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03/05/12 7:21 PM EST

Maddon plans on using Keppinger at first

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- In seven Major League seasons, Jeff Keppinger has played in eight games at first base -- in five of those games he started. Nevertheless, Joe Maddon wants to utilize Keppinger's flexibility this season, so he plans to use the veteran utility man at first base this spring.

"That's the one position he's going to need a lot of work," Maddon said. "A lot of folks think it's easy to just stand there and play first base. You can, but we play at a high level, so I want him to get some experience there.

"I'm talking about cutoffs and relays. Even pickoff throws. Getting off the bag after you held the runner on, to fill up a hole. All the different positioning, it's just different. You have to think differently. We need to get him out there so that he can get a feel for it."

Keppinger downplayed the difficulty of playing the position.

"I've played all over the infield, so wherever they want to put me I'm up for playing," Keppinger said. "... It's basically the same, except you don't throw the ball. You just have to make sure you cover first when the ball's hit to someone else. It's about the only thing you have to keep in your mind."

Keppinger even downplayed the difficulty of understanding the relays.

"I think once you're told once -- if you're a middle infielder, at one of the corner positions you pretty much got it," Keppinger said. "It's not that big."

Keppinger started at first for the Rays on Monday and played five innings in the field without incident.

Rays show support for USF basketball team

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Joe Maddon likes to support the other local sports teams in the Tampa Bay area. On Monday the University of South Florida men's basketball team got their kudos.

The Bulls are hoping to earn their first bid to the NCAA Championship Tournament since 1992 and the Rays showed their support during their morning workout by donning T-shirts that embraced the Bulls' chances. The shirts had a USF logo with "Madness" underneath in green script.

"Based on the fact that the bulls are in the running right now and the fabulous job Coach [Stan] Heath is doing up there and the 12 conference victories [in the Big East Conference] this year, we thought it was time to throw our support their way," said Maddon, who also wore a USF hat.

"... I guess they're going to play in [Madison Square Garden at the Big East Tournament] in a couple of days, either vs. Villanova or Rutgers. So we wanted to show our support. So we got the hat out today, which I really do like, and the shirts, of course, which we're wearing today as a sign of support for the Bulls."

David Price, who attended Vanderbilt, opted to wear a gold Vandy hat to compliment the USF T-shirt.

"I'm no sellout," Price teased.

Maddon noticed Price's headwear.

"At least he wore the T-shirt," said Maddon, who attended Lafayette. "That's all I can say to that. It also speaks to the freedom that we give our players around this place. It is what it is. I understand it. I didn't wear my Lafayette hat, though we may have a shot at the Dance yet. I think Bucknell is dominating the Patriot League again. But this is about the Bulls today, it's not about Vanderbilt, it's not about Lafayette, it's about the Bulls."

Longoria's hand continues to improve

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Evan Longoria is still on the mend after getting hit on the right hand by Matt Bush on Thursday. Nevertheless, he doesn't seem too concerned about the setback.

"[The hand] feels good," Longoria said. "No real changes. I'll just continue with the treatment and stay positive. ... The important thing is not to push it too hard right now. You don't want any setbacks."

Longoria still has swelling in the hand, but noted, "It's still moving in the right direction."

"You can't really judge how fast or slow the swelling will get out of there," Longoria said. "It's only the first time I've really experienced anything like this, other than when I had it broken in 2008. If you have a broken bone it's different."

Longoria insisted that the recovery of his hand is not a big deal.

"We're in the third day of Spring Training," Longoria said. "... If we're in the regular season, I'm in there today. But we just keep progressing and keep moving forward. ... We have plenty [of games] left."

When asked if he took some swings Monday, Longoria said, "Took a couple. But shut it down. A day or so more [until he's ready to play]."

Extra bases

• With avid hog hunters around the clubhouse such as Luke Scott and bench coach Davey Martinez, Joe Maddon noted: "If a wild boar shows up in our clubhouse, we're in pretty good shape."

• Elliot Johnson has long done an imitation of ESPN's Tim Kurkjian. Monday the ESPN Bus Tour rolled into the Rays' camp, affording Johnson the opportunity to perform his Kurkjian imitation in front of Kurkjian. ESPN captured Johnson on film and aired it on their coverage.

• Scott, Carlos Pena and Sam Fuld all faced live pitching for the first time Monday while Kyle Farnsworth and Brandon Gomes threw to live hitters for the first time.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.