Rays 5, Blue Jays 3

The Tampa Bay Rays hope a strong finish in spring training will

help them get off to another quick start in the regular season.

Evan Longoria homered and B.J. Upton snapped a seventh-inning

tie with a two-run single, helping the defending AL East champions

beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 on Wednesday. The victory enabled

Rays to complete their exhibition schedule with a 15-14-2 record

after beginning 1-7-1.

The last two times the Rays had a winning record in spring

training, Tampa Bay went on to win the division title.

”I just thought we played well,” manager Joe Maddon said,

”and that’s all we’re looking for.”

Elliot Johnson also hit a solo homer for the Rays. Jose Bautista

had a RBI single and Adam Lind drove in two runs with a

third-inning double for the Blue Jays.

Both teams open the regular season at home on Friday night, with

Tampa Bay facing the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto getting started

against the Minnesota Twins.

In addition to playing better after the slow exhibition start,

the Rays head into their opener with just one player – reliever

J.P. Howell, who missed all of 2010 after having shoulder surgery –

bound for the disabled list. The left-hander is expected to run

some time in May.

”It’s great to go into the season healthy,” Maddon said.

”That’s one of your biggest goals. … J.P’s making some really

good progress also.”

Longoria homered off Blue Jays starter Jo Jo Reyes. Upton scored

on the back end of a delayed steal in the third inning, then

delivered his winning hit off Marc Rzepczynski in the seventh.

Toronto scored all three of its runs off Rays starter Jeff

Niemann, who allowed three runs and four hits in four innings. The

6-foot-9 right-hander walked one and struck out two while throwing

65 pitches in his final tuneup for Tampa Bay’s fourth game of the

season, at home against the Los Angeles Angels.

Reyes allowed two runs on one hit, walked three and struck out

six in four innings. Will Ledezma allowed Johnson’s home run, which

made it 3-all in the fifth.

Meanwhile, Bautista went 2 for 2 to finish with a .400 batting

average (24 for 60) and a team-high 14 RBIs. Toronto’s 16-14 record

was the best among AL teams.

Rays designated hitter Manny Ramirez was excused from the finale

to attend to a personal matter.

”I found out about it two days ago, so we talked and I said

there’s no problem, just take care of everything and come back,”

Maddon said. ”It’s something that he really had to do today, so I

was good with it.”

Ramirez is expected to return before Friday’s opener. The

12-time All-Star, one of Tampa Bay’s two biggest offseason

acquisitions, batted .311 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 19

exhibitions.