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Kevin Kiermaier picked to play centerfield for Rays

Kevin Kiermaier will exclusively play centerfield this season, manager Kevin Cash said. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Kevin Kiermaier will exclusively play centerfield this season, manager Kevin Cash said. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
Published Mar. 12, 2015

FORT MYERS — Parts of the Rays lineup are starting to solidify.

Manager Kevin Cash revealed the latest tidbit Wednesday: OF Kevin Kiermaier will exclusively play centerfield.

"I'm very, very excited about that," Kiermaier said. "That's where I feel like I can help the team out the best."

Kiermaier played more games in rightfield (60) than center (35) last season, but his speed and arm have impressed Cash this spring. The Rays told Kiermaier about the move about a week ago.

OF Desmond Jennings will be in leftfield when Kiermaier is in the lineup but will switch to center when he's not.

Cash compared that duo's defensive ability to a former Rays outfield pair — B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford.

"That was a pretty good tandem in the outfield," Cash said. "I think there's probably some comparisons — I don't know if they're fair — that that'll be quite the outfield to have cover a lot of ground out there."

BALFOUR RETURNING: RHP Grant Balfour likely will rejoin the Rays this weekend after his father, David, died Tuesday in Australia after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 62.

Balfour is scheduled to fly back to Tampa from Australia on Saturday, a day after his dad's funeral, and return to Rays camp Sunday.

"Hopefully on the back of his mind — where it belongs, in the back of his mind — he's thinking about getting ready for a season," Cash said.

PITCHING IN: After spending last spring training working on his changeup, RHP Jake Odorizzi is tinkering with a different pitch: a cutter-slider hybrid. He didn't throw it in his first start but tested it some Wednesday in unconventional situations.

"I just wanted to get a feel for it," said Odorizzi, who allowed one run off four hits and two walks in his two innings. "I threw some really good ones (Wednesday), and I'm happy with it."

MEDICAL MATTERS: LHP Drew Smyly (shoulder tendinitis) threw a ball in a sock for the second day in a row, but Cash isn't sure when he will progress to playing catch. … OF Brandon Guyer (oblique/lat strain) took swings off a tee and could return early next week. … A day after tweaking his ankle, nonroster 3B Alexi Casilla was back in the lineup, going 1-for-3 with a triple.

NOT-SO-MINOR MATTER: The team signed LHP Jonny Venters to a two-year minor-league contract. Venters was a 2011 All-Star and has fared well in the majors, posting a 2.23 ERA in 230 relief appearances in three seasons with the Braves. But the 29-year-old has had three Tommy John surgeries, the last one coming in September.

GAME DETAILS: SS prospect Hak-Ju Lee broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer in the seventh in the Rays' 5-2 win over Minnesota at Hammond Stadium. Lee also ran down a bloop to left and threw out Brian Dozier at home, a play that had Cash raving. … OF Corey Brown (Plant High) doubled, his fourth extra-base hit in 12 spring at-bats.

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MISCELLANY: RHP Alex Colome threw 30 pitches in live batting practice.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com.