ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon could sense in spring training that RHP Josh Lueke was different.
Lueke, 28, was more mature, carried himself differently and pitched well, too, as he had one of the best camps among the relievers.
So when Lueke was called up Friday from Triple-A Durham, taking the place of injured RHP Brandon Gomes (right lat strain), Maddon saw a pitcher who felt like he "belonged."
And Lueke looked like it in an impressive Rays season debut, striking out two in a perfect 1 1/3-inning outing in the 6-3 win over the Padres.
"That was outstanding," Maddon said. "You can see he's different. He can be a force."
Lueke felt bad his good news came at the expense of his offseason workout partner, Gomes, who was put on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 8. Lueke arrived hoping to carry over the confidence he has had since the offseason, which resulted in a strong spring and going 2-0 with seven saves and a 0.95 ERA in 14 games for Durham, including two shutout innings on Thursday.
"I just feel like I belong here," Lueke said. "I can come in with the confidence, and I guess you can say swag, just knowing that I can pitch at this level. If I feel that way and I can go out there and prove it to everybody else, I guess I'll earn respect down the road."
Lueke, acquired from the Mariners in November 2011, made three appearances for Tampa Bay (18.90 ERA) over three short stints in 2012. Lueke said he changed his work ethic in the offseason, sparked by Gomes, who got him to start his offseason program earlier.
Lueke said Gomes and veteran Joel Peralta this spring encouraged him to "pitch backwards:" Keep hitters off his fastball by starting them with a slider or a split. That's what he did Friday, with his velocity reaching 96 mph.
"I'm just going to try to keep the same approach and positivity I've got going on right now," Lueke said.
FREAK THING: Gomes hopes he won't be out long. He had never been on the disabled list, nor has he missed a significant amount of time in his career. He said the lat strain was a freak injury that popped up last weekend in Colorado.
Gomes said he tried to pitch through it and get better through treatment, but while warming up during Thursday night's game against Toronto, he knew something had to be done.
"It's just painful every time I try to throw a ball," Gomes said. "It came to the point where it was going to start affecting stuff."
MEDICAL MATTERS: CF Desmond Jennings did not start Friday, and may not again tonight, because of a sore groin, Maddon said. "Nothing seriously wrong," Maddon said. "Playing on our turf a lot, you have to be real careful with him, all our speed guys, always trying to be vigilant." … C Jose Molina, who bruised his right knee on a foul tip Thursday, said he felt better Friday. Maddon said he was available to play.
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PITCHING IN: Maddon said there has been no "common denominator" in RHP Jeremy Hellickson's inconsistency this season. Hellickson lasted just five innings in each of his past two starts, with the Rays losing both despite scoring a combined 15 runs. Hellickson said a key is commanding his fastball and keeping it down.
MINOR MATTERS: OF prospect Wil Myers, pulled from Durham's game Thursday with an upset stomach, came back strong Friday with a three-run homer in his first at-bat.
HELPING HAND: 3B Evan Longoria will participate in the PNC Bank Miles for Moffitt one-mile run/walk this morning to benefit the Moffitt Cancer Center.
MISCELLANY: ESPN has selected the Rays-Red Sox game Wednesday as its national game, to be seen by most markets (Boston and Tampa excluded).