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Does it get any better?

Posted Mar 2, 2008 by Marc Lancaster

Updated Mar 2, 2008 at 05:35 PM

BRADENTON—Before the action gets rolling here at McKechnie, which has undergone some nifty renovations since our last visit (including the addition of lights), a few pregame tidbits:

* Scott Kazmir has moved on to “Phase 2” of his recovery from a strained left elbow. That means the inflammation is just about gone and he’s moved on to inside exercises with trainer Ron Porterfield, such as simulating the throwing motion with a sock stuffed with a baseball. Joe Maddon said Kazmir could begin playing catch in the next two or three days.

* David Price threw an eight-minute bullpen session at Al Lang this morning and told Jim Hickey everything felt “normal.” There’s a possibility he could get in a game by the end of the week.

* Brian Anderson’s timetable continues to pick up. He worked through a bullpen session of about 45 pitches this morning and felt good. He, too, may get in a game this week—far earlier than anyone anticipated. For more of his thoughts on the subject, check out the notebook in today’s Tribune.

* Rocco Baldelli probably will see his next action Tuesday as a DH after getting a couple of days off. The plan is still to have him play the field sometime late this week. In the meantime, he has some reading to do. As Maddon was signing autographs along the left-field line before today’s game, an older gentleman gave the skipper a copy of David Halberstam’s classic book, Summer of ‘49, and asked him to pass it along to Baldelli.

Updating, 1:31 Jeff Niemann used up a good supply of bullets in the first inning. Got Jack Wilson looking, then Doug Mientkiewicz worked a good at-bat and lined a single over shortstop. Jason Bay then flew to B.J. Upton in center. Basically a routine play, but it must be a high sky today because Upton reached on a double in the first when Bay lost a ball in the sun and it dropped a foot away from him. Ryan Doumit then walked and Xavier Nady grounded to third to end it. We’re scoreless and lefty Paul Maholm is on for the Pirates for the second.

Updating, 1:37 Maybe it wasn’t the sky that gave Bay trouble in the first. Jonny Gomes singled to left with one out and the ball went five-hole on Bay, rolling to the wall for an error that allowed Gomes to cruise into second base. Go-Go Gomes then got a running lead off second and stole third without much trouble, but banged his face on something on the way in. Looks like his nose is bleeding; head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield is out there trying to stop it.

Updating, 1:38 Gomes will stay in. As if there was any doubt.

Updating, 1:43 Evan Longoria couldn’t get the runner in from third with one out. He waved at a 3-1 pitch, then watched a called third strike he thought was ball four, taking a couple of steps toward first before pivoting for the dugout. Shawn Riggans grounds to short to end the inning.

Updating, 1:45 Yep, Niemann threw too many pitches out there. Scott Munter is on to start the second inning. That’s a downgrade from 6-9 to 6-6 in height.

“We’re showing them our NBA side,” Maddon said before the game.

Updating, 1:50 Steve Pearce reaches on a one-out single up the middle that just eluded Andy Cannizaro’s glove. The ageless Chris Gomez then bloops one over Guzman’s head that Zobrist tracks down just off the dirt behind first base. He tried to get Pearce at third but the throw wasn’t in time. Munter solves that problem by sawing off Kevin Thompson, who grounds into an inning-ending 6-4-3. Still scoreless through two.

Updating, 2:00 The Rays are doing a little nickel-and-diming of their own in the third. After Guzman grounded out, Cannizaro grounded one toward the hole between first and second and beat the throw, which sailed high over the covering Maholm’s head. It was ruled a hit by the incomparable Pirates PR chief Jimmy T. Cannizaro then moved to second on a looping single down the left-field line by Zobrist, leaving Hinske to get the runners in. But he flied to Bay for the second out, with the All-Star receiving a bit of sarcastic applause as he made the catch. Upton finally got it done, though, sending a liner into the gap in right-center that rolled to the wall for a triple. It’s 2-0 Rays.

Updating, 2:03 Cliff Floyd builds on it with his second hit in as many days, a double down the right-field line that scores Upton and makes it 3-0. Quite a Rays fan contigent on hand here, it would seem. Gomes grounds to third to end the inning. Looks like Munter is back for another frame.

Updating, 2:33 While we were downstairs talking to Niemann, Guzman got hit by a pitch and is out of the game. He was scheduled to move over and take Longoria’s spot at third after opening the game at first. I’ll pass along more when I get it.

Updating, 2:54 Wow—suddenly half the Pirates’ infield consists of 2007 Devil Rays. Josh Wilson is at second for the top of the sixth and Jorge Velandia is at third. I’d forgotten until I checked out the roster that the Pirates also have Casey Fossum and Rule 5 pick Evan Meek in camp. By the way, it’s 4-1 Rays.

Updating 3:05 Most of the Rays’ starters are out as Jae Kuk Ryu begins his second inning of work in the bottom of the sixth. Zobrist and Cannizaro have swapped spots, Willy Aybar is in for Longoria at third, Justin Ruggiano is in for Upton in center, John Rodriguez is in for Gomes in right and John Jaso is in for Riggans behind the plate. Ryu just gave up his first hit, a lined single to left by Ronny Paulino, after four straight groundouts.

Updating, 3:20 Dioner Navarro just got his running in a little early. After singling, he tried to go to third on a single to right by Aybar and was thrown out handily. Nice effort, I suppose, and Aybar went to second on the throw. Rodriguez retired and Jaso walks. The official word on Guzman is a bruised left ring finger. Sounds like he’s fine—they’re not planning to X-ray it.

Updating, 3:23 A sharp Chris Richard single to right scores Aybar and Jaso also comes home when the Pirates botch a rundown of Richard between first and second. Richard is safe at second. It’s 7-1 Rays. Really nice play by Luis Rivas at short, going up the middle to grab a Cannizaro grounder and throw him out.

Updating, 3:30 1-2-3 for Calvin Medlock in the seventh and we go to the eighth.

Updating, 3:40 Rays threaten when Jon Weber lines a single off the immortal Jaret Wright and goes to second on an error, but Weber gets cut down trying to swipe third and Ruggiano grounds to Velandia to end it. I would pay to watch Velandia play defense. Dude is so smooth. Great guy, too.

Wade Davis on for the bottom of the eighth. He’ll most likely pitch the last two frames.

Updating, 3:42 Yowza. Davis just got behind 2-0 to Raul Chavez and the catcher hammered his next offering over the wall in left. It’s 7-2 Rays.

Updating, 4:30 Like Jake McGee a couple days ago, Davis just completely lost his feel for what was going on out there as he tried to close it out in the ninth. The Pirates loaded the bases and Davis walked Velandia to force in a run, prompting a call to James “Doogie” Houser—a nickname newly bestowed by Maddon—out of the bullpen. The Pirates got home a couple more but Houser got Paulino to pop to Zobrist at short to end it.

Final score: Rays 7, Pirates 5

Tampa Bay is 3-0 to start the spring for the second time, the last coming in 2000. Afterward, Maddon said several times he was very pleased with the Rays’ aggressive base-running. And that’s about it.

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