03/07/12 5:21 PM ET
Vogt putting himself right in mix for roster spot
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
Vogt kept himself occupied the rest of the afternoon as well, switching from designated hitter to catcher. He even caught in the bullpen between innings, joking that he hasn't yet earned the right to leave early, nor would he want to.
But perhaps most importantly, Vogt continued to move further into the mix for the Rays' backup catching job, a position battle that now appears to be a four-man race.
Robinson Chirinos and Jose Lobaton were the incumbents, Chris Gimenez worked his way into the conversation, and Rays manager Joe Maddon said Vogt is "definitely within the group" as well.
"I try to keep that in the back of my mind, that I'm always trying to fight for playing time, so to speak," Vogt said. "At the same time, I'm a competitor. It doesn't matter if I'm playing on the back fields in Minor League camp or here at Steinbrenner Field against the Yankees. I want to do well. It is in the back of my mind, and I'd love to earn a spot, but at the same time, I play the game the same way no matter where I am [each] day.
"All that was said is that I'm in the mix. That was it," he added. "I don't know if that means second catcher, fifth outfielder, 17th I-don't-know. That's fine. Just getting [to the Majors] is what matters. Whatever avenue or route that takes me is what I want."
Vogt, 27, has hit well throughout his Minor League career, enough to be named the Rays' Minor League Player of the Year in 2011 after splitting time between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. He hit a combined .298 with 17 homers, an .829 OPS and 105 RBIs in 128 games.
Vogt played more games at catcher than any other position, though he's also capable of playing first base and both corner-outfield spots, and said he's been told the Rays want to see him catch more. He added yoga to his workout routine to increase his flexibility, hoping it will translate to better defense behind the plate -- the most important attribute for whoever becomes the Rays' backup catcher.
"It all fits, but we've got to be comfortable defensively, also. We rely on pitching and defense," Maddon said. "I'm not going to subtract his offense, but we have to rely on the fact that if Vogt was going to be the guy, we'd have to feel good about his defense, too."
Shields pleased with first spring outing
TAMPA, Fla. -- James Shields couldn't have started his Spring Training slate much better.
The Rays' assumed Opening Day starter took the mound at Steinbrenner Field and pitched two perfect innings against several of the Yankees' regular starters. Shields threw 24 pitches in Tampa Bay's 4-0 win, striking out two in the first inning and allowing no baserunners. He spoke excitedly afterward about how he had stayed aggressive, how his delivery felt solid, and how he hit his spots.
"I felt good, felt really good. It was nice to work with [catcher Jose] Molina back there a little bit," Shields said. "It felt kind of weird the first couple pitches, but that's just a normal first game of Spring Training. Other than that, it felt good."
Shields said he was working on his delivery and tempo, as well as his pitch location and selection, something Molina is quickly picking up on. Shields explained that he throws four pitches to both sides of the plate -- though he only threw three Wednesday -- so the veteran catcher is essentially preparing for eight different pitches.
As for his season-long goals, Shields would obviously like to repeat the success he enjoyed in 2011, but he added that he's hoping to cut down on his walks, improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio and, most importantly, stay healthy. If he remains as durable as he has been in the past, Shields expects to throw more than 200 innings and let everything beyond that fall into place.
"Nobody has to really pressure James to do anything. He's such a great worker, such a great self-starter and motivator," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "If anything, from his perspective, it's about the process of physically being ready to do this, and then giving us those kinds of innings that makes everybody else around him better. I would not want him to think in any other way, to think I want more innings or I want less hits or I want more wins -- some of that stuff's out of your control. So, just continue to work the process to be that well-prepared guy every game, which I want all of our guys to do."
The Rays have yet to officially announce their Opening Day starter, but assuming it is indeed Shields, he'll be facing the Yankees again in less than a month.
"Anytime you want to give me the nod," he said, smiling, "I'm good."
The Rays' 4-0 win Wednesday not only snapped their 0-4 losing skid to start Spring Training, it was also their first Grapefruit League shutout since March 22, 2010, when they beat the Yankees, 5-0, in Port Charlotte, Fla. Their last road shutout in Grapefruit League play was March 25, 2008, when they beat Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays, 10-0, in Dunedin, Fla.
Rays manager Joe Maddon joked after the game that he would supply the Gatorade for the celebratory postgame shower, and he was pleased overall with his club's performance.
"We played well. We got a couple hits, and we needed it. The pitching was fantastic. That's what we're looking for," Maddon said. "That's what we've got to do. We've got to pitch it well, we've got to catch it well, and then get the hit at the right moment."
Maddon was able to laugh after the game about a misplayed relay in the eighth inning. Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee took a throw from left fielder Brandon Guyer, turned and whipped the ball almost directly into nearby second baseman Tim Beckham. Lee and Beckham are top shortstop prospects in the Rays' farm system, leading Maddon to joke that Lee's throw was his attempt to seek a competitive advantage.
"Apparently Beck added something to our cutoff-and-relay vocabulary that had not been written before, and he did not say it in South Korean dialect, so Hak-Ju just did what he was instructed to do," Maddon said, smiling. "You've got to tell him, 'Hak-Ju, you're doing fine on your own. You don't have to take anyone out like that.'"
Guyer had a minor scare in the seventh inning when he slid into second base and took a knee to the back of his head from Yankees infielder Bill Hall. Guyer stayed in the game, and Maddon reported that the outfielder was fine, just a bit "dinged up."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.