Rays Comfortable Being the Hunted

The Rays are no longer underdogs and that is just fine with manager Joe Maddon who says the goal this season is to make it back to the World Series. Also inside: Notes on Kyle Farnsworth, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, Chris Gimenez and J.P. Howell.

INSIDE PITCH

Rays comfortable being the hunted for a change

The Rays find themselves in an unusual position this spring: no longer the underdog they relish being but something of a favorite.

Manager Joe Maddon said he wants the team to embrace the raised expectations rather than run from them and to use them as fuel.

Besides, after making it to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons (and being bounced by Texas in the first round the last two seasons), they should be aiming for a higher bar.

"Yes, we not only want to get to the playoffs, we want to get deeper in the playoffs," Maddon said. "We want to get back to the World Series. That is our goal as we stand here.

"I'm sure almost every camp you're going to walk into right now this time of year they're going to be saying the same thing, but I'm here to tell you legitimately this is our goal. And every day that we work is toward that end."

The Rays feel that way because of their combination of dominant starting, premium defense, a deep bullpen and an improved offense. Though they have some questions and injuries are obviously a risk, Maddon said: "I believe this team is capable of getting back to the World Series. Absolutely."

The optimism could go to their heads, but executive VP Andrew Freidman said it shouldn't be a problem with their group of players.

"The only way or time it can become a problem is if you take on that mentality of, 'We're that good,' or 'We don't have to work,' " Friedman said. "I think our guys have gotten to the point with the culture Joe's created in the clubhouse with our coaching staff, it's not an impediment, it's not an issue, it's not a risk factor I think it might be in other places."

Maddon said the raised expectations are a good thing.

"I like the idea of people wanting to include us in that type of discussion," he said. "I want our players to like it, too. It's more about managing expectations this year as opposed to trying to build some, and I'm very good with that."



Closer Kyle Farnsworth will be eased into action during spring training in an attempt to keep him fresh for the season.

NOTES, QUOTES

Farnsworth will be brought along slowly

--RHP Kyle Farnsworth likely won't appear in at least the first week of exhibitions; the Rays see no need to have him make more than eight or nine appearances in a nod toward saving his bullets. Farnsworth was limited at the end of last season because of elbow issues.

--1B Carlos Pena was welcomed back warmly for more than the offense he is expected to add to the lineup and for his excellent defense. "It's his attitude -- it's never bad," CF B.J. Upton said. "He always brings a positive presence to the ballclub and to the clubhouse, and if you're going to win you need guys like that."

--3B Evan Longoria confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that he is dating model Jaime Edmondson, who was Playboy magazine's Miss January 2010. "I don't even think of her like that," he said. "She's actually more informed on sports. She did a fantasy football blog the whole year, and she does a show on Sirius satellite radio. So it's pretty cool to be able to talk to somebody on that level outside of the whole modeling thing."

--C Chris Gimenez, signed to a minor league deal, is "absolutely in the mix, no question" for the spot to share time with veteran Jose Molina, manager Joe Maddon said. The other candidates are Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos.

--LHP J.P. Howell said "massive" was a good word to describe the difference in how he felt at the end of last season, when he made an inconsistent return from May 2010 shoulder surgery, to the start of this spring training, "Not the same person," Howell said. "I can actually repeat a pitch, and that's what I couldn't do all last year."

BY THE NUMBERS: 172 -- Home runs by Carlos Pena 2007-11, sixth most in the majors over that span behind Ryan Howard (204), Prince Fielder (200), Albert Pujols (195), Mark Teixeira (174) and Miguel Cabrera (173).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're planning on winning the World Series this year.' -- 2B/RF Ben Zobrist

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