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Tampa Bay Rays top prospect Desmond Jennings bruised but okay after being hit by pitch on elbow

SARASOTA — Prized OF prospect Desmond Jennings' first appearance in a big-league spring training game didn't feel as good as he had hoped.

That's because of the pain and swelling in his left elbow after being hit by a Matt Albers pitch leading off the ninth, which led to Jennings being removed from the game.

"It's just sore," Jennings said, his elbow wrapped heavily in ice. "It's nothing."

Jennings went to first base, but when he told coach George Hendrick a few pitches later it was swelling up, Hendrick immediately signaled to the Rays dugout for a replacement.

"I didn't have to come out," Jennings, 23, said. "He didn't give me much input into it."

Manager Joe Maddon said Jennings should be fine and Hendrick was just being cautious.

"It was his call," Maddon said.

SOME FIRSTS: INF Sean Rodriguez didn't waste any time in making a quick impression. In his first swing as a Ray, Rodriguez ripped a solo homer in the seventh inning of the 12-2 loss to the Orioles. "It would have been better with a couple guys on," Rodriguez said. "But I'm happy."

Meanwhile, INF Joe Dillon, who has been trying to add to his versatility by getting work at catcher this spring, was put behind the plate in the eighth.

"It was all first times for me — getting out there, first batter, first time a guy on base, first time a guy on second," Dillon said. "It went good. … I clanked one, but it's going to happen. … For the first time it went really well. I enjoyed it."

GUESS WHO? Orioles 1B Rhyne Hughes, a former Rays prospect, had a huge day, hitting two two-run homers. Hughes, 26, who spent his first five years in the Tampa Bay organization, was the player to be named later in the Rays' trade last summer for C Gregg Zaun.

Hughes took the deal in stride but had some friendly trash talk with the Rays' Ben Zobrist, whom he worked out with the past two offseason. "I said, 'Dude, you better be ready, we're opening up with y'all,' " Hughes said. "It was neat playing them, but when you hit that switch, it's just another game, another team."

SIGNING ON: The Rays say they have signed all of their pre-arbitration-eligible players, which includes RHP Andy Sonnanstine, who was the last remaining candidate to be renewed by the team's noon deadline Wednesday.

The deals are all under $500,000 as the Rays follow a relatively strict salary structure working up from the major-league minimum of $400,000. The only exception is RHP Jeff Niemann, who will make close to $1 million (including a share of his signing bonus) coming off his original five-year, $5 million-plus deal. (And also the players under multiyear deals such as LHP David Price and 3B Evan Longoria.)

The other signings announced Wednesday included: INF Reid Brignac, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Mike Ekstrom, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, C John Jaso, Jennings, INF Elliot Johnson, RF Matt Joyce, C Jose Lobaton, LHP Jake McGee, OF Fernando Perez, Rodriguez, OF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Dale Thayer, LHP Alex Torres and Zobrist.

TICKET INFO: The Rays said there are limited seats left for Saturday's home game against the Red Sox.

MISCELLANY: Maddon said INF Willy Aybar (left wrist) took ground balls with no issues or concerns. Aybar said he's scheduled to resume hitting today and hopes to get into his first exhibition game next week. Maddon also said LHP J.P. Howell, who has had his workload scaled back this spring, has been progressing well and could make a game appearance soon.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]imes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays top prospect Desmond Jennings bruised but okay after being hit by pitch on elbow 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 9:43pm]
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