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Toiling ends as the games begin
Devil Rays ready to move on.
By BY MARC TOPKIN
Published March 2, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - After a week of listening and learning, the Devil Rays are ready to start playing games.
"We are ready to move to Phase 2," manager Joe Maddon said. "I really thought our work was very good and very focused. A big part is because the players came to camp ready. We didn't have to spend a whole lot of time worrying about physical conditioning this year. They were ready, they knew what to expect, they responded well. The program concepts are getting out there, just like they had last year. The fact that they're doing it for the second time makes it a lot easier to get the point across, and it's really obvious."
The 30-game exhibition season starts today, with a soldout 1:05 p.m. home game against the Yankees, and the Rays are ready to see some fresh faces.
"It's time to see some other colors," RHP Jason Hammel said. "Some blues and reds. Something other than green."
Today, barring forecasted rain, the Rays will use what - for now - appears to be their frontline lineup: Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young in the outfield; Akinori Iwamura, Ben Zobrist, Jorge Cantu and Ty Wigginton in the infield; Dioner Navarro catching and Greg Norton at DH. The plan is for each to get two at-bats, then spend Saturday working out while another group, including Jonny Gomes and B.J. Upton, play in Dunedin.
"We're all ready to start playing the games," Baldelli said. "Norton's been saying how it's tiring beating up on our own pitchers."
SIGNED UP: LHP Scott Kazmir, Cantu and six others signed one-year deals, putting all 40 rostered players under contract. Kazmir just under $425,000 and Cantu (around $410,000) considered passing on the offers and being renewed; next year they will be eligible for arbitration. "I'm not too worried," Cantu said. "I know what's coming." Also signing: Upton and RHPs Shawn Camp, Hammel, Jae Kuk Ryu, Juan Salas and James Shields.
AKI READY: Iwamura said he was looking forward to today's game as the next step in his adjustment to the majors. That, he said, is more important than being on the field with countrymen such as Hideki Matsui and Kei Igawa. "I'm not excited or interested in facing them," the third baseman said through translator Masa Koyanagi. "What I'm excited about is playing in the major leagues and facing those players."
BIG SWINGERS: Wednesday's charity golf tournament raised $74,620 for the Rays and St. Anthony's foundations, and provided more than a few laughs among the players. Hammel's team won, and RHP Chad Orvella was one of the most impressive players, with drives carrying 340 yards. "He was the talk of the town," Camp said. As for the worst? "Probably me," Crawford said. Others nominated Norton, who lost nine balls without hitting any in the water. "They're all over Snell Isle," he said.
MISCELLANY: Rich Hollenberg, a Home Shopping Network host, will handle public address duties for spring training. The regular-season announcer will be hired soon. ... OF Jason Grabowski (sore knee) will be limited to DH duties for a few days. ... The minor-league staff began three days of meetings and clinics Thursday; pitchers and catcher report Sunday, position players Thursday.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.