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No surprise here, Maddon likes the 2011 Rays

Posted Apr 1, 2011 by Roger Mooney

Updated Apr 1, 2011 at 10:23 AM

The Rays begin defending their 2010 American League East tonight when they open the season against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

It will be a tall order, given the improvements made throughout the division. Losing more than several key pieces from the 2010 squad won’t make it any easier.

But, if the Rays have one thing going for them it’s optimism.

Led by manager Joe Maddon, the eternal optimist, the Rays will watch tonight as the 2010 championship banner is raised above the D ring catwalk on left field fully intent watching another banner go up during the 2012 home opener.

“We’re not conceding anything,” said James Shields, who makes his first start of the year Saturday night.

There are eight new faces on the Opening Day roster, nine if you include utility player Elliot Johnson, who spent the first month of the 2008 season with the Rays before heading back to Triple A.

Designated hitter Manny Ramirez is here to give some pop to the lineup, while left fielder Johnny Damon was signed to add a veteran presence to what is still a young team.

The bullpen has been rebuilt.

The infield looks different with Dan Johnson at first base in place of Carlos Peña and Reid Brignac at shortstop in place of Jason Bartlett.

Pitcher Matt Garza, who last year tossed the first no-hitter in Rays history, was traded in the offseason. But his departure created room in the rotation for Jeremy Hellickson.

Here is Maddon’s take on the 2011 Rays:

“I like it,” he said. “I can understand why folks are concerned and saying the different things that they are, but on the field I like the replacements a lot. The biggest concern there is defense and can we cover them defensively. I think we can cover them offensively. I don’t know how much we can cover them defensively.”

On the poor offensive years last season by B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Shoppach:

“I do expect better years out of guys who were down a little last year,” he said. “I really believe we can have the same level of offense, possibly more.”

On the bullpen, which is following the 2010 that was the best in the American League:

“The biggest difference will be in the bullpen, where you have that many different people to replace from such a wonderful group,” he said. “I take solace in the fact that last year at this time we were talking about that group. We weren’t sure. What’s it going to be like? We knew This guy Rafael (Soriano) was going to be a good closer, but he really had only one year of doing that. Last year’s ‘pen was up in the air just like this year.”


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