ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings was absent from the starting lineup Saturday -- his second straight day out with a sore groin -- but both he and manager Joe Maddon insisted it was nothing serious.
Jennings said he aggravated his groin while diving back to first base Thursday night against the Blue Jays with R.A. Dickey on the mound. Maddon said Jennings was available to play Saturday night against the Padres, if needed, and Jennings figured he could return for Sunday's series finale.
"Yeah, it's possible; I thought yesterday I could be back today," Jennings said. "We'll see. It's not bad."
"He's fine, I'm just really taking it easy with him right now," Maddon said. "I think he might be fine by [Sunday]. I like the idea of giving him a rest right now. I think with a little respite right now, this guy is going to be even better when we bring him on back. We'll just see. Truly, there's nothing wrong. I just want to give him a break, and it's working out pretty nicely right now."
Lueke enters debut with newfound 'swag'
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon noticed reliever Josh Lueke looked different in Spring Training. His stuff was better, he worked harder and, in Maddon's words, he was simply "getting it."
It did not take Lueke long to show off his refined approach and more mature, comfortable outlook on life in the Majors. Making his season debut for the Rays only a few hours after getting called up from Triple-A Durham on Friday night, Lueke retired all four batters he faced and struck out two of them.
"That was outstanding," Maddon said. "This guy, he could be a force. There's no question he could be a force. That was nice to see. ... He's just walking around here differently. Really pro. He's turning into a professional."
Maddon was pleased with Lueke's fastball -- it touched 96 mph even though he threw 29 pitches for Durham the night before -- but perhaps the more interesting part of Lueke's outing was his ability to pitch backward. He started off all four batters with a first-pitch slider, the last three of which went for called strikes.
Lueke said he learned how to pitch that way from fellow relievers Joel Peralta and Brandon Gomes, who was Lueke's offseason workout partner. He had seen Gomes do it in Triple-A, but he never had the confidence in his offspeed pitches, including the slider Maddon described as "freaky," to try it out. But Maddon was dead-on in his observation about the way Lueke has been carrying himself, and he carried that comfort from the clubhouse to the mound.
"I feel like I belong here, so I'm coming in with the confidence -- I guess you could say 'swag' if you want -- just knowing that I can compete at this level," Lueke said. "When I feel that way, and I can go out and prove it to myself and I can prove it to everybody else, I guess earn respect down the road."
Longoria walks mile to raise cancer awareness
ST. PETERSBURG -- Evan Longoria spent his Saturday morning taking part in the "Miles for Moffitt" One Mile Fun Run/Walk to benefit the Moffitt Cancer Center.
Longoria attended the event and took the mile-long walk to support cancer research and the community of Tampa Bay. He also spoke with several people who have received diagnosis of cancer and others who have been affected by the disease.
"A lot of touching stories," Longoria said. "Cancer is one of those things that we've all been affected by in some way, shape or form. It was neat."
He saw a friend who had cancer, saw it go into remission and then come back. He met with another group of men whose friend had Longoria sign a baseball last year. The friend had since passed away, but the group walked for their friend and thanked Longoria for signing the ball because of how much it meant.
And he saw Rays director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics, who recently lost his wife, Karen, to a rare form of ovarian cancer. Lukevics had just flown in from Durham and was on his way to Venezuela, but he wanted to be in Tampa on Saturday to walk for his wife.
"It was just one of those things that was important to him, and it was on the docket," Longoria said. "So that was really, really neat to see."
Longoria said 6,500 people took part in the event Saturday morning at the University of South Florida and that Moffitt raised more than $300,000 this year.
"Obviously the event has been a huge success," Longoria said. "In any event, it was a great turnout, the people that were out there. It was really nice to see all of the survivors that were there.
"That's the reason I was there -- to support the cause and kind of just draw attention to cancer research."
• The Rays took their team photo Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field, wearing their powder blue jerseys. Closer Fernando Rodney, for no apparent reason, opted to carry a plantain holstered in his pants for the occasion.
The Rays took one photo with Vivek and Ravi Kiluk, two children who won the opportunity as part of the Stand Up 2 Cancer fundraiser auction.
• Maddon said the Rays had "no plans" to alter their rotation after Monday's off-day, adding that he did not subscribe to the theory that teams must separate their left-handed starters, in this case David Price and Matt Moore. He acknowledged it might be beneficial for opponents who could use their right-handed hitters in two straight games, but that advantage could be offset by facing pitchers with stuff like Moore's and Price's.
• Entering Saturday's game, the Rays' bullpen had thrown 7 1/3 straight scoreless innings, during which they allowed only two hits and two walks while striking out nine. That has lowered Tampa Bay's bullpen ERA to 4.79, though the number still ranks highest in the American League.
• A few more numbers and records to consider about Alex Cobb's highly unusual 13-strikeout, 4 2/3-inning start against the Padres on Friday night:
Cobb tied the Major League records for most strikeouts through three innings (nine), through four innings (11) and through five innings (13), according to SABR's Trent McCotter. All of those marks also set Rays records.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cobb became the first pitcher to record 13 strikeouts in the game's first 14 outs since Randy Johnson did it for Arizona on July 4, 2001. And Cobb became the first pitcher since Major League records have been kept to strike out all four batters in an inning but still allow a run.
Finally, Cobb induced a career-high 23 swing-and-misses from the Padres, including 21 with his changeup. He averaged only seven whiffs over his first six starts.
"It really was moving that much," Maddon said. "There was such great action off that."