Notes: Cantu in great physical shape
Devil Rays infielder worked on his conditioning in offseason
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jorge Cantu sat at his locker in Cleveland prior to the last game of the 2006 season and vowed he would be in the best shape of his life when he returned to St. Petersburg for Spring Training.
"I put my mind toward getting better for this season," Cantu said. "I wasn't happy with last season. So I had to go a long way this winter."
Injuries hampered Cantu last season, so he figured the better condition he achieved, the better his chances of warding off another year on the disabled list. To that end, Cantu worked hard with Devil Rays trainers during the offseason, spending two and three weeks at a time away from his home in McAllen, Texas.
"It's just been all agility stuff," Cantu said. "All reaction. All range. And power. I've got power already, just [trying to] make it better."
Of course the time spent at home meant long discussions with his father, Jorge Sr.
"He tells me his ideas and everything," Cantu said. "He's like my coach when I'm home."
One particular thought from his father stood out.
"He told me something really wise," Cantu said. "Human beings, we're dumb sometimes, and animals are not. Animals can go down a road and if they see a hole, they go around it. Human beings go and get in that hole. So what he's trying to tell me, if I want to make the same mistakes, I'm going to go into that hole again, but if I'm smart, I'm going to go around that."
Cantu wants to return to the form he showed in 2005 when he hit .286 with 28 home runs and 117 RBIs.
"But be just a little better," Cantu said. "I hit 28 home runs, so I want to hit at least 29, and like that. Just continue to be successful."
Cantu has a good feeling about the team.
"It's awesome," he said. "Great atmosphere. Good chemistry. Last year, I had a good feeling about the season, but this year the feeling is unbelievable. It seems like everything is coming together the right way."
Shields' good and bad places: James Shields is being counted upon to be one of the Rays' top four starters, a slot manager Joe Maddon said the right-hander earned for his performance in 2006 when he posted a 6-8 record with a 4.84 ERA in 21 starts.
"I learned a lot last year," Shields said. "I went through some periods where I was doing well, and periods where I was going bad. I think I'm going to use all my pitches a little bit more this year. I'm not going to rely on my changeup as much. It's always going to be there, and I've got to know that. So I'm just going to go out there and try to do what I did the last month of the season last year."
Asked about his "good place" and "bad place" when it comes to 2006 memories, Shields smiled.
"Good place, just being up here and being aggressive with the hitters," Shields said. "Not being scared of anybody. ... Bad place? Johnny Damon."
Damon hit two home runs off Shields in a 4-2 Rays loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 30.
"I pitched real well up there, but he got me twice," Shields said. "Otherwise, I was happy with my outings."
This and that: Jonny Gomes showed up Tuesday weighing in at 238 pounds and looking lean after season-ending shoulder surgery in 2006. He said he's been throwing and hitting live pitching, "So there's no holding back." He also said he has been using a first basemen's mitt Rocco Baldelli gave him. "I don't even have an outfielder's glove right now. So that's the only thing that feels good on my hand right now. ... [The Devil Rays] asked me around the Winter Meetings what I would think about [trying first base] and I said, 'Believe me, I'm just trying to play baseball, wherever it is.'" According to Maddon they will look at Gomes as an outfielder first.
The Rays will have intra-squad games at the Raymond A. Naimoli Complex on Feb. 27 at 10:30 a.m. ET and Feb. 28 at 9:30 a.m.
Rays pitchers worked with Dick Bosman on identifying runners who may be going and on attempted pickoffs. Maddon said Shields is one of the best right-handers he's seen when it comes to pickoffs and holding runners on.
When asked about what role Al Reyes might play in this year's bullpen, Maddon said the veteran right-hander could be a late-inning guy if indeed he's healthy.
The following were signed to one-year deals on Tuesday: RHP Tim Corcoran, OF Elijah Dukes, RHP Edwin Jackson, C Dioner Navarro, LHP Jeff Ridgway, LHP Chris Seddon, RHP Brian Stokes, LHP Jon Switzer and RHP Mitch Talbot ... 24 of the 40 rostered players are now under contract.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.