Rays top Triple-A affiliate Durham 9-6

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — It would've been easy for the Tampa Bay Rays to go through the motions in their final spring training game.

After all, they woke up early Saturday, hopped a plane to North Carolina and played their Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls, on an abnormally hot day. But if there's one thing manager Joe Maddon has instilled throughout the organization, it's to play hard every game, no matter the opponent.

"You have a major league team in a situation like this that could've gone through the motions and leave. We didn't do that," Maddon said after Tampa Bay's 9-6 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 10,374 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. "That was the most impressive part of today for me. Our guys went about their business.

"I didn't try to draw that out of them. If they didn't do that, I would've been fine with it. Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford beat out infield hits. We played some good defense. It was beautiful."

The Rays, who had the majors' best spring training record (20-8), displayed the hustle, timely hitting and defense they hope will propel them to their second trip to the American League playoffs in three years. The starters played only three innings and the Rays left pitchers James Shields (opening day starter), Matt Garza, David Price, Wade Davis, Lance Cormier and Mike Ekstrom at home.

Tampa Bay will start the season Tuesday at Tropicana Field against the Baltimore Orioles.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun this year," said outfielder B.J. Upton, a former Durham Bull who had two hits for the Rays. "It's going to be exciting."

Pitcher Jeff Niemann got in four innings of work, but did not get the decision. He was roughed up for five runs and six hits in four innings by the Bulls. He gave up a two-run homer to third baseman Dan Johnson in the first inning, and allowed three more runs in the fourth. He struck out four and walked two.

"I didn't feel good today, but you're going to have days like that," said Niemann, one of the AL's top rookie pitchers last year while leading all rookies in innings pitched with 180 2-3. "I felt good this spring and today was an anomaly."

Maddon said, "Niemann got his work in. He insisted in throwing his fastball instead of his breaking ball and got knocked around."

Catcher Kelly Shoppach hit a grand slam in the second inning for Tampa Bay, which scored six times in second inning and led 6-5 after four innings before pushing across two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth.

Tampa Bay has until 3 p.m. Sunday to get complete its 25-man roster.

There are a couple of players who could see time in Durham (infielders Hank Blalock and Elliot Johnson) and Maddon will have some versatility in his lineup with Sean Rodriguez (who can play infield or right field, as he did Saturday) and Reid Brignac, who can back up second base and shortstop.

Maddon was pleased with his team's spring and now hopes it translates into the regular season — and another trip to the World Series.

"We did things the right way this spring and now we'll see what happens," he said.