Outlook: Bell loses save chances in revamped bullpen

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Veteran reliever Heath Bell did not have his best season in 2013 according to the usual numbers. While pitching in 69 games for the D-backs, the right-hander posted a 5-2 mark with a 4.11 ERA.

But he appears to be an excellent candidate in 2014 for the Rays, who have enjoyed success over the years bringing in veteran relievers.

Bell pitched on Port Charlotte back fields on Thursday. Facing Red Sox Minor Leaguers, Bell allowed no runs on one hit while striking out one.

While Bell's 2013 numbers were not his best -- his ERA was lower in five of six seasons before that -- Rays manager Joe Maddon said he did not think the numbers were representative of how the 10-year veteran pitched.

"If you look at him, everybody's kind of denigrating what he did last year," Maddon said, acknowledging that Bell surrendered 12 home runs in 2013 but suggesting that beyond that, "he did a really good job."

"Again, digging more deeply, we have ideas in regard to game planning in general. … Surface numbers sometimes can be very deceptive, and the home run really impacted his numbers. So, again, looking at the whole body of work, it wasn't so bad."

Pursuing Rays, Oviedo has catching up to do

Hot Stove crew breaks down Rays re-signing Oviedo

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Juan Carlos Oviedo threw a simulated game on Thursday, which brought the Rays good news and bad news.

The good news, according to Joe Maddon: "He threw today on the back fields today, to hitters, and he threw really well. It really came out of his hand nicely. He threw his changeup or split, or whatever it is, I think about 35 pitches, two or three hitters, and came through it very well."

Maddon watched Oviedo's stint in person, which meant coming to the park early because the Rays had a night game against the Twins at Charlotte Sports Park.

Oviedo is a late-inning bullpen hopeful, but the Dominican Republic native had visa problems and did not arrive to camp until Saturday. 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. He has not pitched in a Major League game since Sept. 21, 2011, thus, the bad news, which Maddon delivered when asked if seeing Oviedo throw made him more optimistic about his starting the season in the Rays' bullpen.

"I don't think so yet," Maddon said. "It became obvious, in spite of the fact that he's throwing the ball well, what really comes rushing to your mind is this guy hasn't been pitching in a while. … And so now you're going to rush him back under these circumstances? It might not be a good idea.

"He is in jeopardy of not starting the season with us," Maddon added. "Our biggest concern is that we rush him so much that he gets sore or hurt at any point."

Maddon noted that figuring out the composition of this year's bullpen at the start of the season was "really tough."

"There's nothing clear," Maddon said. "The candidates are so good. Oviedo possibly not being ready is the one thing we did not expect. … You thought he'd be here, ready to go. He not possibly being here and ready sheds a different light on those thoughts."

Maddon said that "regardless of what happens, we're thick here and at Durham."

Balfour to add variety in second Rays stint

Balfour looks ahead to 2014 season

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Though Grant Balfour still throws hard, and he retains the famed "Aussie Rage" that seems to give him a little extra adrenaline each outing, he has also refined his pitching a little, too.

"The '08 season I was predominantly fastballs, and they wanted to see me throw more offspeed stuff, even though I probably had my best career numbers in '08," said Balfour, who after three seasons with the A's returned as the Rays' closer this season on a two-year, $12 million deal.

Balfour uses a fastball, a curveball, a slider and a changeup.

"I have the same mix of pitches," Balfour said. "It's one of those things, when I was here, probably pitched with less variety than I used in Oakland."

Balfour said he always wanted to pitch to his strengths.

"I don't want to change too much," Balfour said. "But also, I do a lot of homework and try to do a lot of research on the teams I'm facing, and stuff like that. And just kind of go from there.

"It's one of those things sometimes where you have to back off and slow things down a little bit -- and slow things down a little bit, speed it up, keep them off balance and change, and play that game, as opposed to coming hard, hard, hard all the time. And there's days that I will. I'll mix it up. It's not like I'm going to tell you I'm going to sit there and throw my breaking ball all the time. Because I'm just going to come right at you. It depends on how I feel and who I'm facing."

Maddon pleased with talent amid Rays' cuts

Joe Maddon called Adam Liberatore a "Major League pitcher."

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays made roster cuts after Thursday night's 5-4 win over the Twins.

The following players were re-assigned to Minor League camp: outfielders Justin Christian and Jerry Sands, infielder Cole Figueroa, catcher Ali Solis, right-handers Steve Geltz and Juan Sandoval and left-hander Adam Liberatore. Right-hander Brad Boxberger was optioned to Minor League camp.

Maddon has seemed impressed by the group of players he has had in camp and noted afterward: "We've sent out a lot of Major League players this year." He specifically called Liberatore a Major League-caliber pitcher.

"And we told him that at our meeting; he was very impressive," Maddon said.

Maddon also expressed how impressed he was with Sands and Boxberger. The Rays now have 34 players in camp.

Extra bases

Ben Zobrist and his wife, Julianna, will hold a public book signing of their autobiography, "Double Play," immediately following Saturday's game against the Orioles at Charlotte Sports Park. The signing will take place outside the team store. The book, which will be released to the public on April 1, will be available in the Rays' team store at Charlotte Sports Park starting Friday.

Matt Joyce left Wednesday afternoon's game against the Orioles in the first inning because of a stiff neck. Thursday he went through drills. "Still has neck stiffness," Maddon said. "Nothing serious, it just happens to be a stiff neck, and he was very limited mobility-wise and range-wise." Maddon said he hoped Joyce would be ready to return by Saturday.

• Ten members of Wounded Warriors visited Rays camp Thursday, and they will be on hand again Friday. They participated in the team's warm-ups and shagged balls during batting practice. "It's great [having them at the park]," Maddon said. "I had a chance to say hi to every one of them. They're so grateful to be here. We're just so excited to have them here. Talk to some of these guys, if you're having a bad day, shame on you."