FORT MYERS — As much reason as second-year RHP Jake Faria had to be concerned through his first three spring outings, his much-improved showing in Friday's 11-1 win over the Twins led to a sigh of relief.
"A little bit," Faria said. "You don't want to just go, 'Oh, I figured it out,' but this is a huge stride forward. I've just got to hold on to it, go into every day doing the exact same stuff and hopefully it keeps happening."
That Faria allowed only an unearned run, three hits and one walk — plus his first three strikeouts of the spring — over four innings was important. That he pitched in something of a rhythm, mixing his fastball and off-speed pitches, was perhaps even better.
"Just like (manager) Kevin (Cash) has been saying, everybody's been saying, just finding that rhythm, finding that groove to fall into," Faria said. "Once I felt it on a few back to back pitches I was able to hold on to it."
Though Faria's No. 4 spot in the rotation has never appeared to be in jeopardy despite a 16.62 ERA and .522 opponents average, Cash did say before the game it was time for Faria to show better. So he, too, was pleased: "Got to think he's feeling really good about that outing given what's taken place leading up to it. Big step in the right direction."
1B Brad Miller is set to play Saturday for the first time since Feb. 23, aiming to show he is over the broken toe and resulting "lower body" issues, having passed the test of Thursday's minor-league game. Cash said he remains confident Miller can be ready by the March 29 opener, but "we've got to avoid setbacks, that's for sure." … OF Mallex Smith remains limited due to a sore and tight right hamstring. He is slated to play in a minor-league game Monday or Tuesday and then be re-evaluated. … INF Daniel Robertson was scratched from the lineup but Cash said there was "no injury."
The Rays cut the roster to 45 by optioning RHP Chih-Wei Hu to Triple-A and reassigning LHP Vidal Nuno to the minors so both could get innings to be stretched out. Even with plans to use four starters and a crew of multi-inning relievers shuttled in and out, the Rays need a couple other pitchers capable of stepping in. Cash said Hu is likely to start at Durham while Nuno "could be really important to us, really valuable early on in the season." What that could mean is bullpen insurance as optioned players can't be recalled during the first 10 days of the season unless there is an injury, but players, such as Nuno, can be added to the 40-man roster.
Quote of the day
"I might have come in here and checked the score a couple times between innings. I might have. That's not for sure." — CF Kevin Kiermaier, on his fervid Purdue fandom, as the Boilermakers won their NCAA Tournament opener
Triple-A OF Johnny Field had a three-run homer in a three-hit day that raised his average to .391, Cash saying "he's an interesting guy, kind of forcing the hand a little bit for us to recognize what he's doing." … Kiermaier was in pain and likely sore for a few days after fouling a ball off his right foot but stayed in and stole his second base of the day. … Cash was also pleased with the three innings from bullpen candidate LHP Ryan Yarbrough, noting his consistency and conviction, "not lighting up the radar gun but he knows how to pitch to the edges, use his stuff at the right times, gets a lot of soft contact." … The 11 runs were a spring high for the 9-11-1 Rays.
* If Miller isn't ready, or if the Rays were to opt to move on and release him paying only one-fourth of his $4.5 million salary, an option could be switch-hitter Kennys Vargas, who the Twins DFA'd on Friday.
* 1B coach Ozzie Timmons missed the game for family reasons.
* The Rays will get in the St. Patrick's Day spirit Saturday, wearing green caps and socks against the Red Sox.
* Closer RHP Alex Colome threw a nine-pitch inning in a minor-league game in Port Charlotte.