3/23/2014 7:54 P.M. ET
Lueke, Lowe, Gomes vying for two bullpen spots
By Paul Casella / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With Cesar Ramos transitioning to a long-relief role after losing out on the fifth-starter job Saturday, the Rays now seemingly have three relievers competing for two potential Opening Day bullpen spots.
It appears that Josh Lueke, Mark Lowe and Brandon Gomes are competing for the two openings, though one of the roles is expected to be just a short-term fill-in until Juan Carlos Oviedo is ready to join the relief corps.
One day after settling on his fifth and final starter for the rotation, Rays skipper Joe Maddon wasn't quite ready to do the same with his bullpen.
"We'll take that one down a little bit further," Maddon said. "There's no huge rush on that right now."
Lueke has a 3.24 ERA over six appearances this spring, though he's turned in scoreless outings in five of those games. The righty turned in a dominant 0.63 ERA, to go along with 17 saves, over 40 appearances with Triple-A Durham last year, but he struggled to a 5.06 ERA over 19 outings with the Rays.
Lowe, meanwhile, has had a solid spring -- tallying a 0.87 ERA over 10 1/3 innings in seven appearances -- after signing with the Rays this offseason. Gomes, too, has made a strong case for a bullpen role, having not allowed a single run this spring, while yielding just two hits and striking out 12 over nine innings.
"There are a lot of wonderful candidates there right now," Maddon said. "So we'll just have to wait and see."
Oviedo makes spring debut, still doubtful for opener
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo made his spring debut Sunday against the Red Sox, allowing one run on three hits and a walk over one inning. Rays manager Joe Maddon said before the game he still does not expect the right-hander to be ready by Opening Day.
It was the first appearance in a Rays uniform for Oviedo, who signed with Tampa Bay while recovering from Tommy John surgery prior to last season. After missing the entire 2013 season due to his Sept. 6, 2012, surgery, he got a late start with the team this year after visa issues in the Dominican Republic delayed his arrival to Rays camp.
"It's not like because he is [pitching], we're changing our minds," Maddon said, regarding Oviedo's availability to start the season. "Again, there's the threat of hurting him right now, if we try to do too much, too soon. Combined with the fact that he's not pitched a whole lot over the last year or so, we've just got to get him out there."
Maddon had previously expressed the idea that Oviedo would pitch exclusively in Minor League games once he was ready this spring, so the Rays could then backdate his disabled list stint, assuming he indeed is not ready by Opening Day. Instead, the Rays skipper decided he wanted to see Oviedo -- formerly known as Leo Nunez -- work against big league hitters.
"Of course you'd like to see that," said Maddon, who watched Oviedo throw a simulated game Thursday. "And I'd like to just see his stuff -- what the numbers look like, how hard he's throwing, the break on his split. Standing behind the cage the other day is one thing, but to actually see it in a game is something else. And sometimes it looks even better."
Joyce homers in return from neck stiffness
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Outfielder Matt Joyce returned to the Rays' lineup with a bang Sunday, after missing the previous three games with a stiff neck.
Joyce, who hadn't played since departing Wednesday's game early, went 2-for-4 and connected for a three-run homer down the right-field line in the fourth inning. The blast marked his second of the spring and first since March 5.
The outfielder is now hitting .250 (10-for-40) with seven RBIs in 15 Grapefruit League games this spring after posting a .235/.328/.419 slash line and hitting 18 home runs in 140 games last season.
• Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, the Rays' No. 2 prospect, will undergo an MRI on his left knee after tweaking it Saturday in a Minor League game. Manager Joe Maddon said the MRI is precautionary and the club does not believe the injury is anything serious, though it is to the same knee that cost Lee the entire 2013 season after he needed surgery to repair torn ligaments.