TAMPA — During the depths of Tampa Bay’s early-season bullpen miseries in 2013, Rays manager Joe Maddon kept talking up his group of relievers as a stellar unit.
Some of the names are different, but Maddon’s stance hasn’t changed a bit.
With closer Fernando Rodney now shooting his postgame arrows in Seattle, the Rays have fortified their bullpen by bringing Grant Balfour back for a second stint and trading for veteran Heath Bell. Also in the mix are Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos, Josh Lueke and Juan Carlos Oviedo, who has yet to report to training camp due to visa issues in the Dominican Republic.
“I haven’t even seen Oviedo yet,’’ Maddon said before the Rays and Yankees forged a 3-3 tie after 10 innings Sunday in front of a sun-splashed sellout crowd of 11,017 at Steinbrenner Field. “Jake is very interesting, Peralta is still very good. Mark Lowe looks really good.’’
Before signing with Oakland as a free agent in 2011, Balfour was very effective in a set-up role with the Rays. During the 2008-09 seasons, opponents batted only .195 against Balfour, who converted 62 of 67 save opportunities with the A’s in the past two seasons.
Balfour, 36, is off to a sluggish start with the Rays his second time around, yielding five hits, three walks and five runs in 2Ŗ innings over his first three spring appearances.
“Grant has not really pitched as well as he can,’’ Maddon said. “I really believe he’s minus a lot of adrenaline right now. Once he gets going in the latter part of the game, you’re going to see the numbers you’re used to seeing with him. I’m not worried about Balfour.’’
Maddon downplayed injuries to Peralta (neck), Ben Zobrist (neck) and OF David DeJesus (right side) and said he expects all three back in the lineup this week.
“They’re all good,” Maddon said. “There’s nothing serious with any of them. I have not heard anything. If there was anything really bad, (head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) would have called me by now. I don’t see anything horrible.’’
The Yankees scratched out runs in the eighth and ninth innings to overcome a 3-1 deficit and the teams played a scoreless 10th as the Rays settled for their second tie of the spring.
RHP Chris Archer allowed only two base runners before departing with one out in the fourth, and 1B James Loney turned in a defensive gem in the sixth, robbing Derek Jeter of extra bases with a diving stop to his left.
C Ryan Hanigan and rookie OF Mikie Mahtook each hit RBI singles for Tampa Bay and the Yankees prolonged the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when rookie LH Braulio Lara tossed a wild pitch.
Actor Richard Gere, an avid Yankees fan, threw out the first pitch and posed for pictures with Maddon in the Rays clubhouse after the game. “All I wanted to do was not bounce one up there,’’ Gere said. ... RHP Jake Odorizzi is slated to start today’s game against the Red Sox in Fort Myers and LHP David Price is scheduled to open Tuesday in Port Charlotte against Minnesota. ... Heading into his 20th and final major-league season, Jeter is batting .235 this spring. ... The Rays have allowed only four home runs in nine Grapefruit League games.