PORT CHARLOTTE — Given that they sent down the two other candidates, and the only other healthy reliever left in camp is Rule 5 pick LHP Cesar Cabral, it seems the Rays settled Friday on RHP Juan Cruz and left-handers Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos for the final spots in the bullpen.
"You can draw that conclusion if you like," manager Joe Maddon said, "but it's not totally etched in stone yet."
That's because the Rays, as expected, are going to look hard over the next few days for help, via trade or waivers, from the outside as other teams make their final decisions. Out-of-option relievers such as Colorado's Felipe Paulino and Cincinnati's Jose Arredondo could be of interest.
"There's still the opportunity to do some other things that we're looking into externally," Maddon said. "Just a couple other little things going on, obviously I'd-have-to-shoot-you-if-I-told-you kind of stuff."
The Rays got to this point by sending down RHPs Rob Delaney (3-0, 3.38 ERA in eight games) and Cory Wade (0-0, 5.56 in seven). Cabral (0-0, 3.52 in six) has been inconsistent and remains more likely to be traded or put on waivers than make the team.
The Rays have until Thursday to set their roster. Both McGee and Ramos could be optioned to Triple A if the Rays acquire another reliever; Cruz is on a minor-league deal but could draw interest from another big-league team, so the Rays are more likely to keep him.
Overall, Maddon said, "our final moments aren't going to be that difficult." OF Sam Fuld and INF Elliot Johnson seem likely to get the two reserve spots, leaving 1B Casey Kotchman headed to the minors or elsewhere.
JASO RETURNS: C John Jaso felt so good in the morning workout that he talked his way into catching two innings in a Class A game, his first action since being hit in the groin by a foul tip March 19.
Jaso, wearing a second jockstrap for support, said there was still "a little bit of uncomfortability there," but he got through it, even running hard to back up a throw to first. He will play, and hit, in another minor-league game today and said he expects to be ready for Friday's season opener.
FARNSWORTH, TOO: Farnsworth looked fine and said he felt fine, throwing 23 pitches in an inning of a Class A game with no issues from the left knee agitation that forced him from Thursday's game after one pitch. "I didn't even worry about it," he said. "Everything feels good."
PITCHING IN: RHP Jeff Niemann's six-inning line was a little tattered (nine hits, five runs, three earned, six strikeouts, no walks), but he felt good about the work he did in his last extended spring start, throwing 106 pitches (79 strikes) in the Rays' 9-5 win over the Pirates.
"I felt like we kept together pretty well out there on the mound and continued to make pitches," he said. "I felt great about today, the curveball and the slider were both there. The fastball was a little bit up, but those are adjustments that are easier to make than the breaking ball stuff."
Struggling RHP Adam Russell (24 baserunners in eight innings) said his delivery was better and his slider sharper after making some suggested adjustments and using them in a minor-league game Thursday. "I had a better feel all around," he said. "I'm so close to getting in all in sync it's going to be there real soon."
GAME DETAILS: Despite playing what Maddon called one of their "least effective" games in terms of execution and defense, the Rays won for the 13th time in their last 18 and improved to 14-12-1. … Fuld had a two-run double, and nonroster OF Justin Ruggiano knocked in three runs. … RHP Joel Peralta extended his spring scoreless streak to nine innings over eight games.
MISCELLANY: Maddon said he will settle on the batting order next week, with the biggest question deciding between 1B Dan Johnson and RF Matt Joyce for the Nos. 5 and 7 spots vs. right-handers, with CF B.J. Upton No. 6. … Today is the final spring game in Port Charlotte.