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Tampa Bay Rays still unsure whether rookie Jake McGee will start or relieve

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon will soon have two new intriguing options to consider for his ever-changing lineup card, with the expected signings of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.

But pitching coach Jim Hickey also has some juggling to do in terms of what arms to use where — and when. And Hickey expects LHP Jake McGee to be one of the hotter topics in spring training.

"Just in terms of, what to do with him?"

It's an intriguing question, one not so simple to answer. McGee, 24, one of the club's top pitching prospects, was impressive in making the transition to a reliever last season after recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery. He put up eye-popping numbers in the minor leagues, and Hickey said he was "as good as we anticipated" when he was called up in September, racking up a 1.80 ERA in eight games.

That being said, McGee, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder with an overpowering fastball, came through the Rays system as a starter with good friend RHP Wade Davis, who was also drafted in 2004. And Hickey said, in general, it's much more valuable to have a 180- to 200-inning guy than a reliever who throws 40-60.

"I still like Jake McGee as a possible starting pitcher," Hickey said. "You can't have too much starting pitching, and with that big body he's got, I just see a guy who's capable of eating up a lot of innings for a lot of years."

Then again, Hickey points out, organizational needs also come into play. Even with the trade of RHP Matt Garza, the Rays have five strong starters, as RHP Jeremy Hellickson could slide into the rotation.

Meanwhile, the bullpen has been depleted with the loss of RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Dan Wheeler, LHP Randy Choate, closer Rafael Soriano and RHP Grant Balfour. The Rays have added the likes of RHP Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth but are still looking for more help.

"We have to fill a number of holes in the bullpen, and he's a really good candidate to do that," Hickey said.

That would be fine with McGee, who said he's open to starting and relieving, having had success in both. He said he got more comfortable in the bullpen, where he enjoyed pitching more often and in "big situations." McGee garnered confidence getting used in a pennant race in September, striking out the likes of Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu.

"I know I can get those guys out," he said.

Hickey said what will likely happen is the Rays will treat McGee as a starter entering spring training, as it's easier to transition from starter to reliever than vice versa. Consider the scenario that played out the spring of 2008, when LHP J.P. Howell, a converted starter, made the team as a long reliever and worked his way up into high-leverage situations and one of the best relievers in the league.

"We didn't think he was going to morph into one of the best relievers there were in baseball," Hickey said. "I can see the same type of thing happen with Jake along the line, maybe not as dramatically. … By midseason, who knows? He could be that same type of very important later-in-the-game type of guy."

GIVING BACK: CF B.J. Upton will hold a celebrity bowling charity event Monday at Splitsville Lanes in Tampa, benefiting the Tampa/St. Petersburg area homeless through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

The speed-bowling event, which is from 5 to 10 p.m., is expected to include LHP David Price, INF Reid Brignac and some Bucs players. For $100, you can participate, and for $25, you can watch. For information, check out www.theupton brothers.com.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Upton told Bright House Sports Network he's open to signing a long-term deal with the Rays. … RHP James Shields arrived for jury duty Tuesday in Pinellas County but was not among those selected to hear a workers compensation fraud case. … 3B Evan Longoria participated in the Bob Hope Golf Classic. … Hellickson recently had his jersey retired at Des Moines Hoover High in Iowa. … Ex-Rays C Toby Hall will hold his annual golf tournament Feb. 3 at the Bayou Club. For information, call Tracey Ringstaff at (813) 263-5363 or send e-mail to acpc.inc@hotmail.com.

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

Tampa Bay Rays still unsure whether rookie Jake McGee will start or relieve 01/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 3:57pm]

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