03/01/12 3:30 PM EST
Rays in favor of new playoff format
By BIll Chastain / MLB.com
Inside the Rays' clubhouse, the response to such a possibility was favorable.
"I think it's exciting," third baseman Evan Longoria said. "I think it's exciting for all of us. I think the goal was to allow more teams to have a chance in the end -- hold on to those playoff hopes longer.
"... We didn't take a vote in here, but I think it was pretty unanimous around the league. ... The more playoff spots the better. Once you get into the playoffs it's revenue for the ballclub and it's more excitement for the players. So I think it would be a no-brainer for everybody."
Reliever J.P. Howell said, "I love it."
"In our situation -- with our division -- it's the best thing ever," Howell said. "I don't see how it can work against anyone. ... I'm sure in the past there were some teams who were right there, but didn't advance. To me, there's never enough teams in the playoffs. There's so many in basketball. Football is like us. Just any way to get in is amazing."
Right-hander James Shields added: "Bottom line is it's going to be really important to win the division, which I like because now you don't get anybody [coasting], because there are no guarantees. ... I think that's the way the game is supposed to be played -- win the division. I don't think being satisfied with the Wild Card is enough. Every year we want to win our division, that's our goal."
Outfielder Ben Zobrist was asked what he thought would have happened last season had the new playoff format been in place.
"We'll never know, you know," Zobrist said. "It would have been us and the Red Sox, obviously.
"... Last year, what would have happened? We're as good as anybody in a one-game playoff. I guess it's all conjecture. I just like our chances any time in a one-game playoff. Regardless of who pitched the day before for us, we're still really strong. It's not like we have three [starting pitchers] and our Nos. 4 and 5 are iffy. We have five strong starters."
Zobrist did add one scenario about the new format that might get under his skin.
"I think it would be hard to take if you worked really hard to win the division then fell short and then the next Wild Card team was five or six games behind you," Zobrist said. "I think that would be difficult to accept."
Longoria OK after being hit on right hand
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The early scare of this year's camp came when Matt Bush hit third baseman Evan Longoria on his right hand during Thursday's intrasquad game. Longoria left the game, but didn't appear to be in pain.
Longoria went for an X-ray, which was negative.
"It's just a bruise," Longoria said. "It's sore, but getting hit by a pitch is part of the game. The X-rays were negative, and that's good. Now it's day to day and we will see how it feels tomorrow. At this point, we just need to get the swelling out of there."
Joe Maddon told reporters that Longoria only suffered a bruise after the ball hit the fatty part of his hand. The Rays manager doesn't expect the team's All-Star third baseman to miss any time.
Johnson stands out during intrasquad game
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays played a four-inning intrasquad game on Thursday, which was highlighted by the following:
While playing third base, Elliot Johnson stood out on defense by twice charging slow rollers, fielding the ball barehanded and throwing out the runner.
Offensively, new infielder Jeff Keppinger tripled to left field and Reid Brignac homered to right.
Rays manager Joe Maddon applauded his team's execution and the pitching performances of Josh Lueke and Cesar Ramos.
"I'm impressed and I appreciate the energy of our group," Maddon said.
Price, Upton proud of U.S. soccer team
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Plenty of Rays players follow the U.S. men's soccer team, with B.J. Upton and David Price leading the way, so both were excited to learn that the U.S. team had beaten Italy for the first time on Wednesday.
"They won? I was watching it, sweet," said Price, noting he had to go to bed before seeing the end of the game. "That's a big game for them. They've never won over there. That's a huge win to be able to get that monkey off their back. That's cool. Next time they can go over there they'll feel more comfortable."
Price believes that the harmony of the team is a large component toward its improvement.
"They're building team chemistry and just making the team better," Price said.
Upton also had to turn in early before he could see the end of the game.
"Beating Italy is a good sign with the Olympics coming up and the World Cup coming back around," Upton said.
Upton said soccer is "all I watch in the offseason," so, like Price, he knows what's going on with the team.
"They're definitely better," Upton said. "They have some new faces on the team. I think what's helping is a lot of the guys are starting to go overseas and play. And they're bringing it back to the U.S. and playing that way."
Matt Moore (sore abdominal muscle) threw from 100 feet on Thursday and all went well. The rookie southpaw feels like he will be ready for the start of the season. "We have four weeks of camp left, we have plenty of time," Moore said.
Outfielder Sam Fuld ended the 2011 season with a sore right wrist. Hoping to keep from irritating the injury, he is proceeding with caution this spring and noted that he probably will not play in the first three or four exhibition games.
Reliever Joel Peralta is a master at having fun and teasing. His newest friend is fellow Dominican Republic native Fernando Rodney, who is physically imposing at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds. Said Peralta: "Rodney is not his name, Kimbo Slice is." Peralta was referring to the popular mixed martial artist.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.