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Tampa Bay Rays play it safe with prized rookie Matt Moore

PORT CHARLOTTE — LHP Matt Moore said it wasn't a big deal and he already was feeling better. Manager Joe Maddon said he wouldn't even consider it a setback.

But the reality was that Moore, the talented 22-year-old left-hander, was forced to miss his scheduled batting practice session Monday due to what the Rays called "a mild lower abdominal strain."

Maddon said head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield was just being overly cautious — "Just being Ronnie" — and Moore said it was "a possibility" he could be back on the mound as soon as Wednesday.

Moore first felt the discomfort during his Friday bullpen session, centered just below his belly button but not restricting his movements. "It feels like a sore muscle," he said. "Like if you had a sore hamstring."

The Rays were concerned enough to limit Moore to playing catch at 60 feet on Saturday and 75 on Sunday, then have him rest Monday, but not enough to have him have an MRI exam.

"I don't feel like it's a major setback just because I told (the training staff) and I threw the next couple days," Moore said. "If it was something major I would have shut it down and just been like, 'Hey, this is it for right now.' … In the last couple of days it seems to already be getting better."

Maddon said the delay would not have any impact on Moore being ready to start the regular season.

"I don't anticipate it being a long time before Matt gets out there, and I don't consider it a setback at all," he said. "I don't see any issues at all right now. It sounds pretty benign from what they're telling me."

PRICE VS. TWINS: LHP David Price will start Saturday's exhibition opener against the Twins in Fort Myers. The Rays will use a six-man rotation through the spring, Maddon said, allowing them to get all of their top candidates — James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Moore and Price — fully stretched out, then sort out which five will open the season as starters.

PITCHING IN: LHP J.P. Howell was among the pitchers who stood out during the live batting practice sessions, specifically with the movement on his pitches. "I don't know there was any moment last year he threw the ball that well as I saw" Monday, Maddon said.

Also impressing were RHPs Fernando Rodney, the veteran free-agent addition; Dane De La Rosa, the 29-year-old rookie who debuted last season; and Ricky Orta, a 27-year-old who missed the past two seasons recovering from elbow surgery. "I can't be thankful enough," Orta said.

RHP Brandon Gomes, coming off lower back surgery, had a bullpen session Monday, with another scheduled Wednesday before throwing his first batting practice Saturday.

FIELD WORK: Maddon praised the position players for their intensity during bunt defense and other drills, saying, "It may be Feb. 27, but I promise you on like July 3 if you don't have it down it's going to make a big difference in that game."

MISCELLANY: Regular-season individual game tickets went on sale Monday at all outlets, including the Tropicana Field box office, team Tampa store and Ticketmaster. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg is expected at camp today. … Thursday's 11 a.m. intrasquad game will not be open to the public. … LHP Dave LaPoint, who pitched for the Cardinals and eight other teams in a 12-year big-league career, was a Monday guest.

Tampa Bay Rays play it safe with prized rookie Matt Moore 02/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 27, 2012 7:15pm]
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