- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Evan Longoria hit a two-run homer and Grant Balfour was perfect in his first appearance in a Tampa Bay uniform since 2010, helping the Rays beat the Minnesota Twins 6-3 on Sunday.

Jerry Sands also homered for the Rays, who got a quick third inning from Balfour, as well as 1 2-3 scoreless innings from starter Alex Cobb.

“I’ll take a one-two-three, 12 pitches every day. It definitely went well,” said Balfour, who’s back with the Rays in a closer’s role after converting 62 of 67 saves opportunities for the Oakland Athletics over the past two seasons.

The right-hander pitched three seasons for Tampa Bay during a previous stint, contributing to the team’s improbable run to the World Series in 2008. He signed a $12 million, two-year contract in January after a deal he had in place with the Baltimore Orioles fell through this winter.

Balfour said he doesn’t feel he has anything to prove.

“I believe in myself. I’m very confident in myself. I think you’ve got to be to play this game,” the reliever said. “It’s a fine line between being confident and cocky. You’ve got to have a little cockiness to you, I think, to be good. All the good ones do. It’s just kind of how you handle it.”

Offseason acquisition Ricky Nolasco allowed two hits in two scoreless innings for the Twins, who signed him to a $49 million, four-year deal this winter and are counting on the right-hander to help bolster a struggling pitching staff that posted a major league-worst 5.26 ERA last season.

“It’s good to get a little adrenalin going and kind of get into a game atmosphere. I thought it went OK,” Nolasco said. “I’m not going to judge anything. I know it’s spring training. You go and just keep doing your repetitions.”

Oswaldo Arcia and Brandon Waring hit solo homers for the Twins. Waring’s shot was a mammoth drive that struck the roof of an island-themed bar and gathering spot beyond the left-centerfield wall.

“He killed that ball. He hit it a long way,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He hit it right to the Tiki Hut, right where I wanted to be all day.”


Twins: Nolasco was 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA in 33 starts for the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers last season. The Twins pursued him and Phil Hughes, signed to a $24 million, three-year contract, to upgrade their rotation. Nolasco won eight straight decisions for the Dodgers between Aug. 1 and Sept. 9 last summer, and Gardenhire liked what he saw Sunday.

“Free and easy,” the Minnesota manager said. “You could see he moves the ball around up and down in the zone, changes speed. He’s going to be fun to watch.”

Rays: Although ace David Price has won an AL Cy Young Award and Matt Moore won 17 games last season, Cobb was possibly Tampa Bay’s most consistent pitcher last year, when he 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA. He returned from missing 50 games after being struck in the head by a batted ball to go 5-1 with a 2.41 ERA in nine post-injury starts.

He allowed two hits and struck out three Sunday.

“The first (spring) game always feels a little weird, a little fast. Home plate feels far away for some reason,” Cobb said. “But the way I felt out there, I know I will gradually get better and better.”


Longoria’s homer off Anthony Swarzak was his first hit this spring. Meanwhile, Rays SS Yunel Escobar doubled off Nolasco in the second and added a fourth-inning single off Swarzak, giving him four hits in four at-bats in Grapefruit League play.

Arcia homered off Adam Liberatore in the fifth inning after twice being backed off the plate by inside pitches. Waring took Santiago Garrido deep in the seventh.


The Rays agreed to contract terms with 20 players for the upcoming season, including Cobb and another young member of the rotation, right-hander Chris Archer.

The others are INF Tim Beckham, LHP Jeff Beliveau, INF Vince Belnome, RHP Brad Boxberger, RHP Alex Colome, INF Logan Forsythe, RHP Brandon Gomes, OF Brandon Guyer, OF Desmond Jennings, RHP Nathan Karns, OF Kevin Kiermaier, INF Hak-Ju Lee, RHP Josh Lueke, LHP Mike Montgomery, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, RHP Enny Romero and RHP Kirby Yates.

The team renewed the contract of OF Wil Myers, last year’s AL rookie of the year.

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