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Trio of relievers pass durability test

Trio of relievers pass durability test

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With the new white uniforms on display, Wednesday's Grapefruit League game marked the first of the final five home contests for the Rays this spring. And as the innings and opportunities begin to whittle down, the need to prepare the pitching staff for the grind of a 162-game Major League regular season becomes critical.

After having a much maligned bullpen last season, the Rays are hoping to turn a corner in 2008. While the acquisition of veteran Troy Percival, a proven and polished closer, has been the trendy topic, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon directed equal praise on Wednesday toward another veteran arm, Trever Miller.

Miller, formerly with the Astros, was signed in February to a one-year, $2 million contract with a club option for 2009. Although lefty J.P. Howell may make the team, right now Miller remains the only southpaw in the bullpen. Miller, who pitched to two batters in Tuesday's game against the Phillies, held left-handers to a .209 average last season. He primarily will be used as a situational pitcher for the Rays.

"That's been the plan, to get him out there vs. lefties," Maddon said.

The Rays lacked a lefty in the bullpen last season, which enabled opposing teams to stack its lineups against right-handed starters without worrying about the relief pitchers. Maddon said Miller adds a dynamic to the game "before it even begins," forcing clubs to consider the formidable lefty and adjust its lineups.

Lineup adjustments have been the main problem this spring, as revolving roster changes have made it difficult for the Rays to set up Miller against left-handers.

"He thinks that helps him get off to a better start," Maddon said. "Last year, he really didn't get to see a lot of lefties in the spring, and struggled a bit earlier on."

Miller split an inning with righty reliever Gary Glover in Tuesday's game before going to the Raymond A. Naimoli Baseball Complex on Wednesday for their first back-to-back game situations this spring. Right-hander Dan Wheeler also pitched at Naimoli, the club's Minor League complex.

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"We want to get those guys some innings. Plus, when you are able to stretch these guys out over here [at Al Lang Field], that's less time on this side of things," Maddon said. "Sending guys over there just to get some work and match them up is ideal for us."

Besides trying to match up the trio of relievers, pitching coach Jim Hickey said it was important to test their arm recovery in tossing two straight days.

"You just don't want the first time they're going back-to-back to be at the beginning of the regular season," Hickey said.

Hickey also noted there was no specific pitch count he had in mind, just as long as each hurler continued to stay on track in the Rays' program.

After throwing at Naimoli, all three pitchers reported to camp healthy Thursday morning, and Glover said although the plan was to play catch, it wouldn't constitute as anything but a light toss.

"Everything's good," Glover said. "I was pleased when I got out there today, and feel ready to go. [You] get that first rebound out of the way, and hopefully it makes it easier during the season."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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