Duncan stays put on Opening Day roster
Rays outfielder was packed, ready to leave when he received the call
ST. PETERSBURG -- Shelley Duncan received the good news on Sunday afternoon that he would be on the Rays' Opening Day roster since Luke Scott will begin the season on the disabled list with a strained right calf.
For Duncan, the news couldn't have come at a better time, as he explained.
"I was about 30 minutes from leaving the house in Port Charlotte, we had the car all packed up and getting ready to go," Duncan said. "The good thing is we couldn't leave right after the workout [Sunday] because the dogs were at Camp Bow Wow. And you can't pick them up on Sundays until 4 o'clock there. We had to wait. So luckily we weren't in Georgia or something. So we were on standby for that reason, and got the phone call and made the trip 10 hours shorter."
Duncan's dogs, Scrappy and Tuerto, are both "little mutts," according to their owner.
"One I pulled off the street in Puerto Rico and the other one, a little street dog, I got in Tucson at the pound," Duncan said.
Once Duncan got the news, he and his family turned toward St. Petersburg rather than Triple-A Durham.
"The dogs saved us a long drive," Duncan said.
Understanding the implications of Scott's injury, Duncan knew he had a chance to be the player the team picked to fill the gap.
"There was a couple of us down [at Minor League camp], we kind of knew the situation from the outskirts, but we didn't know what all was going on on the inside," Duncan said. "Being in this game long enough, you understand that a lot of curveballs can be thrown at you at the last minute."
Duncan reported being "pleasantly surprised" while having empathy for all of the others involved.
"I feel bad for Luke and I feel bad for some of the other guys, but me and the wife are very happy," Duncan said.
" ... I have been on the other side of it a couple of times. It is nice, but you also understand all the different things that go on in this game, so it's very important to stay humble and just focus day to day."
Rays manager Joe Maddon spoke about the decision to go with Duncan rather than some of the club's other options.
"Just looking at what we may need, with the right-handed bat versus the left-handed pitcher, the power -- he can put the ball in the gap or in the seats," Maddon said. "I think he's become a better first baseman also, when you want to give James [Loney] a day off, it's possible. ... There's a lot of things he can do, plus I just think he's really good on the team, too."
In six Major League seasons, Duncan owns a .229 average with 41 home runs and 138 RBIs. This will be the fourth Opening Day roster he has been on, including the Yankees in 2008 and the Indians in '11 and '12.
"I think Opening Day for everybody, you get the butterflies, you just hope they don't overwhelm you like they do your first," Duncan said.
Price excited for Opening Day against O's
ST. PETERSBURG -- David Price seemed excited about the Rays' Opening Day on Tuesday afternoon against the Orioles.
The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner will start the opener.
"It is very special," Price said. "It's the first day for us and we're obviously at home, so we get to take the field first and we get to throw the first pitch. And we get to set our own tone. So it's good. We enjoy it and we're looking forward to it."
Price would not deny that he will have his share of butterflies on Tuesday.
"Yeah, absolutely, I've got them now just [being interviewed]," Price said. "It's a good day. If you can't get butterflies when you come out to a Major League game on Opening Day, there's probably something wrong with you."
When asked about this year's team, Price said it felt "like just a normal Tampa Bay team."
"Everybody fits in in the locker room, and we have no problems on and off the field," Price said. "And I feel like that's what really helps us out, over the course of 162 games. We have guys in this locker room who get along and have fun together. That's what we do."
And as for the team he'll be facing Tuesday, the Orioles ...
"I feel like the only guy they've lost is Mark Reynolds," Price said. "He was a big piece in that lineup with the power he possessed to all fields. But they've got guys to step in for him.
"I'm sure Chris Davis is going to start playing a lot more against lefties as well. And Nick Markakis is healthy. Brian Roberts is back. And they have a very good team. Nolan Reimold will hit in the seven- and eight-hole. He's a good big league hitter. So they've definitely got a lot of guys on that team who can swing the bat, so I don't think they've downgraded too much."
Johnson to serve as DH in season opener
ST. PETERSBURG -- Newcomer Kelly Johnson, who will likely play a lot of second base and some left field this season, got the news during Monday's workout that he will be the Rays' designated hitter on Tuesday against the Orioles.
"I know some guys who don't want to [be the DH], but I haven't done it enough to get to that point," Johnson said. "I'm all right with it."
Johnson was used as a DH four times in 2012 and seven times overall in his career. He said he is comfortable with the role.
"I don't think I would be the first one to volunteer to do it on a regular basis," Johnson said. " ... Like anyone, I just want to be in the lineup."
Johnson was asked if being the DH served him up an introduction to manager Joe Maddon's lineups. The skipper has a penchant for switching things up for his players on a consistent basis.
"It is my introduction to Joe Maddon," said Johnson, allowing a chuckle. "But like I said, being in the lineup is where I want to be. I'll be playing a lot more games in the field than I will DHing this year. That's how it laid out, Luke [Scott] getting hurt obviously."
Longo, Rays can benefit from winning vibe
ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay bid farewell to several of its longtime members during the offseason, players who dated back to Devil Rays days.
On the current team, only Ben Zobrist wore the green of the Devil Rays during the regular season. Now, players on the club only know the organization as being successful. Third baseman Evan Longoria believes having that vibe can only be a positive for this year's version of the Rays.
"There was a lot of history with B.J. [Upton] and [James] Shields in this organization, and I think there were some things that were tough for them to get beyond," Longoria said. "They were really the only ones that were left in here that were here before the Rays were in 2008, when we started to be the team that we are now. I think some of those things kind of stuck around, and as much as you try to instill the new way, some of those things, it was tough to get some of those thoughts out of their head."
Longoria said both "obviously" were great players and teammates, but "I think with the new people that we have now, it's a completely new belief in what we're trying to do here."
"I don't know if that came out the right way. I'm not trying to be negative in any way, obviously, but I think with the personalities that we brought in, we really from Day 1 in Spring Training, we're all on this same page, and same belief that now Tampa Bay is a destination, whereas before it wasn't really," Longoria said. "This is now a destination for guys who are free agents or have opportunities to go other places to play. A lot of people want to come and play here, and the people that do end up here, they want to win, and they want to do what we've been doing here for the past five years. I think that's just a big part of it really from Day 1, having that belief and the guys that are here wanting to be here."
Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked about Longoria's message, and though he believes this year's team is a quality group, he had only nice things to say about the departed.
"James Shields kind of like set the tone for how our starting pitchers live right now, and I'm totally grateful for all of that," Maddon said. "And B.J., who played better when it mattered at the end of seasons than he did? I mean, this guy always came through at the end of the year and did it again last year.
"So, I mean for the guys that have left, I wish them nothing but the best, whether through Spring Training or if we've traded them. The one thing I do know is that they helped us become the Rays. They were a big part of us becoming the Rays. And I'll always be grateful to them for that."
Rays sell out eighth straight home opener
ST. PETERSBURG -- Tuesday's Opening Day contest against the Orioles marks the eighth consecutive season the Rays have sold out the home opener.
Tickets are available for the two remaining games in the series vs. the Orioles, and the three-game weekend series vs. the Cleveland Indians.
On Saturday, the first 20,000 fans will receive a David Price Cy Young figurine, and on Sunday, kids 14 and under will receive an Evan Longoria Wall Cling.
Single-game tickets for Rays regular-season home games are available at raysbaseball.com, all Ticketmaster outlets, the Rays Tampa Store (400 N. Tampa St.) and the Gate 1 Tropicana Field Box Office, as well as over the phone at 888-FAN-RAYS and 1-800-745-3000.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.