PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Top prospect Jake Odorizzi will be the final member of the Rays' starting rotation to begin the season.
The ongoing battle for the final spot in Tampa Bay's rotation came to an end Saturday, with manager Joe Maddon declaring Odorizzi his team's fifth starter. Veteran Erik Bedard and fellow left-hander Cesar Ramos were also in the running.
"Odorizzi had all this stuff going on from the past -- he had a good September, a great work ethic this past winter and comes into this camp and starts showing some other things," Maddon said. "Just the whole body of work. We just think that Jake is the right guy for this moment."
Speaking just after learning of the skipper's decision, Odorizzi couldn't quite put into words what it means to break camp as a big leaguer for the first time.
"I really can't describe my feelings right now, to tell you the truth," a clearly elated Odorizzi said. "It's too much to put into words, and I don't think I'd do a good enough job of describing how I feel right now through words. It's incredible, but it's just kind of indescribable right now."
As for the two who did not get the nod, Bedard was given the option to go to Triple-A Durham, while Ramos will shift into a long-relief role in the Rays' bullpen. Bedard decided to opt out of going to Triple-A and become a free agent, according to a source. The Rays have not yet commented.
Bedard had expressed earlier in the week that due to the numerous amount of injuries to starters throughout the league, he wanted to pursue other Major League opportunities if he lost out on the fifth-starter job.
Maddon believes Ramos will continue to help the club in a bullpen role. The final decision seemed to ultimately come down to Odorizzi and Ramos, a testament to Ramos' impressive spring in which he racked up a 2.63 ERA while striking out 11 hitters in 13 2/3 innings.
"We love what Cesar did. He pitched really well," Maddon said. "And I told him that, quite honestly, he's really raised his abilities, in my mind's eye, regarding what he can do. Even though he didn't accomplish the fifth-starter role, I could definitely see him pitching in more high-leverage moments."
The decision was far from an easy one for Maddon and the Rays' brass, but it likely pales in comparison to what Odorizzi and Ramos experienced on Saturday. Knowing that Maddon had said he would announce his decision on Saturday, Odorizzi said he slept for only about two hours on Friday night.
The wait, however, didn't end when he arrived at Charlotte Sports Park on Saturday morning. Instead, it wasn't until after the game that Maddon informed Odorizzi and Ramos of his decision. Bedard had been notified prior to the game that he would not be the fifth starter.
"The whole competition was very good. Everybody's best stuff came out," said Odorizzi, who waited quietly at his locker after the game -- directly next to Bedard's cleaned-out space -- for Maddon to beckon him into his office. "Cesar did a fantastic job, and I really got to know Erik, being lockermates with him. They did a fantastic job, and I feel honored that I'm the one that got picked out of the three, because I feel that any one of us could have made this spot."
For the time being, the Rays' rotation will consist of David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Odorizzi. Jeremy Hellickson is expected to be out until early June after undergoing right elbow surgery to remove loose bodies.
As for what the rotation will look like upon Hellickson's return, let alone the season's end, Maddon knows that the Rays will need more help -- whether it be from Ramos, Bedard or someone else entirely -- outside of the starting five at some point this summer.
"Most of the time," Maddon said, "the 25 guys you leave [camp] with aren't the same 25 that are popping champagne at the end of the season."
After taking BP, Joyce nearing return
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Outfielder Matt Joyce moved one step closer to a return on Saturday, taking batting practice with the club prior to Tampa Bay's game against the Orioles.
Manager Joe Maddon said that Joyce, who hasn't played since leaving Wednesday's game early with a stiff neck, could return as soon Sunday. His status will ultimately depend on how he comes through Saturday's batting practice session.
"It's getting there," Joyce said. "I'm feeling better and should be real close."
Joyce is hitting .222 (8-for-36) with one home run in 14 games this spring after posting a .235/.328/.419 slash line and hitting 18 home runs in 140 games last season.
• Rays No. 2 overall prospect, Hak-Ju Lee, left a Minor League game on Saturday after tweaking his left knee, the same one that cost him the entire 2013 season after he tore ligaments that required surgery to repair. Manager Joe Maddon said the shortstop's removal was strictly precautionary and he does not expect Lee to miss substantial time.