Tampa Bay Rays
Maddon: 'Speculation Is Fun, Too'
FORT MYERS - By Wednesday afternoon, when the Rays break Grapefruit League camp and prepare for a weekend trip to Philadelphia, Manager Joe Maddon said he expects to have the answers. Until then, questions remain. Who is the fifth starting pitcher, Jeff Niemann or Jason Hammel? How does the bullpen set up - and specifically, has veteran Jason Isringhausen reserved a spot? Will OF Matt Joyce, an offseason acquisition from the Tigers who has played in just eight spring games after a leg injury, make the team despite limited action? "I know people want to know, but speculation is fun, too," Maddon said prior to Monday afternoon's 3-2 exhibition defeat against the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium. "Hey, we've got some good problems. A few years ago, we wouldn't have been close to this level of quality."Niemann or Hammel? Both players are out of options. Maybe the issue will sort itself out. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres have talked about trading prospects for Niemann or Hammel - and that possibility alone could be why the Rays have been methodical with their pitching decisions. "You would think you would have that fifth starter all figured out now," Maddon said. "But I still ponder it. I'm not quite sure yet. Somebody says something to you that sparks a thought, and you flip a little bit. "You're looking for the big picture. Of the two Niemann and Hammel, who has plateaued and who hasn't? When you evaluate these two guys, it's damn close. So you put all this information into the pot, which is your head, and you let it stew." CAMP DAY: Working under the watchful eyes of Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman, pitching coach Jim Hickey and other team officials, Niemann threw six scoreless innings Monday in an intrasquad game among Rays minor-leaguers. Niemann threw 68 pitches, struck out six and didn't walk a batter in what amounted to his closing argument for the vacant fifth spot in the Rays' rotation. "Now I've just got to sit here and see if I get to wear this thing or not," he said, tugging at the Rays cap on his head. "We'll see." Dan Wheeler pitched in the same game, working two innings and striking out two. One of those victims was B.J. Upton, who went hitless in four at-bats and played five innings in center field. "The stamina's almost there," Upton said. "I could have gone seven today if they wanted me to." ENSBERG RELEASED: Veteran IF Morgan Ensberg, an All-Star with the Houston Astros in 2005 who hit .227 with four RBIs in 14 spring games with the Rays, made the trip to Fort Myers only to be released on Monday morning. Ensberg said he was surprised because he expected to have a spot at Triple-A Durham. There was no room for Ensberg there, according to Maddon. "It would've been nice to have been able to keep him, but we just can't," Maddon said. DUTCH TREAT: Monday's television coverage featured a simulcast of sorts between announcers from the Rays and Twins. Rays play-by-play man Dewayne Staats worked the first three and last three innings, giving way to Twins announcer Dick Bremer in the middle (while Staats roamed to the Rays' dugout for an interview with Maddon). Both men worked with Twins analyst Bert Blyleven, the former pitcher, and Staats said he was delighted to set up an all-Dutch broadcast booth. Staats said his Dutch ancestors arrived in the New York area in the early 1600s. NOTEWORTHY: Rays 1B Carlos Pena, playing in his 13th game, hit his first home run of the spring, a two-run opposite-field shot, in the eighth inning. ... Rays RHP Matt Garza (0-1, 5.40 ERA), making his fourth start of the spring, allowed eight hits and three earned runs in six innings, while walking one and striking out five in a 95-pitch effort. He did not face the Twins, his former team, in the 2008 regular season. "It wasn't a big deal facing the Twins," Garza said. "A couple of the guys, I said, 'What's up?' Other than that, it's just getting ready for the season." ... Closer Troy Percival continued his effective spring with a 1-2-3 eighth inning. ... Twins OF Denard Span, a Tampa Catholic High School graduate, was 1-for-4 with three strikeouts against Garza. ... The Rays visit the other Fort Myers venue - City of Palms Park - today against the Red Sox. It's Andy Sonnanstine against Boston's Clay Buchholz. In Wednesday's Grapefruit League finale at Port Charlotte, the Rays send James Shields against Minnesota's Scott Baker. ... A fundraising dinner Saturday night in Port Charlotte attended by Maddon and his coaches raised $18,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte County. Joey Johnston, Marc Lancaster