PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Joe Maddon's priority when writing out his lineups this season will be finding protection for Evan Longoria. The Rays manager noted there are candidates from both sides of the plate to set it up and to protect.
"Luke [Scott], Matt Joyce is a possibility for something like that also," Maddon said. "It could even be [Yunel] Escobar, I don't know. It could be Zobrist. The point is to try and get people on in front of him and then protect him. You're going for the high on-base percentage guys in front of him, and then you're going for somebody who will cause the other team to pitch to him. It's pretty simple. It's not a big secret. Everybody tries to do that with one hitter on their team."
Having Scott return to the form he had before getting injured while playing for the Orioles would be beneficial to the cause.
"It could definitely make a difference," Maddon said. "And even Matty Joyce. … If it's against a proper right-handed pitcher, Matt could definitely make them pitch to Longo also. All those things are to be considered."
Meanwhile, seeing Longoria playing and feeling well goes a long way toward how Maddon feels about this year's team.
"He looks good and it does help, because trying to fill that spot is really hard," Maddon said. "You can fill other spots, but that one is really hard to manipulate. It's really good to see him doing well."
Rays get ready early with Classic nearing
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays will send seven players to the World Baseball Classic and those seven will play for six different countries.
The players are Ben Zobrist (United States), Fernando Rodney (Dominican Republic), Cesar Ramos (Mexico), Jose Molina (Puerto Rico), Alex Torres (Venezuela) and Minor League infielders Leonardo Reginatto and Iago Januario will play for Brazil, which is making its first trip to the Classic.
All of the players have had to get ready earlier than usual to play at a high level, which explains why Rodney already looks like he's in midseason form, including the use of his changeup.
Molina and Zobrist appear ready to go, too.
"I know I have to be ready earlier than most of the guys, but that's probably a good thing," Molina said. "Just prepare myself for that, the WBC and then the season. I just feel good right now."
Molina allowed that getting ready early has presented some challenges.
"It's the first time I've done it," Molina said. "Your mind has to be prepared for that."
Zobrist sounded excited about his opportunity to participate in the WBC.
"It's really a dream to be able to put on a Team USA jersey and to be able to represent your country, especially a country like ours," Zobrist said. "For me it's just a career dream, something I had hoped to do at least once in my career and now I'm getting the chance to do it, so I hope to make the most of it."
Rodney echoed Zobrist's sentiments.
"For me it's something I'm excited about to represent my country and play for the Dominican," Rodney said. "There aren't too many opportunities [to do that]."
Zobrist smiled when asked about the prospect of facing Rodney at some point during the Classic.
"I would not look forward to that," he said.
When asked the same question, Molina responded: "At least I know what he throws."
Should Rodney have to face one of his teammates, he said it would simply be a "part of the game." But he did reveal that he has some of his special arrows earmarked for work while pitching for the Dominican.
Rays manager Joe Maddon believes all of the players will be handled properly by the managers of their respective countries.
"I'll work from that premise," Maddon said. "I don't worry about injury, I really don't. Probably the biggest thing would be getting enough work -- especially with Zobrist [who is a position player], because they don't play every day."
Given the schedule that calls for three games a week at the most, Maddon said he isn't too concerned about the pitchers getting overused since the games are spread out. His only worry would be for one of his pitchers to be used too much in one day.
Rays to get buzz cuts for good cause
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- On March 15 the Rays will have barbers on site to give buzz cuts to players to support pediatric cancer awareness.
The initial effort for the cause occurred last spring when 70 players, coaches, and staff participated by getting buzz haircuts from several barbers, who set up shop on the boardwalk in right field. Principal owner Stu Sternberg was among those who got clipped last year.
The sign-up list already includes 10 names.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.