PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- First baseman James Loney reported to camp on Monday looking to improve on a solid 2013 campaign.
"I'm always aiming for better," Loney said. "That's my nature."
After hitting .299 with 13 home runs and 75 RBIs for the Rays in 2013, Loney became a free agent before signing a three-year, $21 million contract to remain with the team.
"I didn't know how it would turn out," said Loney, "but I'm excited to be back. The guys are great. We had a good run last year, and we're looking to build on that."
Getting a multiyear deal was important for Loney, who had many suitors as a free agent.
"In today's game, you never know what can happen," he said. "As you get older, you start thinking about those kinds of things. With a family now, and all that kind of stuff, I was excited. We were happy, and we were glad to be back in St. Pete."
Bringing Loney back ranked high among the many solid offseason moves made by the Rays. Loney noted that within the organization, "Everybody's on the same page."
"Everybody wants to win, obviously," he said. "Find the right guys and the right pieces to do that. And I think we're in a great position."
Loney arrived as a free agent in 2013, riding a one-year deal after a disappointing 2012 campaign. A lot has changed for him since then, and he has found the Rays to be a good fit.
"I would say so," he said. "It's been productive for me and knowing who I am as a player, I think more, and even as a person, just kind of growing in that regard. [The way the Rays do things] all made sense to me. Just kind of felt like that feeling I was looking for."
He also addressed what has made being with the Rays so welcoming.
"Just be yourself, go out there and do what you've got to do," he said. "It's not a complicated formula or complicated process. I think when you keep it simple like that, it makes it a lot easier."
The Rays had Gold Glove nominees at every infield position last season. In addition to Loney, there was Evan Longoria at third, Yunel Escobar at shortstop and Ben Zobrist at second.
Loney is pleased to return to the group, as evidenced by the smile on his face.
"I look at that kind of stuff real big as far as the camaraderie, the guys I knew on this team and the chemistry that we had," he said. "I think that plays a lot into evolving into a championship-type team. I feel like we've got 90 percent of the guys back."
Loney wants to win with this current group.
"I knew this place," he said. "I knew the people in here. And I knew they were committed to winning."
McGee works curve back into repertoire
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Left-hander Jake McGee packs a 97-mph fastball, but he needs to have a pitch to keep hitters from digging in and waiting for that fastball -- even though a 97-mph normally does the trick. Thus he's gone back to using a curve.
"I used to use it in the Minor Leagues when I was a starter," McGee said. "It's more a 12-6 curveball. It'll have a bigger speed difference than my cutter-slider used to."
McGee, who has been using a cutter and a slider as his secondary pitches, hasn't used the curve at all.
"I have a lot of confidence in it," he said. "I threw it for five years in the Minor Leagues, and when I got called up in 2010, I started using the cutter-slider. I'll be able to throw the curve for strikes."
McGee also plans to use a changeup on occasion, but he believes the curve will be his go-to offspeed pitch this season. He acknowledged that he needs it.
"Especially something with a little bit of a speed difference, which is why I like the curveball," he said. "It's in the low 80s; my cutter last year was up to 93. So it's a bigger speed difference. You'll have to sit on one of the other pitches instead of just the fastball."
Jennings set to contribute however team needs
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Center fielder Desmond Jennings allows that he's packed on some weight since the 2013 season ended, but he will not divulge how much.
"Every spring I probably lose about 10 pounds, so I feel like I'll be around [the weight] I want to play at about the time the season starts," said Jennings, who noted that he didn't do anything different during his offseason workouts.
Jennings, who arrived at camp on Monday, is pleased with the work done by Rays management during the offseason.
"It just brings a smile to your face when you hear about it, you read about it," he said. "When I heard about [James] Loney [re-signing], I called him right then. I was like, 'Yes!' It makes you feel good. I feel really good about the team, the team they've put together to try and help us win."
Manager Joe Maddon would like to see Jennings return to the leadoff spot, even though Jennings has looked comfortable hitting farther down in the order, too.
For his part, Jennings isn't too concerned where in the order he hits.
"If [the leadoff spot is] where I need to be to help us win games, wherever," he said. "If it's first, if it's sixth, wherever I need to be. Whatever the best spot is for me to help the team win, I'm all in."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.