ST. PETERSBURG - Hideo Nomo did not clinch a spot in the Devil Rays starting rotation with Thursday night's outing against the Reds, but he made his best case of the spring.
The right-hander pitched six strong innings in a 3-2 loss at Progress Energy Park and allowed one run on two hits with five strikeouts.
Nomo reached 89 mph on at least one pitch and 88 in his final inning. Still, manager Lou Piniella was not ready to name him the fifth starter.
"We don't have to make a decision today about that," Piniella said. "But we're pleased with the way he's improved. He's worked hard, to his credit."
It was the end of a busy day in which Northeast High grad Doug Waechter was optioned to Triple-A Durham, catcher Pete Laforest was assigned to minor-league camp and left-hander Denny Neagle and outfielder Tom Goodwin were released.
Waechter was a candidate for a starting spot, but after allowing six home runs in 13 innings, two in one inning Wednesday against the Dodgers, the right-hander knew he needed to work out some kinks.
"It's pitch selection at times. It's location at times," Waechter said. "But a lot of those are from not knowing how to use a certain pitch in a certain count. The more experience I get, the more I'm going to learn how to deal with that situation."
Piniella said the foundation is there.
"Right now he has more equipment as a major-league pitcher than when he came up here a few years ago," he said. "We optioned him out with the idea he can get steady work."
That is what Nomo is looking for, but so are right-hander Seth McClung and left-hander Casey Fossum, both of whom want starting jobs.
Nomo's only mistake: Joe Randa's second-inning home run.
"He gets better every time he goes out there," Piniella said. "His location is better. His velocity is up. The whole package is better."
NEAGLE RELEASED: Neagle, 36, said he believed he was making progress in his comeback from 2003 shoulder and elbow surgeries despite a 12.00 ERA and one strikeout in three innings.
He said he will see if he has other opportunities before deciding on retirement. His last outing was three innings in a minor-league game.
"If the last pitch I throw was in that Triple-A game, so be it," he said. "I would have liked to write a better ending, but I can't hang my head about what I've done."
TRADE TALK: General manager Chuck LaMar said he has spoken to 22 or 23 teams in his attempt to fill holes in the roster.
"A lot of conversation," he said. "But very candidly, this is not the best time of the year to try to fill pieces of a major-league club."
Tampa Bay could use a utility infielder, an outfielder and a left-handed bat. But LaMar said, "Most of the teams are going to be holding on to what they have. We're going to do everything we can to fill those holes, but I'm not going to overpay financially or with prospects."
LaMar said he might consider bringing outfielder Joey Gathright up from the minors.
GAME DETAILS: Piniella was disappointed the Rays managed just seven hits. "You want to see these guys swing the bat a little bit," he said. "There's opportunity here for playing time. Somebody's got to seize it." ... Leftfielder Aubrey Huff had two hits, as did Chris Singleton, who played rightfield for the third straight game. ... Reliever Danys Baez had two strikeouts as he worked out of a second-and-third, no-out situation in the seventh.
MISCELLANY: The Rays do not want left-hander Scott Kazmir facing the Red Sox on Saturday because he will face them in the season's second weekend. So he will pitch in a minor-league game and right-hander Jorge Sosa will start. ... There are 33 players in camp.