PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Tampa Bay's pitching has long been the team's strong point. Obviously, much of the credit goes to the pitchers themselves, as the Rays have been able to put talented pitchers on the field. However, much of the credit must also head in the direction of pitching coach Jim Hickey.
Rays manager Joe Maddon called Hickey the "Pied Piper," adding: "They follow him because he's got a great way about him."
Maddon had plenty to say when asked to elaborate.
"First of all, Hickey doesn't think he knows everything, which is great," Maddon said. "He's always willing to learn and try new things -- and he's open. I think he holds [the pitchers] accountable, and I think that's a strong point.
"They can't get away with anything. They say something that he doesn't believe is accurate or true, he'll tell them it isn't accurate or true in his own way. And I think that's the first part of being a really good Major League coach is to do that."
In addition, Hickey is organized.
"He has the day planned out well in advance," Maddon said. "He knows what he wants to say in advance."
Hickey has countless other endearing qualities, too.
"He's very good at deciphering what you say is a complex situation and making it easier," said Maddon. "His pre-series preparation is outstanding. All of those things. He has a lot of really good qualities. ... and, of course, his sense of humor is pretty good. ... I think he relates to them very well. So there are a lot of different reasons why he is very good at what he does."
Ultimately, Maddon believes he has one of the top pitching coaches in Major League Baseball.
"He's among the best," Maddon said. "And I think he's youthful and he has an energy about him that they feel, too. And I think that matters, too."
Maddon paused and again harkened back to how Hickey demands accountability.
"Best quality? He calls [baloney] on them," Maddon said. "When they need to be held accountable, he calls them on it. That's his best quality."
Peralta's stiff neck improves
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Joel Peralta reported on Saturday that his stiff neck had improved dramatically enough to where he could long toss.
"Maybe [I'll throw a] bullpen tomorrow," Peralta said.
Meanwhile, the right-hander's fate remains up in the air, as far as playing for the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic.
Peralta tried with no success on Friday to contact former Major Leaguer Moises Alou, who is the general manager for the Dominican Republic team. He said he would try again Saturday to give a status update.
"I don't think that I'll be ready to help the team," Peralta said.
Peralta made no secret of the fact that pitching for his native country would mean a lot to him. But he doesn't want to fill a slot and hurt the team. Nor does he want to hurt the Rays by pitching too much during the Classic.
"This is my last chance, probably, to be in the Classic," said Peralta, who turns 37 on March 23. "And I do want to be there. I wish that I can be there."
De La Rosa arrives at camp after long week
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Dane De La Rosa "didn't take it personally" when the Rays designated him for assignment to make room for Luke Scott on the 40-man roster. But the move did temporarily upset his Spring Training arrangements.
De La Rosa, who cleared waivers and remained with the Rays, arrived at camp on Saturday morning. During the past week he has been in scramble mode, while waiting to find out whether he would return to the Rays this spring.
Some of those arrangements delayed him showing up to the team from his home in Wildomar, Calif. Getting things squared away served as an aggravation for the right-hander, who had six saves at Triple-A Durham last season.
"I hate being late for things," De La Rosa said. "I was prepared, but the feeling everybody was getting two extra days [made me anxious]."
Duncan looking forward to 'opportunity' with Rays
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Shelley Duncan is in camp after signing a Minor League deal with the team.
Duncan, who hits right-handed, batted .203 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 81 games for Cleveland last season. He said the opportunity with Tampa Bay was his prime motivation for signing with the team.
"Opportunity, that's the most important thing," Duncan said. "... Good manager. Good team chemistry. Good quality guys in the clubhouse. I've always admired how they played."
Duncan, 32, played a distinct role in Rays history, as he is the player who slid with spikes high into Akinori Iwamura during a 2008 Spring Training game between the Rays and Yankees at Al Lang Stadium. The ensuing fracas has long been cited as a bonding moment for the 2008 American League champion Rays. Duncan didn't have much to say when asked if he could appreciate the irony of joining the Rays after that episode.
"I didn't know what anybody thought," Duncan said. "I went about my business."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.