ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are facing a series of roster moves over the next few days that could all end up being connected, starting with naming a starter for Sunday.
With manager Joe Maddon saying again after Friday's game they still weren't ready to go public, it seems less likely they will turn to long reliever Andy Sonnanstine, who warmed up in the seventh inning Friday. More likely, they will look to their minor-league system.
And, it just so happened, that RHP Alex Cobb, one of their top prospects, was scratched from his scheduled Thursday start for Triple-A Durham. The Bulls said on their website that Cobb was held out "because he may be needed to start for the Rays on Sunday."
Cobb, 23, is off to a strong start in his first season at Triple A, going 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four games, and 29 strikeouts vs. six walks in 22 innings.
The Rays need to cover only one start — the result of RHP Wade Davis getting pushed back a day due to Tuesday's rain-out in Minnesota — so Cobb's stay would be brief.
That could work out well with regard to the roster. The Rays are already looking at dropping a position player, seemingly either INF Felipe Lopez or 1B Dan Johnson, to make room for Tuesday's return of 3B Evan Longoria from the disabled list.
So one scenario would be to make that move after today's game, summon Cobb for the start, then option him back to the minors and add Longoria after Monday's off day.
But that situation could be affected by the status of INF Sean Rodriguez's left pinkie, which he dislocated in Thursday's second game and put back in place himself as he walked off the field. It was swollen and sore Friday, limiting him to pinch-running duties, but not as bad as he expected.
The issue is how quickly Rodriguez will be able to grip a bat. He said he expected to be out only a few days, returning Tuesday, and didn't think the disabled list was even a consideration. "I don't see why I would need to," he said.
Maddon said the Rays were also optimistic he wouldn't be out long, but "not 100 percent sure." They wanted to further evaluate, including a visit by team orthopedist Koco Eaton. "It's really a confusing injury," he said. "It could be one of those things you have to wait out a day or two and figure out exactly where you want to go with it."
If Rodriguez is going to be out through Sunday, the Rays might be less likely to drop a position player in making room for Cobb since they would already be short a man. And if Rodriguez is going to be out for a longer period, they could consider putting him on the DL then add Longoria on Tuesday.
REHAB REPORT: Longoria went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in the second of his four scheduled rehab games with Double-A Montgomery, showing no issues from the strained left oblique that sidelined him April 2.
LHP J.P. Howell didn't care that he was in a minor-league stadium with fewer than 2,000 watching in Port Charlotte on Thursday. He was just thrilled to be pitching in a "real" game for the first time since September 2009, working one inning for the Class A Stone Crabs as the next step in the final stages of his recovery from shoulder surgery.
"I felt like I won the Series. I felt like (David) Price in Game 7 of the ALCS," Howell said. "That's how good it felt."
Howell did well, Maddon said, "84-85 (mph) with his fastball, which is perfect." He will pitch again Sunday for the Stone Crabs. Then he is expected to move up to Triple-A Durham, aiming for a mid-May return to the Rays.
MISCELLANY: CF B.J. Upton's homer was his first since April 6 and his third overall. … 1B Casey Kotchman had his fifth multihit game. … Maddon became a grandfather for the third time, as his daughter, Sarah, delivered a boy, Trey Joseph. … The Angels are just the second team in the Rays' 14-season history to make two visits in an April; the Orioles did so in 2003. … Today's game on Fox will be shown to about 25 percent of the country.