Rays closer Rodney reflects on experience in Classic

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Fernando Rodney is scheduled to pitch an inning on Wednesday, and another on Saturday, and that will be it for the Rays closer before the team opens the season April 2 in a late-afternoon contest against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

Rodney missed much of Spring Training while becoming a national hero in the Dominican Republic. The veteran right-hander helped lead his native country to its first World Baseball Classic championship.

Rodney recorded the final out in all eight of the D.R.'s games -- all wins, which were played over the course of 13 days.

His eight appearances and seven saves set Classic records. All told, he allowed no runs on one hit, three walks and he struck out eight in 7 1/3 innings. For his excellence, Rodney earned All-World Baseball Classic team honors.

Rays manager Joe Maddon wanted to make sure Rodney got some rest before starting the regular season. Rodney did throw a bullpen on Sunday, and he noted that he feels "great."

"I'm ready to go," he said.

Gimenez chief among four cuts for Rays

TB@DET: Gimenez's single puts the Rays on the board

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Any suspense about the Rays' catching competition ended Monday night when Chris Gimenez became the odd man out.

The Rays cut four players, reducing the squad's number to 28 in advance of reaching 25 by Opening Day.

Gimenez was optioned to Triple-A Durham, while outfielders Shelley Duncan and Jason Bourgeois, along with infielder Mike Fontenot were reassigned to Minor League camp.

Rays manager Joe Maddon complimented the group and waxed in a positive manner about the depth they have added to the organization.

Gimenez had a remaining option, while Jose Lobaton did not. Given the fact that catching is a demanding position physically, the Rays opted to make their decision based on what would give the organization its best depth at catcher.

Gimenez "had a great camp and a great end of last season, also," Maddon said. "And again, I can't deny there are rules in the game that make you do things at certain times. That's not denigrating Lobaton. Lobaton has done better as of late also. But it's just one of those moments that occur in our game, and for as much as you don't like it, it's part of the business.

"And I'm not going to sit down and tell Gimenez anything, fabricate anything as an excuse. He played well. And he definitely could be in the big leagues right now catching. We also like Lobaton a lot. So you look at the whole big picture and sometimes you have to do these kinds of maneuvers."

Gimenez was hitting .368 with a home run and five RBIs this spring, while Lobaton was hitting .257 with a home run and five RBIs.

"I mean it is what it is," Gimenez said. "You never, ever want to be sent down. Obviously I've been around the game long enough that I understand the situation. Is it unfortunate for me? Of course, this hopefully won't happen again next year. And I've been through this situation, or whole experience and I can come out of it and say, 'Hey, you know, I've been there and done that.' I'm not upset, but what are you going to do?"

Gomes pitching well, should be factor this season

MIA@TB: Gomes strikes out Infante for the final out

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Brandon Gomes has been impressive all spring, posting a 1-0 record with a 2.00 ERA in eight games.

"I think Gomer has been one of the best in camp, period, as a relief pitcher," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's throwing the ball great, velocity is back up. The split's been really good."

The 28-year-old right-hander likely would have broke camp with the team last spring if he had not been slowed by his recovery from offseason back surgery. This spring has been totally different for Gomes.

"I don't think you can even compare the two," Gomes said. "Right now I'm feeling great, health-wise, mechanics-wise, I've got a lot of confidence. It's been really good so far, so just keep it going that way."

Gomes called the 2012 season a learning experience.

"Because I now know that I can still get guys out if I'm not 100 percent," Gomes said. "Last year I think I was just trying to do too much in spring instead of just staying within myself, keeping the ball down. Just more of a learning experience, take that into a positive this year."

Gomes also believes he learned a lot about his mechanics in 2012, which allowed him to find his mechanics quicker this spring.

"I think I became a better pitcher at the end of last year," Gomes said. "Utilizing all my pitches to lefties and righties, and cleaning up my mechanics after talking to Wade Davis, J.P. [Howell], Cesar [Ramos] and [Joel] Peralta and all those guys and figuring out what works best for me. So my mechanics are better this year, and my command has gotten better because of it."

