With needs at catcher, Tampa Bay Rays leave Dan Johnson off ALDS roster

ARLINGTON, Texas — Of the myriad of decisions the Rays made in setting their 25-man ALDS roster, the toughest one came down to the most unexpected topic of PH Dan Johnson vs. C Jose Lobaton.

The key factor, manager Joe Maddon said, was wanting the flexibility and comfort of a third catcher, giving them the option to pinch-hit or pinch-run for starter Kelly Shoppach.

"That's the position that seems to be the most impacted the way we play the game," Maddon said.

Johnson, who hit the two-strike, two-out ninth-inning homer Wednesday that saved the season, was disappointed but understanding.

"It's one of those things, you stay prepared and whatever is best for the team to win, that's what really matters," he said.

"I'll just stay positive, cheer my heart out and try to help out this team anyway I can."

Of the others:

• Maddon acknowledged that RHP Jeff Niemann was left off because he is "not quite 100 percent" due to back issues. Niemann said he expects to be ready for the next round if the Rays advance.

• INF Elliot Johnson was kept primarily as a pinch-runner — they want to save Sam Fuld for pinch-hitting — and because of his versatility.

• They were more comfortable with lefty-hitting OFs Matt Joyce and Fuld than using right-handed hitting reserve Justin Ruggiano.

LINING UP: Given his extended slump to end the season (3-for-40, 0-for-his-last-25), rookie LF Desmond Jennings was dropped from his usual leadoff spot to eighth in the order.

"I just want to take a little pressure off him right there, get him into the 8-hole and just have him relax a bit and see if that just gets him going in the right direction again," Maddon said.

SS Sean Rodriguez led off, though Maddon said Jennings, who had a single and a walk, could go back to the top tonight.

Rodriguez, who batted leadoff three times previously, said: "I was definitely surprised."

PITCHING IN: RHP James Shields is starting Game 2 tonight and also a potential Game 5 on Thursday. Games 3 and 4 at Tropicana Field will be started by RHP Jeremy Hellickson and LHP David Price, though Maddon said they hadn't decided on the order yet. One factor is the Game 3 starter would be in line to pitch the Oct. 8 ALCS opener if the Rays advance.

SORE POINT: 2B Ben Zobrist was removed from the game in the ninth so he could get treatment on his sore right elbow, which was hit by a pitch in the second. He said he fully expects to play tonight.

MISCELLANY: The Rays notched their first shutout in 22 postseason games and matched their largest margin of victory. … C Kelly Shoppach tied Willy Aybar's team postseason record with five RBIs. … The crowd of 50,498 was a season high. … Special assistant Rocco Baldelli, who played in last year's ALDS opener, is among the Rays' front-office execs on hand.

With needs at catcher, Tampa Bay Rays leave Dan Johnson off ALDS roster 09/30/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 1:18am]

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