Notebook

Tampa Bay Rays sign Hank Blalock to minor-league deal

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays have signed INF Hank Blalock to a minor-league deal.

Blalock, 29, a two-time All-Star, is expected to be in Port Charlotte today for a workout. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Blalock hit .234 with 25 homers and 66 RBIs last season for Texas, where he split time at first base and DH; his on-base percentage, however, was a career-low .277. He missed large portions of the 2007-08 seasons with injuries.

The move gives the Rays additional depth and another option if they need a left-handed bat at the major-league level.

Garza in gear: There was a lot for RHP Matt Garza to be happy with in his second spring outing Monday.

Garza pitched three scoreless innings, giving up three hits and striking out five in the Rays' 4-3 walkoff win over the Pirates. But what Garza liked the best? Zero walks.

Garza has arguably the best stuff on the Rays staff but admits he wants to cut down on his career-high 79 walks a year ago, throwing more "purposeful strikes."

On Monday, Garza did just that, including striking out four of the first five hitters he faced.

"I got in a couple 2-2, 3-2 counts (Monday) where I felt good because I made big pitches when I needed to," Garza said. "That's what I wanted to do, keep guys from taking that free base, make them earn it."

First time: Touted OF prospect Desmond Jennings made his first spring start in rightfield Monday, alongside CF B.J. Upton and LF Carl Crawford, with manager Joe Maddon saying the Rays wanted to see how the trio looked together. "It's an interesting concept," he said.

Jennings had one tough play, with a liner to right-center in the fourth by CF Jose Tabata bouncing to the wall. Jennings said that with a right-handed hitter, such hits usually hook back, but this one didn't. "It didn't come back to me like I thought it was," he said.

Bounce back: OF Fernando Perez didn't even know if he'd be able to play by now, coming off labrum surgery in the offseason.

But Perez has been pleasantly surprised with how he has progressed, and he's seeing some results. He had the winning single in the 10th on Monday, following a triple Saturday to start the winning rally.

Perez, who missed most of last year after dislocating his left wrist in spring training, said he's still not 100 percent; he doesn't hit before games to conserve his swings. But he's getting there.

"I'm kind of … learning how to play baseball well again," he said.

Walk this way: The Rays (5-1) picked up their third walkoff win of the spring and their fourth victory in their final at-bat. Considering one of Maddon's concepts going into this year was playing well late, it's a good sign. "In my mind, our guys have it in the back of their mind as the game is in progress to play well late in the game," Maddon said. "And that's nice."

Ready to go: Though LHP J.P. Howell's workload has been scaled back this spring, he said he's feeling really good after throwing five bullpen sessions, which have included him using changeups and curveballs. "I'm feeling like a normal pitcher again," he said.

Howell said he's scheduled to throw a live BP session this weekend and could appear in his first game early next week. "Now the cobwebs are off," he said.

Injury report: INF Willy Aybar (sprained left wrist) took batting practice Monday, and everything went well.

Miscellany: RH closer Rafael Soriano said he'll pitch in his first game next week after throwing live batting practice Thursday and Sunday. … OF Matt Joyce had a run-scoring double and INF Sean Rodriguez a tying single in the eighth. … Attendance was 4,377.

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

Tampa Bay Rays sign Hank Blalock to minor-league deal 03/08/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 12:10am]

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