PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays had few decisions facing them entering Spring Training. Basically they were deciding on some of the bullpen pieces, the bench and the fifth starter.
Of those calls, Rays manager Joe Maddon admitted that deciding on who will be in the bullpen will, by far, be the toughest call.
"I mean, who's not throwing the ball well?" Maddon said. "Not only not throwing the ball well, but who among them does not deserve to be in the big leagues? I don't know. We've already sent guys out who could pitch in the big leagues right now. So this is unique for me. I'm not just saying that, it's really, really tough."
What is known is that Grant Balfour will be the closer. Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Juan Carlos Oviedo (if he's ready) will be used in setup roles. After that, there's no telling who will surface on the roster from among a host of candidates that include Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, Juan Sandoval and Mark Lowe. While Cesar Ramos is in the mix for the fifth starter spot, he'll likely be the team's long man if he does not earn a slot in the rotation.
"We have a nice problem on our hands," Maddon said. "Part of that can be, you may end up sending guys back to Triple-A who are Major League ready. And that's always a concern. If you send a guy back who thinks he's Major League ready." Maddon paused and shrugged his shoulders. "But if a guy knows he's Major League ready. That's a difficult thought. So we have some really tough moments with this -- unusually tough. Just go through the whole litany of guys. They've pitched well. And they've had experience. And their makeup also plays here. So it's great, but it's tough."
Rays raise awareness for Pediatric Cancer Foundation
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Stuart Sternberg led the way amid the buzz of electric clippers.
Minutes later, the locks of the Rays principal owner rested on the wooden deck overlooking right field at Charlotte Sports Park.
Rays players, coaches, the manager and team personnel joined the owner by getting their hair buzzed to raise awareness for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, the third consecutive year the team has held the event.
"Rituals are important in life and it's only three years into it and it feels like we've been doing it a long time already," Sternberg said. "And the cause is pristine."
Sternberg "went low" the first year of the event and not so low last year.
"I felt last year I cheated it a little bit," Sternberg said. "And I did feel guilty all year. Guilt is a bad thing. And maybe, just maybe that would have made a difference getting to the World Series."
Sternberg returned to a true buzz this year by going with a No. 2 setting. By going all the way he's hoping his team will go all the way this season.
Kidding aside, Sternberg called the day "great" as he beamed about the participation by those in the organization.
"I was walking up and usually I'm one of the first ones to do it," Sternberg said. "And this year a group [already cut their hair]. So it was nice to walk up and see a lot of the front office people and the ballplayers already [shorn]. Everybody's smiling and feeling like it's a part of the Rays' culture. It doesn't feel so outlandish anymore."
Outfielder David DeJesus joined the Rays at the end of the 2013 season, so this was his first time participating in the event.
"It's nice to be a part of a great cause," DeJesus said. "This is a nice thing they have going. I'm happy to go low."
Some of the barbers were assisted by children who are dealing with cancer, which touched manager Joe Maddon.
"You're a dad, you have kids and you're a grandparent, so it really smacks you," said Maddon fashioning his new buzz cut. "Then you get to meet the parents, the grandparents, and then you understand -- these moments impact a lot of people, man. ... All this stuff, we don't think about. You never really take time to think about it. But under these circumstances, it really comes to the forefront. ... Any little thing we can do as an organization to help, we're proud to do so."
While Wil Myers did not participate, the Rays right fielder did select five Rays fans from the stands and paid the $100 donation per person to have their hair cut. Maddon liked the gesture, but noted that next year he'd like to see Myers get into the chair and lose his locks.
Fortune Favors the Bald T-shirts are available in the Charlotte Sports Park team store as well as the Tampa Store. T-shirts can be ordered by phone through the Tampa Store (813-228-7157). All proceeds benefit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
For more information visit pcfcutforacure.org.
Oviedo a long shot to be ready for regular season
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- While right-hander Juan Carlos Oviedo finally arrived to camp on Saturday after resolving his lingering visa issues in the Dominican Republic, the Rays are proceeding cautiously until they have fully evaluated his physical condition.
"By the end of this week we should know where we are with him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's probably a long shot to be actually ready. But I'm not saying he can't."
Oviedo signed with the Rays prior to the 2013 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery to his right elbow, but he did not pitch for the Rays in 2013. The Rays re-signed Oviedo on Jan. 24 to a $1.5 million deal that can escalate to $2.9 million with incentives.
Oviedo, 31, is the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez. He last pitched in the Major Leagues in 2011, when he saved 36 games for the Marlins. In three years with the Marlins he saved 92 games.
Oviedo was asked how close he felt to being in the health he was two years ago.
"As good as I feel, time will tell," Oviedo said. "My arm feels great. I'm ready to go. I think I need more pitching than anything."
Maddon said they plan to have Oviedo throw to hitters in a batting practice situation as early as Monday, but maybe Tuesday. They will begin building him up from there.
"By the end of this week I want to believe you're going to see him against some actual hitters in a game," Maddon said. "What does that mean? Obviously that means he's behind a little bit right now."
Maddon noted that he needs to hear the training staff tell him that Oviedo's arm is "in really good shape" and that "he's on target to start the season."
"We have not eliminated [him starting the season with the team], because [head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield] was really impressed how he threw [Saturday]," Maddon said. "... He's just concerned that he's been doing all this throwing down there without the proper post-throwing kind of stuff that we like to do in order to prevent injuries. And the fact that he's coming off such a severe injury, all this stuff has to be evaluated."
• Rays players will enjoy their first off-day of the spring on Monday. Including Sunday's game, the Rays will have played 18 games in 18 days since the Grapefruit League season began, including Saturday's split-squad action and one rainout March 6. Despite the off day, Alex Cobb will pitch in a game in Fort Myers against Twins Minor Leaguers in order to stay in order.
• Sunday's game against the Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park was a sellout, the first of the spring and the 21st sellout (in 88 games) since the Rays moved their spring base to Charlotte Sports Park in 2009. Entering Sunday's game, attendance at Charlotte Sports Park is up 7 percent over last season at the same juncture of Spring Training.
• The Rays Sixth Annual BaseBALL Dinner & Auction benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte County will be held Friday at 6:30
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.