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Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson to play shortstop in Reid Brignac's absence

BRADENTON — With SS Reid Brignac's availability for the start of the season in question, the Rays are moving forward with a backup plan that includes Sean Rodriguez as the starter and Elliot Johnson as the backup.

Brignac has a plantar fascia problem in his right foot. Plantar fascia is the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. The odd nature of the injury makes it difficult to predict if he will miss a few days or several weeks.

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged the injury could affect Brignac's chances to be on the roster for opening day, two weeks from today.

"We need to play Elliot there anyway," Maddon said. "But yes, the fact that Reid's hurting a bit, getting Elliot out there a bit more would be what we're looking for."

Brignac's roster spot wasn't guaranteed. He was competing to win back a share of the job from Rodriguez and was having a good spring. The Rays could face a choice of keeping Brignac in the majors, or sending him to the minors and keeping Johnson, who is out of options and is otherwise likely to be claimed on waivers or traded. The injury might at least prompt them to postpone their decision.

Brignac, who last played in a big-league game March 15, hit off a tee and ran on a treadmill Thursday and said he hopes to be back on the field by early next week. "I just hope it keeps progressing like it is," he said.

The complication is the nature of the injury: Brignac can play in pain and potentially be limited until the sheath tears then would need several weeks to recover.

NEXT Patients: LF Desmond Jennings is the latest regular on the injury list, sidelined at least into next week due to a sore shoulder.

Head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield doesn't consider it serious, Maddon said, more that Jennings "needs a couple days to knock it out and then we'll have no problem with it." Jennings, who could DH in minor-league games, said the issue came from throwing and "we just want to avoid problems."

Maddon had no update on CF B.J. Upton, who remains sidelined with lower back and abdomen discomfort since his collision with Jennings on March 14.

"(It's) just that he's uncomfortable and he's sore right now, and we just have to get him beyond that point," Maddon said.

SHIELDS UP: Opening day starter James Shields didn't "feel too great out there" during a 52/3-inning outing in an 8-6 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday. He allowed five runs (three earned) on 10 hits, including two homers, and 93 pitches. He limited himself at times to fastballs. "I definitely got my work in," he said.

Shields was most pleased with his pickoffs, Nick Evans at third and Nate McLouth at second. Had he also gotten one at first?

"That's the pitchers' version of the grand slam," Maddon said, "or the pickoff cycle."

GAME DETAILS: The Rays (6-11-3) scored a spring-high eight runs. … An error by 2B Ben Zobrist on a tough hop and a poor throw by C Jose Lobaton led to two unearned runs. … Nonroster INFs Will Rhymes and Matt Mangini had key hits in the three-run eighth.

Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez, Elliot Johnson to play shortstop in Reid Brignac's absence 03/22/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 23, 2012 12:02am]

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