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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields says steroid testing has helped game improve

HOLDING COURT: Rays manger Joe Maddon chats with his pitchers and catchers during Monday’s workout.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

HOLDING COURT: Rays manger Joe Maddon chats with his pitchers and catchers during Monday’s workout.

PORT CHARLOTTE — There has been plenty said, and there will be more today at Yankees camp in Tampa, about the players who used steroids in the past.

But Rays starter James Shields, speaking for those who never have, said the elimination of performance-enhancing drugs through the testing program is making the game better today.

"The past 3-4 years everyone's been taking it seriously since they've been cracking down," Shields said as a number of Rays were given drugs tests Monday.

"It's good though. I think, personally, baseball had kind of turned around because of that. They're starting to get a handle on everything, and it's a good thing. I think baseball is starting to get back to the way it used to be played.

"Obviously the '90s and stuff were supposedly the steroids era, and everyone's calling it that, but we're starting to get back to old-school baseball now. That's good, and it's more fun that way."

IN THE SWING: CF B.J. Upton, cleared to start swinging at soft tosses in his recovery from Nov. 11 shoulder surgery, said it's going so well he's not so sure he'll need to miss the first week of the regular season as expected.

"I'd say no timetable, because the way it's feeling there's no telling," he said.

CHILL WILL: INF Willy Aybar worked out with the group of early reporting position players, pleased with his new contract, two years plus a 2011 option, that will be finalized as soon as the Rays get final medical test results back. "It's good for me, and the team is giving me a good chance," Aybar said. "I like the team, I like my teammates, I like the manager — everybody. Good people."

Aybar is in good shape, having spent the winter in the Domincian Republic playing first and third base for Licey, which advanced to the Caribbean Series.

PITCHING IN: After playing a month longer than usual last year and having spring training open a week earlier than normal, the Rays have a plan to manage their pitchers by limiting their early spring workload.

Essentially, they will have two squads, which is why they invited some extra arms — 31 overall —to camp.

"We'll set them up in two groups," manager Joe Maddon said. "One group will pitch more in the beginning and the other group will pitch less. Obviously the guys that have been with us will pitch less. We looked at the early start of camp and thought it would be unwise to push any of those regular guys and start their clock at that particular juncture. The way we're going to set it up, guys are going to get plenty of work, we're just choosing to do it this way. And I'd be surprised if other people did not choose to do it the same way."

MISCELLANY: LHP Scott Kazmir is still awaiting a ruling from the MLB-union panel on the Rays' petition to block him from pitching in the World Baseball Classic. … Pat Burrell took down the nameplate on the adjacent locker for his 125-pound English bulldog, saying Elvis was being shipped from Arizona — by wemovepets.com — but he wasn't sure how much he'd be in the building. … Minor-league INF Chris Nowak reported, leaving just seven of the 23 position players who haven't checked in early: Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, Morgan Ensberg, Ray Olmedo, Jon Weber and Akinori Iwamura, who is staying in Japan for the Classic. … Maddon and executive VP Andrew Friedman began their schedule of 10-minute individual meetings with all pitchers and catchers, then will do the same with the position players.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields says steroid testing has helped game improve 02/16/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 7:57am]

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