3/11/2014 1:08 P.M. ET
Maddon praises Escobar's infectious energy
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Yunel Escobar's first season as the Rays' shortstop proved to be a big hit, as the native of Cuba played above-average defense while hitting .256 with nine home runs and 56 RBIs.
Joe Maddon is the shortstop's biggest fan. Tuesday morning, the Rays manager waxed eloquently about the accuracy of Escobar's throws -- "I don't think I've ever seen throwing accuracy like that" -- and the hard contact he made with the bat last season, only to see many of those drives caught.
But Maddon got most excited while talking about the energy Escobar brings to the team.
"Daily energy," Maddon said. "He's like a socket -- you plug into it. The rest of the players can plug into him and he provides energy. And that's what he does. "He's got an incredible gift to love to play this game. He's got a joy about playing this game, and it's infectious. That's what really [stands] out. ... This guy is instant energy. They ought to do an energy bar, the Esco-Bar."
Zobrist rests stiff neck; DeJesus back in lineup
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Ben Zobrist has not played since Wednesday due to a stiff neck.
But according to the Rays second baseman, the malady is nothing to worry about, even though he was not in the lineup Tuesday against the Twins.
"I could probably play today," Zobrist said. "But they said tomorrow they're going to have me DH so I can get four at-bats."
Tomorrow means Zobrist will board the bus and travel to Dunedin on Wednesday, where the Rays meet the Blue Jays in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest.
"I haven't gone on the road yet in Spring Training," Zobrist said. "I need to go on a couple of road trips, at least."
Zobrist said the stiffness on the left side of his neck began while in the batting cage prior to Saturday's game against the Pirates, when he had been scheduled to play before becoming a late scratch.
"That's when I felt a little something stiff there as I was turning," Zobrist said. "I just came inside and tried to roll it out that day and it didn't cooperate. Just been a couple of days -- a crick in my neck."
According to Zobrist, having stiffness in his neck is a significant impediment when he's hitting.
"I turn my back a lot when I hit, so I kind of need that range of motion to be able to hit normal," Zobrist said.
While Zobrist was not in the lineup Tuesday, he did partake in baseball activities.
The other injuries in camp have been of a minor nature as well.
David DeJesus (side soreness) was back in Tuesday's lineup after missing action and Joel Peralta (stiff neck) was ready for action after an early exit Saturday for precautionary reasons.
Hellickson ready to start playing catch
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jeremy Hellickson's absence has created a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation this spring.
The Rays right-hander had surgery in January to remove loose bodies from his right elbow. He is expected to be back in May.
Hellickson has been in camp all spring rehabilitating. Thursday will be a significant day for him, as he'll actually throw a baseball for the first time since his surgery.
Hellickson said he will play catch with Ron Porterfield, the Rays' head athletic trainer, for approximately five minutes from distances ranging from 45-60 feet.
"I feel good," said Hellickson, who noted that he expected all to go well.
Oviedo still in Dominican Republic with visa issues
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Juan Carlos Oviedo still has not reported to camp due to visa problems. Despite the delayed arrival by the veteran right-hander, Rays manager Joe Maddon does not see a problem, since Oviedo continues to work out in the Dominican Republic.
"As long as he's throwing down there, and I'm sure he's throwing against hitters," Maddon said.
"I'm not there yet regarding being concerned, but I was really anticipating that he would be here by now. It's just awkward that some guys get out and he can't get out. Who knows why. ... I'm at the intersection of 'I'm OK with this' and 'let's get this thing going.'"
When asked about a contingency plan in the event Oviedo is delayed much longer, Maddon would not get into any possible scenarios.
"I'm still counting on Oviedo being here and being ready," Maddon said.
Rays donate game proceeds to community partners
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Proceeds from the sale of Tuesday's single-game tickets are being donated to four Rays community partners in Charlotte County: Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast, Charlotte County Family YMCA, Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity and Charlotte County Homeless Coalition.
Representatives from each of the community partners were at Tuesday's game and took part in delivering the ceremonial first pitch.
Meanwhile, attendance at Charlotte Sports Park is up 15 percent over last season at this time. The Rays are averaging 5,398 fans at home games so far, compared to 4,697 last year after five games.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.