BRADENTON — The Rays saw enough of LHP Carlos Hernandez this spring to think he can make it back to the big leagues for the first time since 2004.
Just not yet.
Hernandez was one of 13 players sent to the minors Monday, along with top 2008 draft pick SS Tim Beckham and prized prospect RHP Wade Davis, as the Rays reduced their spring roster to 43.
Manager Joe Maddon touted Hernandez, 28, as a legit candidate for the No. 5 starter's job but said the former Astro needs more work. He will get it as a starter for Triple-A Durham, with the idea he could be called up to start or relieve if needed.
"Sincerely I believe this man is on a mission to get back to the major leagues," Maddon said. "I really find this fellow exciting, I find his intensity exciting and I find his drive to be all this sincere. So that's why I believe he's going to do it."
Hernandez, who has had three shoulder surgeries, said he was "really encouraged" by what he has done (1-1, 2.25, .234 average in four spring games) but knows he has to show more.
"I'm healthy, that's the main thing; that's all that matters to me right now," he said. "I want to prove I'm able to go out there every five days."
CLASSIC MOVES: With Chipper Jones hurt and out of the World Baseball Classic, Rays 3B Evan Longoria is first in line to be added to the roster if Team USA wins tonight and advances to the weekend championship round.
"If I get a call I'd be more than happy to go and help the club out," he said.
The Rays could have some say, but executive VP Andrew Friedman said it was too speculative to discuss yet. "If it presents itself, we'll go through it and go from there," he said.
LHP J.P. Howell, sidelined since being struck by a foul ball last week, said via text message he is off "the mini-DL" and available to pitch for Team USA tonight: "All is good."
GAME DETAILS: No. 4 starter RHP Andy Sonnanstine pitched three crisp innings of the 6-4 win, allowing a run on three hits, and said his arm and his control "felt pretty good." He was pleased with his one changeup, saying, "I've really got to commit to that pitch, I think it could be a big thing for me this year." … LHP David Price had an eventful 21/3 innings, allowing one run, three hits and two walks, striking out two, throwing 58 pitches and going to the bullpen to stay loose during the long top of the sixth, when the Rays (9-7-1) scored four on one hit (a Jason Bartlett single) plus six walks and two RBI groundouts. … Price "wasn't overly sharp overall," Maddon said, but continued to show an improved changeup. However, Price said, "I've worked on my changeup so much, my slider's kinda gone away." … The sellout pro-Rays crowd of 5,836 was just shy of a Pirates spring high.
MISCELLANY: OF Matt Joyce (right leg tendinitis) debuts today as the DH in Durham's minor-league exhibition opener in Port Charlotte, allowing the Rays to better control his actions. … RHP James Shields starts for Durham so he can stay on schedule for his April 6 opening day start. … Despite a 23.63 ERA and four homers in 22/3 innings, RHP Joe Nelson said his arm feels "great" and there is no cause for concern; Maddon concurred but wants him to throw more fastballs.
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.