a ball Monday, said he was a little sore and swollen but shouldn't miss much, if any, time. "It could have been a lot worse," he said. … LHP David Price will work two or three innings today, and RHP Wade Davis will make his spring debut in relief. … RHP Jeff Niemann will start a just-added "B" game Thursday against the Twins, with LHP Alex Torres starting the "A" game.
GAME DETAILS: Down 6-0 in the second and 10-1 in the fourth, the Rays flexed some muscle — with homers by Kelly Shoppach (off LHP Mark Hendrickson), Manny Ramirez and B.J. Upton — and eventually closed to within 10-6. … Sonnanstine wasn't the only pitcher to struggle. RHP Rob Delaney was hit hard in his second inning (4 R, 5 H), Matt Bush allowed two runs and Chris Archer, while striking out the side, went to three full counts.
MISCELLANY: Rich Herrera and former big-league umpire Jim McKean will provide "radio" coverage of today's game and seven others via raysbaseball.com, available at no charge, according to the team. … A sellout crowd 7,497 attended the first game at beautifully renovated Ed Smith Stadium.