3/15/2014 1:26 P.M. ET
Rays pitchers already getting hitting refresher
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Since Tampa Bay plays its first Interleague road game at Cincinnati on April 11, Rays pitchers have already been armed with bats to prepare for the games without a designated hitter.
"They've been in the cage," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "[Pitching] Coach [Jim] Hickey's had them in the cage already having some tee work, soft toss, just to get the rotational stuff in. And then we'll start with the bunting also."
Previously, Interleague games were played only during designated periods during the season. Now the games are played throughout the season. Maddon noted that he's "never been thoroughly enamored with Interleague Play."
"This is one of those things that's an awkward part of the game," Maddon said. "You'd think that the National League would be at an advantage in these games. I know the record overall the last couple of years does not indicate that. But it's really uncomfortable for us to have your pitches have to do those things. I try to keep it fun with them.
"You see our guys swinging away a lot when other guys are bunting. And the baserunning side is probably the scariest part of it."
Oviedo arrives, ready to get to work for Rays
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Joe Maddon said it best on Saturday, when the Rays' manager declared: "Oviedo's in the building."
Yes, Juan Carlos Oviedo finally reported to camp on Saturday after resolving his lingering visa issues in the Dominican Republic.
"I'm happy to be here," said Oviedo with Joel Peralta translating. "I was anxious to get here. I did not know what was going on. All I could do was wait for things to happen.
"... It was pretty tough sitting at home and not knowing when I was going to have the chance to come. The only thing I could do was work hard, practice hard every day so when I get here, I'm ready to go."
Right-hander Oviedo signed with the Rays prior to the 2013 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he did not pitch for the Rays last year. The Rays re-signed Oviedo on Jan. 24 to a $1.5 million deal that can escalate to $2.9 million with incentives.
"When we signed Juan Carlos last winter, we felt that when he returned to health he could play a key role in our bullpen in 2014," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman after re-signing Oviedo. "Observing his work ethic throughout the rehab process, and getting to know him as a person, has strengthened that feeling, and we're excited to have the chance to see this through."
If healthy, Oviedo will give the Rays another late-inning option out of the bullpen.
Oviedo threw a bullpen on Saturday and is tentatively scheduled to throw to hitters in a simulated game or during batting practice on Monday. Maddon emphasized that the training staff wanted to get a read on Oviedo's health status before pushing him too hard.
Oviedo, 31, is the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez. He last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2011, when he saved 36 games for the Marlins. In three years with the Marlins, he saved 92 games.
Oviedo was asked how close he felt to being as healthy as he was two years ago.
"As good as I feel, time will tell," Oviedo said. "My arm feels great. I'm ready to go. I think I need more pitching than anything."
Rays players report back on new Batter's Eye
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Several Rays took time on Friday to go to Tropicana Field to check out the hitting background provided by the new Batter's Eye in center field.
David DeJesus, Ben Zobrist, James Loney, Ryan Hanigan, and Evan Longoria were accompanied to Tropicana Field by Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton for the testing.
"It's nice -- it's going to be fine," Longoria said. "It's a little bit different than what we're used to. But I love the concept. I think it's going to make the stadium much more accessible to the fans. The actual hitting area, I think, is going to be perfect."
Maddon added: "Apparently everything went well. I'm curious to see it, but there were no complaints."
Price's 2008 ALCS still impresses Maddon
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- On Friday, Joe Maddon had cause to watch Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series during the bus ride back to Port Charlotte after the Rays played the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
"I'd forgotten most of that game," said Maddon of the game won by the Rays that featured David Price closing out the game from the bullpen. "I knew David finished it. I'm watching the game and it was so impressive to see a young player like David Price and how well he handled the moment.
"My takeaway was there was pretty much no difference between that moment and the way he is right now. That's pretty impressive to be able to walk in the door in those circumstances and do what he did."
Price earned a save that night after getting the final four outs of the game -- three by strikeouts -- paving the way for the Rays' only trip to the World Series.
"And here he is a couple of years later with a Cy Young Award in his back pocket, and he's still the same cat," Maddon said. "So I guess what I'm saying is, you realize how special he was by pushing back the clock a couple of years and seeing what he did to put us on the map."
For Rays prospect Kiermaier, offense is key
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Kevin Kiermaier became one of Thursday's cuts when the Rays optioned him to Minor League camp.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked what he'd observed about the 23-year-old outfielder during camp.
"I think it's an offensive thing with him," Maddon said. "He's ready right now, defensively. There's really not a whole lot else I can say about his defense.
"The other thing is baserunning. Baserunning decisions, the ability to steal bases with his speed. Those are the kinds of things that are necessary for him. But primarily, I would say a consistent approach to the plate is what's going to get him to the big leagues sooner and stay there."
Kiermaier is remembered for being included on the Rays' playoff roster for last season's American League Wild Card Game against the Indians.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.