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Posted: Friday March 6, 2009 5:39PM; Updated: Friday March 6, 2009 8:34PM
Mark Bechtel Mark Bechtel >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Spring Postcard: Rays easing into action, but who's the fifth starter?

Story Highlights

Southpaws flummoxed the Rays last year, so they added Burrell and Kapler

Wade Davis, who was taken in the third round in 2004, has looked great so far

Should he pan out, Jason Isringhausen could really help the 'pen.

Three observations

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Postcards From Camp
 
Location: Port Charlotte, Fla.
 

Wade Davis
Wade Davis has put on a show in two starts this spring.
Doug Benc/Getty Images

1) It's all about balance.
When you look at who's gone from the Rays' outfield/DH mix and who they picked up, it seems like a wash. Gone are Rocco Baldelli, Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske and Jonny Gomes, who combined to hit .242 with 43 homers and 133 RBI in 861 at-bats. In are Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler, who combined to hit .265 with 41 homers and 124 RBI in 765 at-bats. So why are the Rays psyched about the net effect of the moves? Because the four guys who left hit a combined .194 against left-handed pitching, while Burrell and Kapler hit .305. Southpaws flummoxed Tampa Bay last year. The Rays hit 21 points worse against lefties than righties, and three of their four losses in the World Series came in games started by southpaws.

2) The Rays are taking it easy.
Winning the AL was swell and all, but it meant that Tampa Bay was playing until October 27, four weeks later than the Rays are accustomed to ending their season. That -- coupled with the fact that the World Baseball Classic meant that camps opened a little earlier this year -- has manager Joe Maddon easing his big names into action. None of the four pitchers who are locked into the Rays rotation -- Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine -- has pitched yet, and they aren't expected to until Saturday, March 7. That's allowed some of the more fringe elements of the Rays' camp roster to get a chance to show their stuff. The one who has done the best job seizing that opportunity is probably Wade Davis. The righty, who was taken in the third round in 2004, has looked great so far, giving up just one hit in two spring starts, which came against the Yankees (he fanned A-Rod and Mark Teixeira) and Cardinals. Davis has pitched fairly well at every stop in the Rays system, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be able to force his way into the rotation. Because ...

3) The fifth starter situation is murky.
The easiest thing for Maddon to do would be to stick phenom David Price into the No. 5 spot and leave it at that. But there are three things working against Price. First of all, this is his second pro season. Counting the postseason, Price threw 139 1/3 innings last year in the minors and bigs, and the Rays won't want to stretch him much past that. Especially given the second reason: Maddon is preternaturally patient and logical. He's not the kind of guy who's going to succumb to the urge of treating Price like a new toy. "I don't have those temptations," Maddon said. "I'm rooted in development." And last but not least: Maddon's other two best options -- Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann -- are both out of options. Maddon believes that Price will be starting for the Rays at some point this year. But he's in no rush to make that happen: "Would you rather have his innings in April or September," he said.

Not done yet

Tampa Bay made two non-roster pickups earlier this year, nabbing Jason Isringhausen and Adam Kennedy. Should he pan out, Izzy, who is one year -- albeit, a horrid one -- removed from a 32-save season, could really help the 'pen. And Kennedy is an intriguing pickup. Maddon said of Kennedy: "He's good enough to be somebody's everyday second baseman." But the 33-year-old was cool with signing with the Rays and filling in wherever Maddon needs him. Kennedy and Maddon know each other from their time together with the Angels, where Maddon was the bench coach before being hired by Tampa. And Maddon is clearly psyched to have him. He was effusive in his praise of Kennedy -- consummate pro, great teammate, etc. -- but he could end up really helping on the field, as well. Kennedy has played first base and right field in addition to second base. Since all of those positions are on the right side of the field, Maddon is planning on working Kennedy as much as possible at third base in the spring, so he can get used to seeing the game from the other side of the field.

Parting shots

Sometimes we get reminders that we're watching players who might not have had time to shake off all their offseason rust. Such was the case Tuesday when the Rays' third inning against the Astros went like this: homer, single, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, double. Six walks in a row, from three pitchers. It was a long inning, and not a particularly exciting one. ... I love listening to Maddon, who is refreshingly cerebral. When asked about the Rays' spring park, he began his response, "Theoretically speaking ..." ... Maddon grew up a Cards fan -- he could pick up KMOX from his home in Pennsylvania -- and was giddy at the prospect of seeing Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Red Schoendienst when Tampa played St. Louis. ... Interesting, insightful comment from Randy Choate, who is trying to make the team as a reliever and was plowing through the Twilight series in the clubhouse. He said he was holding off on seeing the movie because he doesn't want to spoil the characters as he's visualized them in his head while reading the books.

 
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