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Tampa Bay Rays rookie Jake McGee believes he can handle closing

PORT CHARLOTTE — With the Rays deciding they will use LHP Jake McGee as a reliever, he's embracing the role.

And the hard-throwing converted starter believes he has the mentality to finish games as the closer — even as a rookie.

"I think I can handle it," said McGee, 24. "Especially last year, the bigger games I got into, it was the same every time, I didn't get too overhyped and all of that."

With ex-Rays closer Rafael Soriano, who led the American League in saves last season, signing with the Yankees, Tampa Bay appears headed for a closer-by-committee approach. McGee was impressive in his September stint with the Rays, coming through with scoreless outings in seven of his eight appearances after a rocky debut.

"I thought he did a wonderful job last year," manager Joe Maddon said. "He handled himself perfectly, was calm when he pitched. … He's at the point where he's starting to believe that he belongs here and that's really important to us."

A key for McGee in spring training will be improving his slider, especially against left-handers, giving him another option to go along with his mid to high 90s fastball.

Maddon already believes McGee's mental makeup is impressive, as the touted prospect who had to bounce back from Tommy John surgery seems to take everything in stride.

"I have a pretty calm demeanor, kind of like Soriano did last year, he never got really hyped up or never got really down," McGee said. "Just the same guy every day."

FOR STARTERS: LHP David Price, the Cy Young runner-up expected to start the April 1 season opener, will start Saturday's exhibition opener in Port Charlotte against the Pirates and work one to two innings. In what could be a preview of the regular-season rotation, RHP James Shields will start Sunday and RHP Jeff Niemann on Monday.

DAVIS DELAY: RHP Wade Davis didn't throw batting practice with the rest of his group Tuesday, saying he felt fine but skipped the session because he wanted to "work on some stuff" and instead threw a 53-pitch bullpen session Monday. Davis said he will throw BP with his group Thursday.

HELLICKSON HEALING: RHP Jeremy Hellickson, sidelined since Friday with a mild right hamstring strain, said he feels close to 100 percent and hopes to return to the mound by the weekend. Hellickson played catch for a second straight day.

TV TIME: Sun Sports announced a schedule for TV coverage of 150 games, starting with the April 1 opener. Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson will be in the booth, with Todd Kalas the reporter and pre- and postgame host. There will be a 30-minute pregame show for home games, and extended postgame coverage, with contributions from Orestes Destrade, Angela Jacobs and newcomer Laura McKeeman.

PITCHING IN: Maddon was very impressed with Niemann's work during batting practice: "All of his pitches were live … great movement." Among others catching Maddon's eye was RHP Chris Bootcheck. … LHP Alex Torres impressed some of the hitters. "Nasty stuff," INF Elliot Johnson said.

Heavy hearts for slain police officer

Slain St. Petersburg police officer David Crawford's duties included working at Tropicana Field, and the Rays are among those expressing sympathy. "We mourn the loss of a respected hero and a dedicated member of our Tropicana Field family," team president Matt Silverman said. "Our fans, our employees and our players will all miss him."

Tampa Bay Rays rookie Jake McGee believes he can handle closing 02/22/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 4:41pm]

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