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Tampa Bay Rays notes: McGee easing into form

FORT MYERS - LHP Jake McGee's velocity has been down this spring, yet neither he nor manager Joe Maddon is concerned. The lack of pop is attributed to McGee holding back on his fastball and throwing more sliders. "I'm kind of breaking it in. I don't usually see how hard I'm throwing in spring training. It's more feel," McGee said. "I threw my slider or cutter a lot more than I would in the season. I probably threw five or six (Sunday). Just trying to get a good feel for it. (Sunday) was so cold, trying to get a feel for it was really tough." With spring training extended because of the World Baseball Classic, some pitchers are easing their way into throwing full velocity. LHP Matt Moore and RHP Jeff Niemann are using the same approach as McGee. McGee has been throwing in the low 90s. His fastball topped out at 97 mph last season when his 1.95 ERA was third lowest in the American League.
"He was unbelievably good, over the top good," Maddon said. McGee, who has allowed three runs in 21/3 innings this spring, threw a scoreless inning Sunday against the Twins. His next scheduled outing is Friday against the Phillies. McGee said he is not scheduled to pitch back-to-back games until March 18 and 19. "I'm feeling good out there," he said. "I'm getting stronger every time. I'm getting to where I can throw it where I want to throw it. The results will come in time." Game stuff RHP Jeremy Hellickson accomplished his goal of throwing his curveball for a strike during the first pitch of at-bats Monday during his three innings against the Red Sox in the Rays' 5-1 loss at JetBlue Park. Hellickson allowed a run on two hits and struck out four. Niemann followed and allowed a run on three hits in 22/3 innings. He is competing with RHP Roberto Hernandez for the final spot in the rotation with the runner-up heading to the bullpen. Niemann has pitched out of the bullpen in two of his three appearances. "(We're) not necessarily engaging that yet," Maddon said. "It was just a matter of getting people work right now. It's not about him getting loose and coming in from the bullpen. That is what happened but that was not the concern." Four of the Rays' five hits were doubles by DH Jack Cust, CF Sean Rodriguez, 3B Cole Figueroa and C Chris Gimenez. Here they come Don't be surprised if "Bang a Gong (Get it On)" plays throughout Tropicana Field when the Rays take the field before home games. Maddon played the 1971 hit by T. Rex in the visiting clubhouse at JetBlue Park before Monday's game and offered $100 to any player who could name the band. "I got one guess, The (Rolling) Stones, but that was it," Maddon said. "So I saved $100. … I love the song. I love the way it starts out. (Bench coach Dave Martinez) said, 'Why not play it when we come out on the field?' 'Bang a gong, get it on,' it's absolutely perfect so we'll see if we can promote that." Noteworthy 1B James Loney, who is suffering from allergies, was sent home Monday to rest since he was not scheduled to play against the Red Sox. Maddon said he expects Loney to make his start today against the Twins. … LHP Frank De Los Santos was shut down with soreness in his shoulder after pitching an inning against the Twins on Feb. 24. Maddon said the injury is not serious and he expects De Los Santos to pitch soon. … Maddon will spend Wednesday's off day having a colonoscopy in the morning. "First one. I'm very excited about this," he said. "I've only heard about it, so it's one of those life experiences you have to go through." Maddon said Martinez will be the acting manager while he is under anesthesia. Roger Mooney
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