Rays beat Phillies 3-1

March 19, 2008 8:59:08 PM PDT
James Shields was picked to start Tampa Bay's season opener. The rest of the Rays' rotation remains unsettled with a little more than a week left in spring training. Shields got the official word about his opening-day assignment Wednesday, when manager Joe Maddon reiterated that there's no definite timetable for AL strikeout champion Scott Kazmir to return from an elbow strain that's sidelined the left-hander for more than three weeks.

"The unfortunate thing about it is you don't like to get it this way without Kaz," Shields said Wednesday after Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. "But now that I am, I'll be doing the best I can. And hopefully he'll be back real soon. Like I've said all along, he's our ace."

Kazmir strained his left elbow warming up for an intrasquad game on Feb. 26. He was expected to make his spring debut last Sunday, but the Rays scratched him to give him a chance to build up arm strength before pitching in a game.

There's a possibility the 24-year-old Kazmir, who was 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA in 2007, could begin the season on the disabled list.

Kazmir played catch before Wednesday's game, and Maddon said his status will be evaluated day to day.

"We're really trying to refrain from putting any kind of artificial deadline on it because that only sets everybody up for disappointment," Maddon said.

Meanwhile, there are five pitchers competing for two or three spots in the rotation, depending on how long Kazmir is out.

One of them, right-hander Edwin Jackson, allowed one run and three hits in 5 2-3 innings against the Phillies. Troy Percival, Grant Balfour and Scott Dohmann held Philadelphia hitless over the last three innings.

Phillies starter Jamie Moyer pitched five shutout innings before giving up three runs in the sixth. He walked three, struck out four and allowed six hits in 5 2-3 innings, his longest outing this spring.

Jackson's fifth start was much sharper than the previous two. He yielded an RBI single to Carlos Ruiz in the fifth, but avoided walks and dodged the big inning that ruined other outings.

Jackson is competing with Jason Hammel, Andy Sonnanstine, J.P. Howell and Jeff Niemann for the final two spots in Tampa Bay's rotation. If Kazmir goes on the DL, another opening will have to be filled.

"I'm not concerned. I'm just worried about what I can control," Jackson said of his standing. "I try to go out, be me and let everything else take care of itself."

Maddon hopes to set the rotation by this weekend.

Shields, who signed an $11.25 million, four-year contract this winter, called the opportunity to start on opening day "very gratifying."

And Maddon thinks he'll handle the assignment just fine.

"This young man is quite a competitor. He said, `I'm ready to do this.' I said, `I know you're ready to do this.' I told him I have a lot of confidence in him. He appreciated that," the manager said.

Shields was 12-8 with a 3.85 ERA in 2007, his first full season in the majors.

"The sky's the limit for this fellow. We've just got to keep him healthy," Maddon said. "If he's healthy, he's going to be a very, very successful major league pitcher for many years."


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