Notes: Pitchers impress at first workout

Notes: Pitchers impress at first workout

ST. PETERSBURG -- Chad Orvella emerged as the first player from the Devil Rays' clubhouse at the Raymond A. Naimoli Complex just before 10 a.m. Saturday. Shortly thereafter, the remainder of the pitchers and catchers joined the right-hander under a canopy of sunshine and white clouds for the team's first spring workout.

Wearing his customary Cheshire cat grin, Ruddy Lugo examined the landscape in the 47-degree temperature and proclaimed: "It's nice."

Manager Joe Maddon stormed out seconds later brimming with enthusiasm.

"What's up?" he said to nobody in particular.

Among the Rays' ranks were 27 pitchers and six catchers working out Saturday. Pitchers Tony Peguero and Juan Salas did not make it for the first workout because of visa issues in the Dominican Republic.

The highlight of the day for Rays management and fans alike was seeing left-handers Scott Kazmir and Casey Fossum throwing "free and easy." Both are coming back after having injuries shorten their seasons in 2006.

"I just felt wonderful throwing," said Kazmir, who noted he felt so good he had to fight the temptation to "cut it loose."

Maddon said the Rays had stressed to the team before the offseason that there would be "no scholarships," and jobs would have to be won. Maddon thinks the players took the message to heart and worked hard in the the offseason. The fruits of those workouts showed Saturday.

"There's really a good eagerness about this group," Maddon said. "I think they came ready -- just a really good feel about the group right now; they're into it."

New pitching coach Jim Hickey is working on getting acquainted with the staff, but he liked what he saw Saturday.

"I'm pretty impressed with the arms around here," Hickey said. "There are some pretty legitimate pitchers out there."

Hirsute points: Speaking of Hickey, Madden smiled when it was pointed out Hickey was an upgrade in the hair department over former pitching coach Mike Butcher, who is now the Angels' pitching coach and fashions a shaved pate.

"Overall looks, I'll give Hick the nod," Maddon said. "I love Butch, but I think Hick, one-on-one, would come out on top."

Bragging rights: Players and coaches alike are competitive by nature, which fueled a recent golfing contest between Rays coaches and players.

Coaches Tom Foley, Dick Bosman, Bill Evers and Steve Henderson squared off against players Orvella, Jason Hammel, Shawn Camp and Doug Waechter.

"They can hit it a mile -- like hitting a 7-iron 210 yards," Foley said.

Evers witnessed Orvella drive the green on a 327-yard par 4. But ultimately, as Foley pointed out, it's not how you drive, it's how you arrive. And the coaches won, which they were happy to point out.

"That's under protest, we didn't finish the round," Orvella said.

The coaches maintained that not playing the last three holes didn't matter.

"For 15 holes you don't get a rain check," Evers said.

Waechter shook his head in disbelief when told about the coaches' smack.

"First, they were using an illegal ball and they were sandbagging," Waechter said. "We had to give Hendu [Henderson] a shot a hole. And he shot better than we did."

Isn't that gamesmanship?

"They call it crafty," Waechter said. "I call it cheating."

Sticking with Dukes: A lot has been written and said about Rays prospect Elijah Dukes, the five-tool 22-year-old outfielder, who has dealt off and on with anger issues and other problems during his tenure with the organization. But the club plans to exercise patience with him.

Dukes' most recent problem occurred in January, when he was arrested for marijuana possession.

"It's something that's not going to change overnight," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "It's going to be a constant process, and we're going to give him every opportunity to come in Spring Training and earn a job. It's not just going to be how he performs on the field. It's going to be how he's working with others ... how everybody is perceiving him to be a good teammate."

Last spring, Dukes hit .400 and won the Al Lopez Award for the top rookie in camp. But with an outfield already in place consisting of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Delmon Young, Dukes would likely have to be a reserve. Teams are often reluctant to use highly touted prospects for reserve roles at the Major League level in deference to playing every day in the Minors. However, the Rays say they won't rule out his making the team as a reserve.

"There's a lot to be learned on days he's not playing at the Major League level," Friedman said. "He's proven he can handle the Triple-A level physically. So on nights [when] physically he's not playing, I think there will be an emphasis of Maddon's and everyone else to make sure that mentally he is playing.

"I'm very hopeful and optimistic that we'll look back in October, and he's enjoyed a fine season at the Major League level in every respect."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.