But coming off such a high spring brought considerable lows for the club, which stumbled out of the gate, going 3-5, including a period of four consecutive losses. Solid mound performances from Edwin Jackson and Shields saw the often-beleaguered franchise slowly regain its footing, posting back-to-back wins Thursday and Friday.
Gone are the spring competitions for the 25-man roster, as the Rays, with a nine-man disabled list, are scrambling to simply stay afloat.
"We're just trying to win," Jason Hammel said. "I don't think it's as much of a competition now as it is more of a 'go out there and win.'"
The right-hander will try to keep the ball rolling on Saturday night, as Hammel gets his second start of the season, his first at Tropicana Field.
"I'm just preparing myself, [doing] good work on the side, and I'll go out tomorrow and see if we can keep the win streak going," Hammel said on Friday.
While there is pressure to continue to elevate the young club, the righty says it isn't any more of a tribulation than what he faced just to get his spot on the mound. Hammel was recalled from Triple-A Durham on June 11 and joined the Rays' rotation last July, where he remained for the duration of the season.
Still, hardly stellar stats (3-5, 6.14 ERA) coupled with a logjam of young Rays arms found the 25-year-old battling again this spring to solidify a rotation spot.
At the time, Hammel said he had to prove the decision right by the Rays. Now, the righty just wants to be on the right side of the win-loss column.
"I definitely want to help out," Hammel said. "It's unfortunate we got guys going down, but every individual has to keep doing their job. So hopefully they'll get well soon and join us, and we'll get back on that page."
Hammel said performances like Jackson's eight inning two-hit shutout on Thursday help inspire the other arms.
"Every good game out builds confidence, and I feel like the pitching staff as a whole, we feel really good right now," he said. "I mean, you're going to have off days here and there just like hitters ... but we'll be fine."
Hammel's first start could have easily been one of the aforementioned "off days." The 25-year-old had gone 13 days without throwing in an actual game, but said he felt fine going into his debut performance -- a 6-1 loss to New York on April 7.
"It's just I was really champing at the bit to get out there and throw," he said.
Hammel's stats, (four runs over six innings to a loaded Yankees lineup) were impressive and gave the Rays the kind of confidence the team needs in its pitching staff.
"He pitched well despite that [break]," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "I thought he pitched really well, actually ... so I would expect him to be even better this time."
As for the pressure to succeed before Garza and Kazmir make their return to a crowded lineup, Hickey said he doesn't feel any of the arms taking that stance.
"I don't think anybody goes out there thinking about, 'Boy, soon there's going to be some changes to the rotation, I want to make sure that I'm not the guy'" Hickey added. "They may think about that in some down time, not when they're out there performing. But I don't think there's any more pressure on them than normal."
For now, the pressure is the same regardless of who takes the mound to keep the Rays' winning sequence alive.Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Jason Hammel (0-1, 6.00 ERA)
Hammel is winless (0-3) against the Orioles with a 8.83 ERA. BAL: RHP Daniel Cabrera (0-0, 9.00 ERA)
Cabrera is 6-0 against the Rays in 11 games, and posts a 3.63 career ERA. Tidbits
Prior to Friday's game, the Rays listened to a speech from former Tampa Bay Bucs' player Lee Roy Selmon. The defensive lineman spoke about staying positive and each athlete's important role in the community. ... Lefty Kurt Birkins threw one inning Friday in an extended spring game. ... Designated hitter Cliff Floyd underwent successful surgery Friday morning to repair a medial meniscus tear in his right knee. Tickets
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WHNZ 1250, WGES 680 (Español) Up next
Sunday: Rays (Jeff Niemann, Major League debut) vs. Orioles (Brian Burres, 1-0, 1.29), 1:40 p.m. ET
Monday: Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 1-1, 6.00) vs. Yankees (Ian Kennedy, 0-1, 13.50), 7:10 p.m. ET
Tuesday: Rays (Edwin Jackson, 2-0, 0.64) vs. Yankees (TBD), 7:10 p.m. ET
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.