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Two injuries give three Tampa Bay Rays a shot at one roster spot

BRADENTON — Jeff Salazar has made it to opening day in the big leagues once before, with the Diamondbacks in 2008, and marked the occasion with a pinch-hit home run.

"That," he said, "was pretty cool."

Jesus Feliciano, in 14 pro seasons, has never seen one from the field. Nor has prospect Brandon Guyer.

But with the Rays starting their season in less than a week and in need of an additional outfielder, one of the three has a good chance to be on the 25-man opening day roster. Unless, of course, the Rays come up with a better option through a waiver claim or trade.

"We are all over the map talking about this thing because it's pretty wide open," manager Joe Maddon said Friday; "trying to figure out how it best balances out vs. the right-hander and vs. the left-hander and what permits us or helps us get off to this better start."

Injuries to B.J. Upton and Sam Fuld created the need and factor into the decision on how they fill out the roster. With utilityman Elliot Johnson — or, semantically, Reid Brignac, depending on your take of their competition — seemingly getting one spot, the Rays are weighing different scenarios in filling the other.

Positionally, it seems they'd want someone who can comfortably play centerfield.

Desmond Jennings will slide from left to replace Upton. But with Fuld out, their next option in center would be Johnson, who has not looked smooth tracking balls this spring, or Ben Zobrist. And with Jennings nursing a sore shoulder — and cold-weather games looming at Detroit and Boston — they are likely to need some innings covered.

All three candidates can play center, Salazar and Feliciano having extensive minor-league experience. Some among the Rays say Feliciano has looked better. Others say Salazar.

Strategically, it seems they'd prefer a right-handed hitter (like Upton), which could benefit Guyer, who was optioned to Triple A on March 18 but can be brought back. Feliciano and Salazar are both lefty swingers, and the lineup is already a bit left-hand heavy with Matt Joyce, Carlos Peña, Luke Scott and, potentially, Brignac.

Contractually, it seems they'd rather have someone they can hang on to because they might need the player for only a couple of weeks until Upton returns.

Guyer would be the simplest because he is already on the 40-man roster and could be optioned back to the minors. Feliciano and Salazar are nonroster invitees who would have to be added to the 40-man roster. And there'd be a risk in losing Salazar because he is out of minor-league options and couldn't be sent down without being exposed to waivers. (Feliciano has an option remaining.)

Developmentally, it seems they'd be better off with one of the minor-league veterans because whoever gets the gig might not play much.

Guyer, 26, might be better served playing every day in the minors than sitting on the bench in the majors.

And the Rays have to at least consider if he is at all affected by the ramifications of the incident involving pitcher Matt Bush, his spring roommate who is jailed on DUI-related charges after an accident while driving Guyer's sport utility vehicle.

Plus, the lawyer for the victim has said they plan to sue Guyer, who, thus far, has not been made available to discuss the situation. Being in a major-league clubhouse, and in front of major-league fans, could make it a more public issue.

Salazar and Feliciano are familiar with being patient. Salazar, 31, has spent parts of four seasons in the majors, playing 168 games with the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Pirates. Feliciano, 32, has had only one stint in the big leagues, playing 54 games with the Mets in 2010.

So close to getting back, both are hopeful, if not anxious.

"I'm real excited," Feliciano said. "We'll see what happens."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

From non- to on

Jeff Salazar and Jesus Feliciano, both nonroster invitees, have a chance to make the Rays' opening day roster. In their previous 14 seasons, 17 players have suited up for the Rays on opening day after coming to camp as a nonroster invitee:

1998: RHP Rolando Arrojo

2000: RHP Dave Eiland, INF Herbert Perry

2001: RHP Ken Hill

2003: OF Rocco Baldelli, LHP Jim Parque, RHP Steve Parris

2005: RHP Hideo Nomo, OF Chris Singleton

2006: RHP Jason Childers, RHP Ruddy Lugo, INF Luis Ordaz

2007: RHP Gary Glover, 1B Carlos Peña, RHP Al Reyes

2008: INF/OF Eric Hinske

2011: RHP Juan Cruz

Two injuries give three Tampa Bay Rays a shot at one roster spot 03/30/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 30, 2012 9:03pm]
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