KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Johnny Damon said getting on base is his No. 1 priority, and he doesn't care how he does it.
Damon walked four times in four at-bats and scored a run as the Tampa Bay Rays topped the Houston Astros 11-3 Thursday.Damon signed as a free agent after a year with the Detroit Tigers and said he wasn't concerned about his spring average, which is .308. Damon said that, of the 19 pitches he faced against the Astros, only two were legitimate strikes."I want to hit the ball and not walk every time up, but the idea here is to get on base," Damon said. "It never hurts the batting average and I improved my on-base percentage."Damon batted .271 last season for the Tigers and is hoping to help fill the void in left field following the departure of All-Star Carl Crawford, who left as a free agent to sign with the division rival Boston Red Sox.Damon said getting on base was more important than boosting his batting average."I get on base by being patient," Damon said. "I just start letting the pitchers get their pitch count up and take a good look at every pitch. If we can get into the bullpen because I am patient at the plate, that's a good thing."Damon said he learned early in his career that batting average means little in terms of how valuable a player is to a team."You know, batting averages only look good on baseball cards, but getting on base is what matters when it comes to the games."Another Ray that is learning that getting on base is more important that a shiny batting average is Elliot Johnson, competing for a utility infield position.Johnson is a switch-hitter who can play any infield position and has been bouncing between Triple-A Durham and Tampa Bay for several years. Johnson had two hits and an RBI on Thursday and stole three bases. He is tied for the league lead in stolen bases this spring with 11."When I get on base they want me to go," Johnson said. "If I dont go they want to know why I didn't go."Johnson is batting .250 but is the versatile kind of player that manager Joe Maddon likes as his final position players.Bud Norris started for the Astros and allowed four runs in four innings as his spring training ERA climbed to 6.75. Astros manager Brad Mills said he wasn't too concerned."He had good stuff and he got out of some jams," Mills said. "He started to overthrow, which he does sometimes, but he still had good stuff. The key is for him to stay with his good stuff and to trust it. When he tries too hard, he's off a little bit. I am not worried."Stephen Vogt, a non-roster catcher, bumped his spring average to .444 with a long homer, and Sam Fuld added another for the Rays. Vogt, Chris Carter, and Jose Lobaton each had two hits for Tampa Bay.