BRADENTON — The race for the fifth spot in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation became less crowded Monday when Mitch Talbot and Carlos Hernandez were optioned to the minor league camp.
That leaves David Price, Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. The race is really between Niemann and Hammel, and Hammel could be the winner based on how the innings are going to be doled out over the next few games.
Hammel is scheduled to start, while Niemann’s innings will come in the bullpen.
Hernandez needs work
Carlos Hernandez, signed last July, is still working his way back from the arm injuries that ended his days with the Astros.
He pitched in four games this spring with three starts and had a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings. More importantly, the left-hander proved to the Rays that is capable of returning to the big leagues.
“Sincerely, I believe this man is on a mission, I do,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I believe he’s on a mission to get back to the Major Leagues as a Major League pitcher, starter. I believe he can do it. And I believe he can pitch at a high end for many years to come, with health, of course. I told him pretty much those thoughts. I find this fellow exciting. And I find his intensity exciting. And find his drive to be all this sincere, and that’s why I believe he’ll do it.”
Hernandez, who pitched in 35 games with the Astros, making 33 starts, pitched without pain this spring. and feels on pace to return someday.
“I’m healthy. That’s the main thing. I’m healthy,” Hernandez said. “And that’s all that matters to me right now. I wanted to prove to them I can pitch in the big leagues during spring training games. I did that, I think. Regular season, I have to prove that again. But the main thing for me is to prove I’m healthy for a long time. I’ve got that (history of injuries) with me. That’s something I’m going to be carrying my whole career.”
Beckham optioned to minors
In most years, the No. 1 pick in the previous draft would cause quite a stir in Rays camp.
But aside from being teased by the vets and running a triple into a double Sunday when he tripped over second base, Beckham went largely unnoticed this spring.
He was optioned to the minor leagues Monday so he can get regular playing time.
“I learned so much,” Beckham said. “Mentally on defense and physically on defense; the small stuff from holding runners on and just focusing more on the more easy plays.”
The Rays also optioned pitchers Wade Davis, Dale Thayer and Randy Choate to Triple A Durham.
Pitchers Jake McGee, Jason Childers, Dewon Day, Julio DePaula and Winston Abrue and infielder Chris Nowak and catcher Matt Spring were optioned to the minor league camp.
Sonny feels good
Andy Sonnanstine allowed a run in his three innings in the Rays 6-4 victory against the Pirates on Monday at McKechnie Field. He allowed three hits and struck out two and didn’t walk a batter,
“It’s good getting back in and out of the dugout, that sort of thing,” Sonnanstine said of pitching three innings.
Sonnanstine worked on his change-up, a pitch he’s adding to his game this spring.
“I’m really committed to that pitch,” he said.
Price OK vs. Pirates
David Price made his second appearance of the spring Monday. He was scheduled to pitch three innings against the Pirates but was pulled after 2 1/3 because he was at 58 pitches.
Price allowed three hits and a run, walked two and struck out three.
He even went down to the bullpen to loosen his arm during the top of the fourth, which dragged on because the Rays drew six walks and scored four times.
“I thought he still had good stuff,” Maddon said. “I liked the change-up a lot.”
A long fourth
The Rays scored four times in the fourth inning, needing just one hit to do so.
They drew six walks, including Pat Burrell’s that came with the bases-loaded.
“We had a chance to break the game open, but I like the idea we’re accepting our walks,” Maddon said.
Given a green light on 3-0, Burrell drove a ball on top of the Boys & Girls Club building behind the left field fence, but it was foul.
Maddon also liked the fact the Rays won while being out-hit 13-5.
“That’s something we can do on a nightly basis,” he said. “You don’t have pound the ball.”
Jon Weber hit his second home run of the spring, a two-run blast over the palm trees behind the right field fence at McKechnie Field. He now has a team-leading 12 RBIs. ... Brian Shouse continues to give up hits. He allowed two more in one inning against the Pirates, and has allowed 10 in six innings this spring. The Pirates, though, were the first team to score a run off the left-hander.