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Tampa Bay Rays send Seminole's Casey Kotchman to minors despite strong spring

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays have seen enough in the spring to give INF Elliot Johnson and OF Sam Fuld spots on their bench, and to keep 1B Dan Johnson in the everyday job they had planned.

But the Rays felt they needed to see more during the minor-league season before making room for 1B Casey Kotchman.

The former Seminole High star was among eight players cut on Saturday as the Rays all but set their opening day roster — pending the acquisition of a reliever or two before Friday's opener.

Also sent to the minors: INFs Felipe Lopez, Joe Inglett and Ray Olmedo; Cs Jose Lobaton and Craig Albernaz; and OFs Justin Ruggiano and Chris Carter. The roster stands at 27, pending the expected trade or waiving of Rule 5 pick LHP Cesar Cabral and placement of LHP J.P. Howell on the disabled list.

Kotchman, 28, made a strong case, hitting .354 with five doubles and a homer, but after his abysmal 2010 season in Seattle (hitting .217 with a .616 OPS) and previous struggles, the Rays clearly wanted to see more than spring training performance.

"We like him a lot," manager Joe Maddon said. "We want to see him on a more consistent basis provide that kind of offense and continue to play that kind of defense."

It was not clear Saturday if they would get that opportunity. Kotchman, who left the complex without talking to the media and didn't respond to a text message, signed a minor-league contract, but the Rays likely would let him go if he had a major-league opportunity elsewhere.

Lopez, an eight-year big-league veteran, likely would be given the same opportunity.

Elliot Johnson, 27, who has been in the organization for 10 years and appeared in seven big-league games, was thrilled to get the news. "I'm very happy, very excited," he said. "And I'll take full advantage of whatever opportunity they give me."

Dan Johnson, 31, had a similar take on his first everyday job since 2007 with Oakland: "I feel ready for this opportunity, and you know when you get this opportunity you have to make the most of it."

Fuld, 29, was acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade.

The Rays seemed to settle on their bullpen by keeping RHP Juan Cruz and LHPs Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos, but Maddon said, "There's still some stuff on the table potentially that may impact that."

CATCHING ON: John Jaso caught three innings and got three at-bats in a minor-league game and said he would be ready to start the season, having overcome the effects of being struck in the groin by a foul tip on March 19. The Rays waited to see how he felt, then optioned Lobaton to the minors.

PITCHING IN: RHP Jeremy Hellickson worked 41/3 innings against the Orioles, allowing two runs on five hits (including a long Brian Roberts homer), and was pleased with everything but his fastball command: "It's struggling a little bit right now but I'll get that back." Hellickson will pitch in a minor-league game Thursday then take the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

THINKING THROUGH: Maddon complimented the players on their work in camp but cautioned them about making too many mental mistakes, as they did Friday. "We cannot be the team that makes mental mistakes," he said. "We cannot be that team."

GAME DETAILS: A 2-2 eighth-inning tie turned into a 7-2 loss for the Rays (14-13-1) as Ramos had a rough outing, including a two-run homer to Vladimir Guerrero, a right-handed hitter he wouldn't face in the regular season. … Cruz had his eighth scoreless outing in nine games. … Ben Zobrist led off with an opposite-field homer. … Dan Johnson made several sharp defensive plays.

MISCELLANY: Tickets for Wednesday's 4:10 exhibition at the Trop are $10 and general admission, with all lower-level areas open except the Home Plate and Whitney Bank Clubs. … RHP Jonah Bayliss was released from minor-league camp. … Most of the starters will play eight or nine innings on Monday in Tampa.

. fast facts

Roster report

Here's what the Rays' opening day roster looks like as of now:

STARTERS (5): LHP David Price, RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Jeff Niemann, RHP Jeremy Hellickson

RELIEVERS (7): RHP Juan Cruz, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, LHP Jake McGee, RHP Joel Peralta, LHP Cesar Ramos, RHP Adam Russell, RHP Andy Sonnanstine

CATCHERS (2): John Jaso, Kelly Shoppach

INFIELDERS (5): Reid Brig­nac, Dan Johnson, Elliot Johnson, Evan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez

OUTFIELDERS (6): Johnny Damon, Sam Fuld, Matt Joyce, Manny Ramirez, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist

DISABLED LIST (1): LHP J.P. Howell

Tampa Bay Rays send Seminole's Casey Kotchman to minors despite strong spring 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 10:23pm]

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