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Rays name Hernandez as starter for Grapefruit League opener

Posted Feb 21, 2009 by Ira Kaufman

Updated Feb 21, 2009 at 03:16 PM

Carlos Hernandez will take the mound Wednesday for Tampa Bay’s spring training opener.

Manager Joe Maddon said he is intrigued by the 28-year-old southpaw, who was signed to a minor-league contract last summer but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2004 due to a succession of shoulder injuries.

“He’s a very competitive young man and I think there’s a lot left there,’’ Maddon said regarding Hernandez, who posted a 1.04 ERA in six starts with Vero Beach last year. “There’s something about him I like.’‘

Maddon also said the Rays are likely to field their usual starting lineup in Port Charlotte for Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Reds, but he plans on yanking his regulars early.

Rays batters faced live pitching Saturday for the first time this spring and Tampa Bay hitters predictably struggled to make contact against an array of young arms.

“Today, I saw my first slider of the year,’’ said first baseman Carlos Pena, who was proud of hitting a few fly balls to center off 26-year-old prospect Julio DePaula. “At this time of year, the ball looks like it’s coming at you 110 miles an hour. You have to settle in and go back to the basics. Everything is on their (pitcher) side right now—they have a feast with us.’‘

While Tampa Bay hitters struggled in the batting cage, new outfielder Matt Joyce is overjoyed with his timing—feeling blessed to be part of a talented club anxious to repeat as AL champions.

“It’s been amazing,’’ said the Tampa native, acquired from the Tigers in a December trade. “I can really see why this team went to the World Series. You get such a good vibe from everybody around here. I think Joe Maddon sets the tone and it trickles on down. This team has a chance to be good for a long time.’‘

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