Unfortunately for Gomes, he has one remaining option, which means he'll likely be optioned to Triple-A Durham to allow the Rays to maintain some depth for their pitching. Veteran Jamey Wright and the loser of the Jeff Niemann/Roberto Hernandez battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation will likely grab the final two bullpen spots. Gomes noted that he wasn't about to play the game of trying to figure out if he fits in on the Opening Day roster.

"No, I'm not going to worry about that," Gomes said. "I'm just going to worry about, 'Am I pitching to the best of my abilities every day? Am I learning something and getting better?' And the rest will play itself out."

Even if Gomes doesn't start the season on the Rays' 25-man roster, there's a good chance he'll see plenty of action in the Major Leagues this season.

"The Brandon Gomes' of the world, if in fact they don't make the team out of Spring Training, they will impact and when their time comes, they stay there for a long time," Maddon said.

Rays complete swap with Tigers to get Casali

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Tampa Bay and Detroit completed a Minor League deal Monday, when the Rays acquired catcher Curt Casali for left-hander Kyle Lobstein.

Casali, 24, was a non-roster invite to Major League camp with the Tigers this spring and played in seven games before being reassigned to Minor League camp on March 4.

Casali was originally selected by the Tigers in the 10th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt University. He hit .270 with nine home runs and 43 RBIs in 94 games between Class A West Michigan and Class A Advanced Lakeland. He has hit .263 with a .365 on-base percentage, 57 walks and only 60 strikeouts in 129 career games over two Minor League seasons.

"He handles a staff well, and he's gonna play in the big leagues," said Tigers president Dave Dombrowski, in speaking of Casali. "It's just matter of if he's going to hit enough to be an everyday player, or if he's going to be in a position where he comes up as a backup, and only time will tell. But he'll have a better opportunity there than he would here."

Lobstein, 23, had been selected from the Rays by the Mets in December's Rule 5 Draft and was traded the same day to the Tigers in exchange for cash considerations. Since Lobstein did not make the Tigers' Major League roster, the Rule 5 rules would have dictated his return to the Rays had the trade not been made.

The left-hander was originally selected by Tampa Bay in the second round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft and had a 30-30 record with a 3.85 ERA over four Minor League seasons with the Rays, reaching as high as Double-A Montgomery last year.

Hellickson gearing up to go deep into games

Hellickson discusses positive start vs. the Yankees

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jeremy Hellickson pitched seven innings against the Yankees Sunday afternoon in Tampa.

Afterward, Rays manager Joe Maddon noted: "I like the idea of him pitching seven innings. That's what I want him to learn how to do, get deeper into games, how to get deeper into games, how to utilize your pitches to do that. I was talking to [pitching coach Jim] Hickey about that during the game. I really liked the idea that he went seven, just to get into that mindset."

Hellickson smiled when asked about Maddon's comment.

"I mean, the thought of going deep into the game isn't exactly new," Hellickson said. "It's what I want to do every time out."

Hellickson did allow that he likes the idea of going seven innings once or twice during the spring to get his stamina up.

"It's nice to go deep into the game before the season starts," Hellickson said.

Hellickson admits that he relied too much on his cutter during the first part of the 2012 season. That won't be the case this season.

"You'll probably see what you saw the second half of last year," Hellickson said. "You know, I like [the cutter]. I'm going to throw it. I definitely overused it the first half last year. I'll probably throw anywhere from five to 12 a game this season."

Worth noting

• Sam Fuld (right hamstring) has had 12 plate appearances the past two days, so it appears he will be ready for Opening Day. "Feels good," Fuld said. "No complaints. I've tested [the leg] a lot the last few days."

• Kyle Farnsworth (right middle finger) did not miss any time after trying to grab a ball hit back through the middle on Saturday. He threw a bullpen session on Sunday, and said he's all systems go for Opening Day. "All's good," he said.

• Maddon spoke glowingly about Florida Gulf Coast University's team effort to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament. The Rays manager agreed that the team based in Fort Myers would make good guests if invited to a game during the coming baseball season.