Tampa Bay Rays
Rays still have tough decisions
FORT MYERS - With Opening Day a week from today, Rays VP of baseball Andrew Friedman and Manager Joe Maddon basically have two decisions to make: the final position player and the final reliever. "There are some issues," Maddon said. "Again, Hank (Blalock) coming in and doing as good a job as he has, has made it a little more cloudy. The relief pitching part of it is still murky in a sense, too." Righties Joaquin Benoit, Mike Estrom, Dale Thayer and Heath Rollins are competing for the last spot in the bullpen, while Friedman searches for help outside the organization. Barring a trade, signing a newly released pitcher or claiming one off waivers, Maddon said the winner would be the pitcher who separates himself this week. There are some decisions to be made before the Rays can pick the last position player. What to do with injured RF Matt Joyce (read on)? What to do with INF/OF Elliot Johnson, who is out of options? What to do with 1B/DH Blalock, who can opt out of his minor-league contract Thursday?"Of course we're going to have to put pen to paper pretty soon," Maddon said. "We have ideas, but I'm telling you it's not been finalized yet. It's been a very interesting race among the qualified people." Daily Joyce update RF Matt Joyce (strained right elbow), who hasn't played the outfield since March 10, will likely start the season on the disabled list. "I'm not highly optimistic at this point he's going to be ready for the season, but still holding out on it a little bit to make sure," Maddon said. "I talked to (athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) again. More than likely (he'll) not be ready but we don't want to rule it out yet." Niemann finishes strong RHP Jeff Niemann finished his Grapefruit League work Monday with six scoreless innings against the Red Sox. He allowed seven hits, a walk and struck out six. "That was a great one to end the spring on. Everything was working. It felt pretty good," said Niemann, who pitched himself out of a pair of jams. The Red Sox had runners at first and third with none out in the fifth. But Niemann struck out J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis before Marco Scutaro allowed himself to be thrown out trying to get back to third after Dustin Pedroia, who was on first, broke for second. In the sixth, a pop up to 3B Evan Longoria and a 5-4-3 double play ended the threat after the Red Sox placed runners on first and second with no outs. "That was pretty much their A team out there and to be able to get out of jams was huge," Niemann said. "You're going to be in jams during the season." Record-tying win The Rays won, 9-3, to tie their 2008 team record for spring training wins at 18. Longoria and C Nevin Ashley homered. Longoria has four homers this spring, three against the Red Sox at City of Palms Park. SS Jason Bartlett and CF B.J. Upton both doubled. SS Reid Brignac drove in two runs with a single to give him a team-high 18 RBIs. Odds and ends C Dioner Navarro is expected to catch five innings today. ... LHP David Price will avoid Boston by making his scheduled start today in a minor-league game. C Kelly Shoppach will catch Price.