ST. PETERSBURG -- Tuesday's season opener featured a host of quality defensive plays by the Rays -- most notably those made by Sam Fuld and Evan Longoria.
And overall the team looks solid in the field.
"When you look out at the field and you feel like it's quality at every spot, that's really a nice feeling," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We have quality at every spot, even when we move things around."
Last season's Rays experienced a meteoric fall in the field, dropping from the best fielding percentage in the American League in 2011 to the worst in 2012. Now, with Longoria back and a few additions, the Rays look ready to be in a position to move back to the top of the class on defense.
"We've fed off our defense a lot historically," Maddon said. "That's just how we play. I really think those were exceptional plays [in Tuesday's loss to the Orioles]. You make one or two a night and that's a lot. But normally in the past, when we've had really good seasons, we've fed off those defensive moments. And I thought we did [Tuesday] night."
Not only does quality defense give the offense a boost and save runs, Maddon pointed out it "also keeps pitchers in the game longer" by helping to keep their pitch counts down.
"It's about making plays like [the ones made Tuesday], but it's also about making plays in general," Maddon said. "If you make the plays you're supposed to make -- don't give up baserunners -- that in itself keeps pitchers in games longer, too. So all that stuff is part of the equation."
When asked if he would prefer a team that made web gems constantly or one that made the routine play with consistency, Maddon went with the latter.
"I'll take that every day of the week," Maddon said. "I mean the exceptional play can sometimes spark an offense. There's no doubt. I really believe that, but to play [steady] defense and save our pitchers pitches permits starters to stay in games deeper and keeps the bullpen on the bench longer."
Johnson expects Rays to showcase speed
ST. PETERSBURG -- Newcomer Kelly Johnson got to participate in some small ball in his first game for the Rays in Tuesday's loss to the Orioles.
Johnson walked to lead off the bottom of the sixth, then took off running on a 3-2 pitch. Desmond Jennings ripped the ball down the left-field line, which allowed Johnson to score from first.
Johnson believes that inning will be a precursor of what fans can expect from this year's team.
"I think there are enough athletes on this team where there are going to be a lot of opportunities for that," Johnson said. "Sometimes you get in the middle of the order, things get clogged up for a minute. ... You just don't have enough guys who can run. But I think there are enough guys here that can run, there are enough athletes where they can pick and choose spots to get runners in motion and trust that the guys are going to put the ball into play."
McGee confident despite taking loss in opener
ST. PETERSBURG -- A short memory is a key to being a quality reliever.
Jake McGee, who took the loss in Tuesday's opener against the Orioles, said he exceeded Rays manager Joe Maddon's rule about letting go of a loss -- or a win -- 30 minutes after the game.
"Last night lasted a little longer than the other ones," McGee said. "Some games when you give up a hit here or there, 30 minutes would be about right."
Despite taking the loss, McGee said he still has a lot of confidence in himself, particularly since his velocity is up at an early point of the season. The left-hander touched 98 mph Tuesday.
"Last year I wasn't throwing that hard the first couple of weeks until we went to Detroit, and then I was hitting 97 and I kind of got it," McGee said. "And even that game I gave up a couple of hits to [Miguel] Cabrera and Prince Fielder and we lost the game. I was like, 'If I have better location with [the 97 mph fastball], I'm going to get results.'"
And he did, putting together a superlative season in 2012.
Maddon was impressed with McGee on Tuesday, noting that "he threw the ball really well yesterday."
"Jake has been so consistent for us you really expect something good to happen when he's pitching," Maddon said. "And I expected it again yesterday. He was literally one pitch away from making that happen. They had a couple of ground-ball base hits and [Adam] Jones just had himself a good day. Jake just needs to be able to file that quickly. He just got beat yesterday. We got beat by a good at-bat by a very good baseball player."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.