One start into his Rays career, left-hander Erik Bedard was facing questions Wednesday about whether he was already pitching for his spot in the rotation.
The Rays insist that's not the case. In fact, Rays manager Joe Maddon seems convinced that Bedard could put together a markedly better performance when he takes the mound to face the Twins in Thursday's rubber match at Tropicana Field. Bedard gave up four runs on six hits and a walk while striking out three in 3 2/3 innings on Friday against the Yankees, ultimately receiving a no-decision as the Rays came back to win, 11-5.
Bedard will face Twins right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who is also looking to recover from a rough start. After an extra-innings affair that nearly emptied out both bullpens Wednesday night, both teams could use some quality innings out of their starters.
"He's not pitching for his job right now, but we want him to look at some of this intel and really try to incorporate it," Maddon said. "He's another guy who really pitched better than their numbers looked or indicated. Stay with him, stay with him, stay with him."
"You always pitch to win; I don't think of anything else," added Bedard, whose pitch limit should climb from 75 to about 90. "You just want to help the team win, and at the end of the day, that's what you want to do."
Maddon said there were a lot of "under-the-surface things" the Rays like about the 35-year-old Bedard, to the point that it could perhaps take only a few minor adjustments for him to put up better numbers. Bedard's average fastball clocked in around 90 mph last time out, but Maddon said Bedard could still be effective with that kind of velocity.
"There's some things that we've unearthed -- our archaeological dig guys upstairs [in the front office] -- and there's enough fastball. Honestly, there's enough fastball," Maddon said. "You've just got to utilize it in better ways. I'm eager to watch him play. He's very sharp. He's a good competitor, a great competitor. He knows what's going on. He knows what he's doing. With just a little bit of insight, maybe we can turn it around for the better rather quickly without throwing 94-95 mph."
Nolasco, meanwhile, is looking to bounce back after giving up five runs on a season-high 11 hits over 5 2/3 innings against the Royals on Friday. It was a big step back from his previous start, when he gave up just one run over eight innings against Kansas City. Nolasco was done in Friday by a two-run homer from Mike Moustakas in the sixth.
"I thought I did a decent job for the most part," Nolasco said. "They did a good job finding holes, and the homer was big, kind of putting it out of reach there."
Nolasco's track record against the Rays is not encouraging. In seven previous starts against Tampa Bay, he has gone 2-5 with a 7.05 ERA. Collectively, current Rays hitters have posted a .297/.348/.574 batting line in 113 career plate appearances against the right-hander.
Twins: Mauer's strikeout total rising
Twins first baseman Joe Mauer has seen a potentially concerning uptick in his strikeout rate early on this season. Mauer entered Wednesday's game striking out in 26.7 percent of his plate appearances, which was more than double his career rate of 11.4. He struck out again in the first inning Wednesday, running his total up to 25 on the season.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has not expressed concern about the former American League Most Valuable Player.
"I worry about a lot of things; he's not one of them. He can hit," Gardenhire said. "A long time ago, I quit worrying about that guy. He knows what he's doing."
• Top prospect Byron Buxton is scheduled to play three innings Monday in his first extended spring training game since spraining his left wrist in a Minor League Spring Training game on March 16.
Rays: Bullpen 'tired' after long night
Following Wednesday night's 6-4 loss to the Twins, Maddon summarized the state of the Rays' bullpen with one word.
"Tired," he said.
Maddon said he hadn't heard from executive vice president Andrew Friedman about making a roster move to bring in a fresh arm for Thursday's game, but he didn't seem overly concerned. Right-hander Juan Carlos Oviedo didn't pitch and warmed up just once. Heath Bell should be available for two innings, and Jake McGee and Joel Peralta should be able to pitch at least an inning each. Even closer Grant Balfour may be available, if needed.
"We have some length in there, but for the most part, it's a little bit shaky because of [Brandon] Gomes and Balfour throwing as much as they did," Maddon said. "You definitely need some innings out of Bedard. That's a big part of tomorrow."
• The Twins are just 2-12 in their past 14 games against the Rays. They had lost seven straight at Tropicana Field before Wednesday night's 12-inning victory, with their most recent win coming April 20, 2012.
• Bedard has posted impressive numbers in 75 career plate appearances against current Twins hitters. Overall, the veteran left-hander has held Minnesota's batters to a combined .172/.293/.234 batting line with only three extra-base hits -- and no home runs -- in 64 at-bats.