3/5/2014 2:41 P.M. ET
Durham MVP Belnome making an impression
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Vince Belnome was the Most Valuable Player of Triple-A Durham in his first season in the Rays' organization -- and second at the Triple-A level -- after he was acquired in a Minor League trade from San Diego the previous December.
A native of Coatesville, Pa., Belnome has already caught the attention of manager Joe Maddon.
"The ability to work an at-bat, he's got a definite idea about what he's doing up there," Maddon said. "He just knows what he's doing. The ball goes to left-center a lot. And he hits it hard over there. See, I didn't know he hit the ball as hard as he did. That's the one thing. The ball comes off his bat pretty well. I'm really focusing on the opposite gap. When a guy can do that, he's a pretty good hitter."
Belnome noted that he's just trying to take full advantage of his opportunity.
"Going out there and trying to have good at-bats," Belnome said. "I look at myself as somebody who goes up there trying to have a quality at-bat. I'm trying to hit the ball hard somewhere.
"Lately my timing's been feeling off. That's what Spring Training is kind of for, get ready for the season. I'm just trying to take stuff from the older guys who have been in the Major Leagues, and hopefully if it's not at the end of camp, sometime getting up there and helping these guys win."
Belnome, who played first base against the Yankees on Wednesday, split time between first base (63 games), third base (32), second base (13), and designated hitter (17) in 2013 with the Bulls, while hitting .300 with eight home runs and 67 RBIs.
Maddon noted that he hasn't really had an opportunity to form an impression about Belnome in the field just yet, though he plans to see him at seven different positions over the course of Spring Training.
Belnome, who will turn 26 on March 11, said a player in his position needs to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself.
"There are a bunch of guys with contracts that are going to be on the team," Belnome said. "But for me, you can't look at it like that. You just have to play hard and do what you can do."
Balfour weighs in on Opening Series in Australia
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Grant Balfour is the Rays' resident Aussie. On Wednesday, the closer spoke about the 2014 Major League season kicking off down under.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will play MLB's Opening Series in Sydney, Australia, at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground, which will be fully renovated to a baseball configuration and Major League standards. An evening game will be scheduled for March 22 to begin the regular season, followed by an afternoon game on March 23.
"I think it's cool," Balfour said. "I know it's a long way away, but it's a beautiful country and it's a great experience for a lot those guys. And I hear some comments from some guys who say it's too far to go. It's annoying to hear that, to be honest with you.
"You're getting an opportunity to do something that a lot of people don't get to do. I kind of see it as being a little ungrateful, to be honest. I've got no time for that. I flew all the way to Japan [with Oakland in 2012], and I had a great time. I thought it was just awesome. I got to experience a different culture. Australia is not a big culture shock or anything, but to get down there and see everything is pretty cool."
Odorizzi, Cobb working on 'The Thing'
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jake Odorizzi has been working on a new changeup with fellow Rays starter Alex Cobb, a pitch that has come to be known as "The Thing" for its odd action.
"It's a really, really good pitch that I would love to have," Matt Moore said of the pitch. "It's very unique for our pitchers. They're the only two throwing it.
"It's got the same movement that a normal changeup can have, but for some reason it's heavier. It's a pitch, I don't like playing catch with Cobb when he throws it, because it's either down or it's going to ride out arm side."
Rays manager Joe Maddon noted that he liked seeing a pitcher like Cobb helping another pitcher like Odorizzi to learn a new pitch.
• Rays president Matt Silverman and Balfour will be special guests on Thursday's edition of the Countdown to Opening Day radio show on WDAE 620 AM and other stations on the Rays Radio Network. The show will take place at Hooters in Port Charlotte from 7-8 p.m. ET, and hosted by Rays radio broadcasters Dave Wills, Andy Freed and Neil Solondz.
• So far, 62 of 64 players invited to camp have reported. Right-hander Juan Carlos Oviedo and infielder Wilson Betemit are still dealing with visa issues.
• Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. will attend the Rays-Pirates game at Charlotte Sports Park on March 13 to sign his newest book, "Squeeze Play," that has been described as a middle grade novel. The signing will begin shortly after the gates open at 11 a.m.
• On March 16 before the Rays host the Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park, the Rays will once again shave their heads to raise funds and awareness for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. This will be the third straight year the team has participated. For more information visit pcfcutforacure.org.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.