Rays to test their mettle vs. NL East this year

Rays to test their mettle vs. NL East this year

Rays to test their mettle vs. NL East this year
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays will battle the National League East during this season's Interleague Play, which begins Friday.

Opening the Rays' Interleague schedule will be a three-game home series against the Braves.

Not only will the Braves bring one of the NL's best and most exciting teams to Tropicana Field, they will also be bringing a long-time favorite team for the area.

Back before the Tampa Bay area had an expansion team, the Braves were the team of the South and followed accordingly.

2012 INTERLEAGUE PLAY PREVIEW
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Eric Hinske, a fan favorite from the Rays' 2008 American League championship team, will make the trip with the Braves, and Tampa Bay could see him in the DH slot.

In addition to the Braves having to use the DH, the Mets and Marlins also will visit Tropicana Field and have to alter their regular style of play by using the DH.

Once again, Interleague play will signal a renewal of a budding rivalry between the Rays and the Marlins.

All told, the Rays will have played 18 games against NL teams by the end of June.

Last year: The Rays went 12-6 in Interleague Play, which ranked as the third-best record in baseball.

PREVIEW

Players to watch
James Shields, RHP (3-1, 1.32 ERA in 2011): His 42 Interleague strikeouts in 2011 were one shy of the season record of 43 set by Minnesota's Francisco Liriano in 2006, and Shields' three complete games tied four others for the Major League record.
Carlos Pena, 1B (.245, 21 HRs, 57 RBIs): Pena has not hit for a high average in Interleague play, but he has shown great power with 42 extra-base hits in 92 Interleague games.

All-time: The Rays are 118-132 in Interleague Play, but under manager Joe Maddon the team is 16 games over .500. Tampa Bay's 15-3 performance in 2004 is the team's all-time best Interleague record; 3-15 performances in '03 and '05 are the club's all-time worst.

vs. Atlanta, Friday-Sunday: The Braves bring in a marquee pitching staff and fans will get one last chance to see Chipper Jones, who is retiring at the end of the season. Atlanta holds a 9-3 advantage over Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field.

At Miami, June 8-10: The Marlins are bursting with young talent, including slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The team is managed by the always interesting Ozzie Guillen. The rivals will meet a second time in St. Petersburg from June 15-17. The Rays are 16-25 at Miami.

vs. New York Mets, June 12-14: David Wright is having a solid season to lead the offense, and the team is having a surprisingly good season. The Mets are 3-3 at Tropicana Field.

At Washington, June 19-21: The Nationals have talented youngsters Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. The Rays are 3-6 on the road against the Nationals.

At Philadelphia, June 22-24: The Phillies boast the Big Three in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The Rays are 6-3 at Citizens Bank Park.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.