SARASOTA -- Ryan Roberts has been making a concerted effort this spring to hit the ball back through the middle. Doing so has allowed him to show an improved stroke.
When asked if "falling in love with the homer" threw a crimp into his mechanics, Roberts noted that, "It could have been anything.
"Maybe some of that, maybe some of getting pounded in, breaking balls away, fastballs in. You know, you just try to adjust. Over the course of the season it gets to where you're struggling a little bit and they're pounding you in, so you just try to clear that front side and get them out of there a couple of times.
"Whatever the case may be, you go through so many things during the season that it could be everything. But this basically will get me to not worry about any of that. Just hit the ball back up the middle."
Hitting coach Derek Shelton noted that he thought Roberts "got a little bit big" last season.
"He got a little bit out of control with his swings," Shelton said. "It's typical when you're searching for things and you try to over-swing, especially coming to a new team and I think sitting back at home [over the winter] and the reflection of it a little bit. He came to [trying to hit the ball up the middle] and he's been outstanding with it."
Roberts went 0-for-2 with a walk in Thursday's game against the Orioles.
Maddon, players to shave heads for cancer
SARASOTA -- On Friday morning at 11:30 a.m., prior to the Rays-Phillies contest at Charlotte Sports Park, Rays Manager Joe Maddon, players and staff will shave their heads for a second straight season to pay tribute to children fighting cancer.
"I think it's great," Maddon said. "I'm looking forward to it myself. It's about time to shave this all down." Maddon said as he touched his hair. "It's kind of cool we're doing this two years in a row."
All proceeds from Friday's event will benefit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
To show support for a player or participant, the public is encouraged to text "Cut" to 50555 to make a $10 donation or visit pcfcutforacure.org.
Fans attending the game will be able to shave their heads with the Rays and receive a "Fortune Favors the Bald" T-shirt for a $100 donation.
"I saw the signup sheet, it looked pretty good," Maddon said. "I'm sure we'll have some stragglers."
The Rays will wear the "Fortune Favors the Bald" T-shirts during batting practice before Friday's game. The T-Shirts will be available for purchase beginning Friday at the Rays stores at Tropicana Field and Charlotte Sports Park, the Rays Tampa Store at 400 N. Tampa St., Pediatric Cancer Foundation, All Children's Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center.
The shirts will sell for $15.99 with all proceeds benefiting the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Moffitt Cancer Center and All Children's Hospital.
The T-shirts are available at the following locations:
All Children's Hospital 501 6th Ave. S., St. Petersburg 727-767-8592
Moffitt Cancer Center 12902 Magnolia Dr., Tampa 1-888-MOFFITT
Pediatric Cancer Foundation 5550 West Executive Drive, Suite 300, Tampa
Fifth-starter spot down to Niemann, Hernandez
SARASOTA -- On Tuesday, right-handers Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi were optioned to Triple-A Durham. Both had been candidates to claim the fifth spot in the rotation. Subtracting the pair narrowed the competition to Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked on Thursday if he was ready to make a decision on the rotation spot any time soon.
"It's not pending yet," Maddon said. "It's getting close, but it could still take a while."
In 2009, Niemann had to win a pitch-off with Jason Hammel to win the spot. Will this year's competition come down to a pitch-off?
"I don't anticipate that," Maddon said.
Choosing between Niemann and Hernandez will likely come down to what happens this spring, combined with a healthy dose of each pitcher's history.
Throughout camp Niemann has carried himself as if unfazed by the competition.
"It's one of those things where it's a win-win for the organization, the team," Niemann said. "Either way it's going to be good for the team."
Niemann started in Thursday's game against the Orioles and was solid, allowing one run on four hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out three, and his spring ERA is 2.13.
In four outings spanning 10 innings, Hernandez has allowed three earned runs and struck out seven.
• Rays manager Joe Maddon did not seem upset that his closer, Fernando Rodney, has been used four times while pitching for the Dominican Republic during the World Baseball Classic. "[Rodney's outings have] been spaced out relatively good," Maddon said.
• Maddon said the last 10 days of Spring Training will see an acceleration of playing time for the regulars. "We want to really pile up the at-bats at that point," Maddon said. "That's what we did last year. So we want to get more at-bats later in the camp."
• With seven years apiece under their belts, Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, and Maddon are the second-longest tenured general manager/manager pairing in baseball. Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski, Detroit's manager and general manager, also go back to 2006, but the pair also had two years together with the Marlins (1997-1998).
• Tim Beckham (facial laceration) returned Thursday and singled in his only at-bat.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.