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Tampa Bay Rays rookie Stephen Vogt may be dark horse in battle for backup catcher

TAMPA — Stephen Vogt has earned rave reviews for his comedic impressions of manager Joe Maddon.

But Vogt, 27, is also making an impression on the field, with Maddon saying the Rays' 2011 minor-league player of the year is "among the contending group" for the second catcher spot.

He'd be a dark horse, as Vogt — despite being a .305 hitter in five minor-league seasons — has played in just 31 Triple-A games, with no experience in the majors like contenders Chris Gimenez and rookies Robinson Chirinos and Jose Lobaton.

"We've done awkward things in the past, so we're not afraid of doing something like that," Maddon said. "I told him in the meeting, he's playing for this job."

Vogt went 3-for-3 with a two-run triple in Wednesday's 4-0 win over the Yankees, the first of the spring for the Rays (1-4). Maddon likes Vogt's left-handed bat but hasn't seen enough of him catching, and defense is most important at that position.

"It's in the back of my mind, and I'd love to earn a spot," Vogt said. "But at the same time, I play the game the same way no matter where I am."

GOOD START: RHP James Shields was sharp in his first spring outing, throwing two perfect innings with two strikeouts against many Yankees regulars. "I was commanding my pitches," he said. "Definitely get a little geeked for the first outing, but for the most part, I felt really good out there."

IN HAND: 3B Evan Longoria further tested his bruised right hand in Port Charlotte by taking swings and hitting balls off a tee for the first time and said it was a positive step toward recovery.

Maddon was encouraged, saying Longoria should be "back to normal" in the next couple of days. "We're going in the right direction," he said. "As long as we can keep that up on a day-to-day basis, it'll be a good thing."

Longoria said his hand "was pretty sore" Tuesday when he took dry (no-ball) swings with a fungo bat (which is lighter). On Wednesday he swung a regular bat and hit balls off the tee, which was a sign of progress.

Longoria, hit by a pitch in the March 1 intrasquad game, said he wasn't going to set any more dates for his first game, but it should be a matter of days. He was happy after being checked Wednesday morning by Rays hand specialist Dr. Doug Carlan but also is frustrated by the slower-than-expected recovery.

"It hasn't been as fast as I anticipated or wanted it to be, but as long as I'm not waking up the next day and feeling like I've taken a step backward, it's positive," he said.

MEDICAL MATTERS: Today is somewhat key for a few Rays, as DH Luke Scott and OF Sam Fuld will take live batting practice in what could be their last hurdles before they start playing in games, and the same for RHP Brandon Gomes, who will be one of the throwers. LHP Matt Moore (lower abdomen strain) also will throw, though he will likely have another session before his exhibition debut.

LINING UP: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will work in relief in the home game today rather than start the road game, a choice the Rays gave him, allowing RHP Chris Archer to start at the Twins. … SS Reid Brignac, CF B.J. Upton, 2B/RF Ben Zobrist, RF Matt Joyce and INF Jeff Keppinger will play in the home game, with 1B Carlos Peña, LF Desmond Jennings, SS Sean Rodriguez and UTL Elliot Johnson on the road.

MISCELLANY: Wednesday's Rays-Yankees game will be a tape-delayed broadcast on the MLB Network at 9 a.m. today. … Scott and third-base coach Tom Foley will be special guests on tonight's Countdown to Opening Day radio show on 620-AM from 7-8 p.m.

Tampa Bay Rays rookie Stephen Vogt may be dark horse in battle for backup catcher 03/07/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 9:19pm]
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