Sonnanstine faces tough battle for job

St. Petersburg Times (Florida) 
Times Staff Writer

PORT CHARLOTTE – RHP Andy Sonnanstine’s situation seems rather complicated, but he has a relatively simple plan.

“First and foremost,” he said, “my main goal is to make this team.”

At the least, manager Joe Maddon said, he will get that chance: “I just want him to compete for the last starting job and the last bullpen job. He’s eligible for both.”

But it’s not going to be easy. The final spot in the rotation seems to be rookie RHP Wade Davis’ to lose, and the competition for the last seat in the bullpen could get thick, starting with RHP Joaquin Benoit, the big-league veteran coming back from shoulder surgery.

A year ago, Sonnanstine’s status seemed no longer in question, coming off a 13-win season in 2008 and establishing himself in the rotation. But something, or several things, went wrong as he ballooned to 6-9 with a 6.77 ERA and was demoted to Triple A for two months.

The Rays have looked extensively at what went wrong and feel they can fix it, specifically improving his location and work against right-handers, who compiled a .367 average. “We have ideas,” Maddon said.

And Sonnanstine, 26, did his part.

“He was our top offseason conditioning guy in regards to attendance, work, etc.,” Maddon said. “So he knew what was at stake for him coming into this year, and he has responded as you would think in the appropriate way. I’m watching him right now. He’s looked good throwing the ball in the bullpen, and I really am eager to see him because he’s very motivated right now.

“A couple years ago this guy was a big part of us going to the World Series, so he’s definitely still within our plans.”

PERSONNEL DEPARTMENT: C Dioner Navarro left Saturday’s workout and went home because he wasn’t feeling well. LHP Jake McGee missed the workout due to what the team termed “a family matter.” He’s expected back today, but it’s not certain. RHP Rafael Soriano, who left Friday’s first workout due to a chest cold, rejoined the group.

REID ALERT: INF Reid Brig-nac joined the workouts knowing he has a chance to compete for the starting second base job as well as a backup role, but he’s not getting too caught up in the specifics. “I have to come and be ready and prepare for anything,” he said. “If I’m at shortstop or second base, I’ll be very happy to be here. Any position here is good.”

MISCELLANY: Saturday’s FanFest at Tropicana Field drew long lines and a large crowd. All but 10 position players have reported even though the first full-squad workout isn’t until Wednesday. LHP J.P. Howell’s right arm was still bruised and swollen after a rough experience having his blood drawn Friday.

Copyright 2010 Times Publishing Company
All Rights Reserved