PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays have taken a conservative approach when it’s come to their injured players this spring.

A pair of Rays took big steps forward Sunday as star third baseman Evan Longoria and designated hitter Luke Scott made their spring debuts in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Overshadowing their return was Rays starter Jeff Niemann, who tossed three perfect innings in his second spring start. The right-hander, vying for a spot in the rotation, threw only 27 pitches and used his entire repertoire.

“I feel like we’re just refining now,” Niemann said. “We’re not searching. We’re not trying to find a new pitch. Everything’s pretty much there. We’re really just trying to make things that much better and not trying to search.”

Longoria was hitless and committed a throwing error in the fourth inning. He drew a walk and later scored on Reid Brignac’s squeeze bunt, and added a sacrifice fly.

The slugger said he felt no pain in his right hand that was bruised when he was hit by a pitch earlier in camp. He said it was to be expected that he’d struggle a bit at the start.

“The thing about playing spring training games is adjusting to the speed of the game again, and just being out there and errors, and obviously those are going to happen, but the adjustment to playing in a major league game again and feeling that speed is what’s needed, why we need spring,” he said.

“So those adjustments will be made. It’s the first game, so I got my feet wet and it felt good doing it,” he said.

Scott was hitless in his first game as a Ray, but felt no pain in his right shoulder that he had surgically repaired in the offseason. While it felt good to see game action, Scott said he can’t put a timetable on when he’ll feel all settled at the plate.

“It’s kind of like trying to hold back the tide,” Scott said. “You just can’t predict when you’re going to be locked in. I’ve had years where my second at-bat of the spring I was locked in and ready to go, and I had spring trainings where I never got locked in, not even one at-bat.”

Pirates right-hander Kevin Correia was sharp in three scoreless innings. He yielded two hits with a walk and a strikeout in his second spring start.

“Everything felt pretty good,” Correia said. “I got some longer counts with some guys, and managed to get them out. All and all, I was pretty happy with it.”

Pittsburgh’s lineup looked similar to what it is projected to look like on opening day, but the Pirates were held to just four hits.

Pedro Alvarez hit his second homer of the spring in the fifth against Rays reliever Joel Peralta.

“Pedro put another real good swing on a ball,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I like the fact from the first at-bat he was ready to hit. (Peralta) fired a first-pitch strike.”

Jake Fox homered in the ninth for Pittsburgh. The Rays scored twice in the bottom half and won on a single by Chris Gimenez.

“You always look for positive things that happen during every spring training game, every ‘B’ game regardless of the outcome,” Hurdle said. “It’s not all about the outcome. I think at this point in time towards the back of spring training, we’re a little more focused on getting the right people in the situations in that you feel they are going to perform in during the season. Right now, it’s still the evaluation process.”

NOTES: Bryan Morris, Daniel Moskos and Jared Hughes logged scoreless innings for the Pirates. … J.P. Howell, Jake McGee and Brandon Gomes pitches scoreless innings for the Rays. … Brignac, Jose Molina and Matt Mangini each had two hits for Tampa Bay.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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