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Tampa Bay Rays reliever Lance Cormier feeling new confidence heading into season

PORT CHARLOTTE — For RHP Lance Cormier, this spring has been a bit more comfortable.

Cormier, 29, had to wait until near the end of camp last year to find out he earned the final bullpen spot after signing as a free agent.

Though Cormier isn't taking anything for granted, saying no job is guaranteed and the game can "undress you quick," he feels good coming off a solid season in which he led Rays relievers with 77 1/3 innings.

"It definitely gave me some confidence, putting up a decent (2008 season) and a real good season last year; putting those up back to back gave me the confidence to know I do belong, I can pitch here," he said.

Cormier, who had a 3.26 ERA, showed his versatility in serving as long reliever then pitching in more high-leverage situations later in the year, including picking up two saves.

While the bullpen will likely have more defined roles this year with the acquisition of closer Rafael Soriano, Cormier is open to being used in any way.

"I don't care what situation I pitch in, as long as (manager Joe Maddon) calls my name and I get to go out there and help the team win," Cormier said. "Whether it's saving the bullpen one day (in long relief) or going in and getting one guy out the next day."

The lineup: Maddon split up the regulars for the first two exhibition games, with Dioner Navarro, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett and B.J. Upton in the lineup Wednesday and Carlos Peña, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, Gabe Kapler and Pat Burrell to play in Thursday's home opener in Port Charlotte. On Thursday, Reid Brignac will play at second and Sean Rodriguez will be at shortstop, a position Maddon wants to see him play more this spring.

Sitting out: C Kelly Shoppach sat out Monday's workout, saying he was feeling under the weather. "It seems like we're all passing it around," he said. Maddon said Shoppach should be back today, and he is expected to be DH in Wednesday's exhibition and behind the plate Thursday.

Touted talent: The Rays were listed No. 1 in Bill James' third annual "Young Talent Inventory," which ranks all teams in young talent. To come up with the rankings, James assigns a value to each player based on age and major-league performance. Values were also given to the top 50 prospects in baseball. Longoria was listed among James' "20 most valuable properties."

Tryout time: Though today's intrasquad game may not mean much in the big scheme of things, it's the first of several opportunities for pitchers such as right-hander Mike Ekstrom to make an impression.

Ekstrom, 26, claimed off waivers last month from the Padres, hopes to get in the mix for the final bullpen spot.

"I feel if I execute my pitches, I have the stuff to compete in the big leagues," he said. "But if I screw up, I'm going to get hit hard."

Miscellany: LHP J.P. Howell, whose workload is getting scaled back this spring, threw his second bullpen session Monday, and Maddon said reports were that everything went well.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Lance Cormier feeling new confidence heading into season 03/01/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 1, 2010 10:43pm]
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