War of words continue but not Maddon

Carl Crawford was not the first Ray to bowl over a catcher this spring, but according to the Yankees' Shelley Duncan, Elliot Johnson has become this generation's Pete Rose and New York's backstop was Ray Fosse. Rays Digest columnist Ted Fleming tries to sort things out.

ST. PETERSBURG - Rays' skipper Joe Maddon was surprised the Elliot Johnson incident at Steinbrenner Field Saturday was still going round and round.

"They had their point, we made our counterpoint," he said. "They had their say, we had ours and as far as I'm concerned it's over. It's time to just play the game."

Unfortunately, the Yankees' Shelley Duncan is one player that won't let it go.

"What it does is it opens another chapter of intensity in the spring training ballgames," Duncan told the New York Daily News Sunday. "They showed what is acceptable to them and how they're going to play the game, so we're going to go out there to match their intensity - or even exceed it. There's going to be no malicious evil intent in terms of carryover, but it just adds a different type of fire to your gut when you play that team because you understand how they're playing the game and what their mindset is."

Maddon expects no carryover into Wednesday's rematch, which will be held on the Rays' field of play but one could draw inference from Duncan's comments.

"It's just a baseball play," he said. "In the beginning I think it was more hyped up than it should have been and it's not going to impact what we do or how we do it. Nothing has changed except he had to make a play."

The one thing that Maddon likes is how his team has stuck together in the midst of all the negative media attention and made a point about Johnson being a hard-nosed player.

New York's field general, Joe Girardi, says he does not want any retribution for the Francisco Cervelli injury.

"I've told my players that I don't want them running into catchers in spring training, because I don't want them or someone else to get hurt," he said. "We'll continue to play the game hard, and in my mind, play the game the way I want them to play it."

On the surface it would appear Wednesday will be your average spring training game. But Duncan's comments seem to leave the door ajar, whether it be now or somewhere down the road when the opportunity presents itself. Girardi's "play the game hard" statement does the same.

One person who is very upset about this is Rays' special advisor Don Zimmer, who has a close relationship with the former backstop.

"Right is right and wrong is wrong," he told reporters before Sunday's game at Al Lang Field. "I'm talking about a guy that's like a son to me, but I can't believe he went after (this issue) the way he did because that's not Joe Girardi. And being a catcher on top of it. Joe Girardi's a tough guy. Joe's my friend, but he's his own man, and I'm my own man. I think he was out of line, whether he likes it or not."

Zimmer's point was simple, it is how one plays the game. He cannot figure how you can separate a catcher from blocking the plate in a Grapefruit League contest where an injury can occur or a runner going in hard on a close play with the result being the same.

Now as long as someone keeps from ringing the bell for round two, this may actually end - some day.




ILL WINDS: Manager Joe Maddon held his pre-game briefing telling everyone to stand back a bit, because, "whatever I have is getting worse." The last two days have been dreadful, weather wise, and as thing broke up the skipper quipped: "I hope we're going to have spring training in Florida next year."

HURTIN' KIND: There is no news to report on the Rocco Baldelli front with Maddon telling reporters, "nothing today and nothing tomorrow," although there was some good news regarding Scott Kazmir.

"He'll have a session on the mound and we'll see what it looks like," he said. "I anticipate he'll be good to go in a couple of days in a game. We're not exactly sure of the date yet, maybe somewhere around the 15th."

There has not been any discussion about throwing live batting practice although everyone seems pleased by the way he throwing which is loose and free. Once out there the objective is to build him back up slowly.

BATTERED BATTERY: Edwin Jackson took his lumps yesterday in the second inning when he gave up six runs. He also took some lumps from his manager, along with backstop Dioner Navarro, who Maddon said has to be more take-charge behind the plate.

"We addressed it internally," he said. With Navarro is more about the learning curve in his development. "It goes beyond game calling. It also speaks to his presence to the entire team and the pitching staff. I've always talked about relationships, especially between the pitcher and catcher. You need both on the same page in order to be successful. That relationship has to be the best on the field. If it doesn't, we'll founder."

JUAN STILL GONE: It is quite obvious that Juan Salas is still missing in action and the questions about his reporting to camp get fewer and fewer. However, before Monday's game the question came up again.

"He must be in Margaritaville," Maddon quipped. "He and Jimmy Buffett are down on a beach somewhere having a good old time. I think we can safely say it is impacting his chances of making the team."

A few minutes later public relations vice-president Rick Vaughn said not this week but possibly next, prompting the manager to say, "He must be working he way up through the Greater Antilles or the Lesser Antilles."

LIVE FROM PORT CHARLOTTE: Interested in what is going on at the Rays' new spring training site? There is a live camera at the stadium to keep you up to date. CLICK HERE

TURN ON, TUNE IN: The Rays will broadcast select games this year via their radio partners, 1250 WHNZ and 620 WDAE. There will also be two games telecast by Fox Sports Net Florida. Here is the schedule - ALL GAMES AT 1:05pm UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED:

• March 15 @ Atlanta (ss)- WDAE, or

• March 15 @ NY Yankees (ss) - WDAE --- 1:15pm

• March 16 vs Detroit - WHNZ / FSN

• March 21 @ NY Yankees - WDAE ---- 7:15pm

• March 22 vs. Pittsburgh - WHNZ

• March 23 @ Reds - WHNZ

• March 28 vs Reds - WHNZ / FSN

• March 29 @ Reds - WHNZ

GIT YER TICKETS HERE: Single game tickets are on sale now at the Tropicana Field box office, Tampa office, and all TicketMaster locations. Tickets can also be purchased online (www.raysbaseball.com or www.raysbeisbol.com) or by calling 888-FAN-RAYS.


Ted Fleming, the owner/operator of TBSN Radio 510, has been covering the sports scene in the Tampa Bay area for the last decade via the airwaves and in print. His radio show, Speaking of Sports, is syndicated by the Black Athletes Sports Network live from 11:00am to 1:00pm weekdays. He frequently discusses the Rays on his show. Additionally, he is a stringer for the PA-SportsTicker and has previously done work for WEEI in Boston, ESPN

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