04/04/12 5:15 PM ET
Rays aiming for success starting in April
By Jim Hawkins / Special to MLB.com
But Evan Longoria, for one, doesn't want to dwell on what happened last year.
"Last year was magical. What we did was pretty incredible," he said on Wednesday. "But, personally, I have tried to turn the page. We can't live in the past."
And, as much as he enjoyed the finish to the regular season, Longoria would hate to see the Rays dig themselves into another 1-8 hole at the beginning of the year.
"The word 'urgent' sounds like such a dangerous word, but we have to place a lot of importance on the first half of the first month," Longoria said. "We have to come out of the blocks hot."
"We want to get off to a strong start. That's very important," manager Joe Maddon said. "We proved last year there's another way of doing it. But that's not easy."
Despite their disappointing 10-16-6 record this spring, fifth-worst in the Major Leagues, Longoria said he was encouraged by the way the Rays played during the final week of training camp.
"I've always been a 'feel' guy. How does my body feel? How does my swing feel?" he explained. "And everything feels good. The last week of spring training was very important. I think a lot of us have started to feel ready, to feel comfortable."
Vogt takes scenic route to The Show
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- On Sunday, Stephen Vogt packed up his belongings, loaded his wife Alyssa and their six-month-old daughter Payton into the family car and made the 12-hour drive from the Rays' Spring Training camp in Port Charlotte, to the site of their Double-A farm club in Durham, N.C.
On Monday, Vogt and his wife found an apartment and moved in.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Vogt was in the trainer's room at the ballpark, getting his wrists taped, when he was told hitting coach Dave Myers wanted to see him in the manager's office.
"I thought we were going to have a hitters' meeting or something," Vogt said.
Instead, Myers told him, "You need to go home and pack. You've got a flight in a couple of hours. You're going to the big leagues."
On Wednesday, the 27-year-old Vogt was at Tropicana Field, preparing for his first Opening Day in the Majors.
"My heart was going a mile a minute," admitted Vogt, whose whirlwind callup occurred because the Rays can use an extra bat with outfielders B.J. Upton and Sam Fuld on the disabled list.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Vogt will play left field and right, catcher, designated hitter and pinch-hit.
"Whatever they need from me," Vogt said. "I'm just happy to get the opportunity to play."
In Wednesday's informal final exhibition game against a team of Rays' Minor League prospects, Vogt began the game in left field for the Future Rays, then changed uniforms and finished the game with the Rays.
"I wanted him to get nine innings in the outfield," Maddon explained.
The left-handed hitting Vogt was the Rays' Minor League player of the year last season, hitting a combined .298 with 17 home runs, 35 doubles and 105 RBIs while playing at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. Vogt batted .323 this spring.
As a youngster growing up in Visalia, Calif., Vogt often attended the San Francisco Giants' home openers.
"It's going to be fun to be on the baseline on Opening Day, instead of in the stands," he said.
Upton better, heading for rehab assignment
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Center fielder B.J. Upton, who will open the season on the disabled list because of soreness in his back, hopes to return to the Rays' lineup some time during their April 10-19 road trip to Detroit, Boston and Toronto.
However, before that happens Upton, who has only played part of one Minor League spring game since he was injured in a March 14 collision with Desmond Jennings, will have to go on a Minor League rehab assignment to get some at-bats.
"I know he's feeling better," manager Joe Maddon cautioned. "But there's no sense really going crazy right now. Once he's ready, he'll need to go somewhere to play to get some at-bats."
Maddon said Upton will likely need 20-25 at-bats before he is ready to rejoin the lineup. That means Upton will have to spend about a week in the Minors.
"And he may not be ready to play every day down there at first," Maddon admitted. "It's not just about at-bats. You've got arm, legs, running, starting and stopping on the basepaths."
Although the Rays have three shortstops -- Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson -- manager Joe Maddon announced on Wednesday that Rodriguez "will get most of the starts at short." Rodriguez will also play some second base, replacing Jeff Keppinger, with Brignac coming in at short.
"We're kind of blessed with three guys who can play shortstop, and you're going to see all three of them," Maddon said. "We've got a lot of moving parts going on, all those little goodies."
When Maddon looks at the American League East, he foresees a four-team race. "You've got New York and Boston, us, and Toronto -- I've got them right in the thick of things," he predicted.
"Anything can happen in this division," Maddon added. "Everybody has got their sights set on the World Series. All these teams are good teams."
Last year, Opening Day starter James Shields had five starts of seven or more innings against the Yankees. In the last 33 years, only one other pitcher, Roy Halladay (2008), has had five starts of that duration in a season against the Yanks.
"I'm going to have some nerves, I always do," Shields admitted. "But I had a great Spring Training. I feel really good right now."
Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.