Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez starts strong in battle for starting shortstop job

RAYS DEBUT: Reliever Fernando Rodney, who signed a free agent contract with the Rays during the offseason, allows two hits and throws a wild pitch in the third inning of his first spring game.
RAYS DEBUT: Reliever Fernando Rodney, who signed a free agent contract with the Rays during the offseason, allows two hits and throws a wild pitch in the third inning of his first spring game.
Published March 5, 2012

PORT CHARLOTTE — Without knowing what Rays officials will consider most important in picking a starting shortstop, Sean Rodriguez figures he had better do everything he can to beat out Reid Brignac for the job.

Rodriguez got off to a good start in a 5-3 exhibition loss Sunday to the Twins, reaching base three times, making a stellar defensive play and sliding hard into second to prevent a double play.

"Whatever it is that is going to make that difference, if it's something I don't know about, it can come on the defensive end or the offensive end or the base­running end," Rodriguez said. "I have to be playing basically like if it's the regular season. That's how it should be always, but it makes it a little more fulfilling knowing they're going to be watching your every move."

Rodriguez was hit by a pitch his first time up, a fitting start as he was hit a team-record 18 times last season. "Got to keep working on my hit by pitches," he said.

HELLY HAPPY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson was pleased overall with his two-inning, 22-pitch outing, throwing a handful of cutters, a pitch he hopes to mix in more this season. "I'm happy," he said. "I threw a lot of strikes (16)."

THAT'S A RELIEF: LHP Jake McGee was quite relieved to get through a bullpen session Sunday given the discoloration and net markings on his left elbow, a few days after a freak accident when he was watching batting practice with his arms resting on the cage and was struck by a ball that bounced up. "I was like, 'What are the odds of that?' " McGee said. "I'm lucky. … It was very scary." His first game appearance is Thursday.

LOCKED AND LOADED: Engaged in a battle to keep his spot in the rotation, and unhappy with how he began last year, RHP Wade Davis isn't treating today's spring debut as just an exhibition.

"I'm looking at it differently," he said. "In general, whether it's a competition or not, I want to get off to a better start, and I'm going to. I've prepared myself physically to be ready for that. I'm ready to go out (today) and pitch like it's June or July. It's a little different mentality for me. I definitely want the opportunity to get that starting job.

"I'm just going to go out there and compete from Day 1, and however it plays out is what we'll land on."

MEDICAL MATTERS: 3B Evan Longoria flashed a thumbs-up with his bruised right hand and said Tuesday looks set for his exhibition debut. … LHP Matt Moore said Saturday's bullpen session, his first time throwing off a mound in eight days, went well, with no issues from the mild lower abdominal strain that had sidelined him: "It was like back to normal." Moore throws again today, then batting practice Thursday, with his first game, potentially, by the weekend.

IN THE SWING: 1B Carlos Peña, DH Luke Scott and OF Sam Fuld will take "live" batting practice today off RHPs Kyle Farns­worth and Brandon Gomes, a precursor to their first game action.

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Peña is likely for Tuesday, Scott and Fuld by the end of the week.

GAME DETAILS: Two-run homers allowed by new relievers Burke Badenhop (to Chris Parmalee in the sixth) and Josh Lueke (to J.R. Towles in the ninth) were the difference. … OF Matt Joyce, playing back-to-back games since the injured list is so long (and MLB requires four frontline players in a spring lineup), singled in the first run. … LHP J.P. Howell stood out with a crisp 1-2-3 inning. … RHP Fernando Rodney allowed two hits and threw a wild pitch in his Rays debut.

IN THE SADDLE: Saturday's seventh inning was a bit messy, with a hit and two walks, but it was memorable for RHP Ricky Orta, his first formal game in more than two years as he worked his way back from elbow surgery.

"My brain was going crazy," he said. "I was excited, I had butterflies in my stomach."

MISCELLANY: ESPN's bus comes to camp today with Tim Kurkjian and John Kruk reporting for the 3:30 p.m. Baseball Tonight show. … The announced crowd was 5,346, well short of a sellout.