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Shuffle is aimed at letting sore Lee rest

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 20, 2003

BALTIMORE -- The net result of Saturday's roster shuffle was this: George Lombard is here, Travis Lee is down, and Delvin James may be out.

With Lee's right oblique muscle still tender, the Devil Rays took a conservative route rather than risk a more serious injury and extended absence and placed him on the 15-day disabled list. The move is retroactive to Monday, making him eligible to return April 29.

"I think it's a wise decision," Lee said. "Either it's 15 days or it's 55 days. Hopefully this will knock it out and I'll be ready."

The team replaced Lee on the 25-man roster by calling up Lombard from Triple A to take over in rightfield. He hit the second pitch he saw over the centerfield fence.

"That might have been the most excited I've been in my baseball career," Lombard said. "That's probably the fastest I ever ran around the bases."

Lombard, 27, was a second-round pick by Atlanta (and Chuck LaMar) in 1994, bypassing what could have been a tremendous college football career as a running back, but has yet to play consistently well during stints with the Braves and Tigers.

The Rays claimed him on waivers at the end of spring training, then turned around and passed him through waivers to send him to Triple A, where he was off to a good start, hitting .327 in 14 games. Lombard had just had his car, clothes and personal belongings shipped to Durham when, as he was headed to the plate in the eighth inning Friday, he was told of his promotion and caught an early flight Saturday.

"I'm here to show them I can play," he said.

With Carl Crawford in leftfield, Rocco Baldelli in center and Lombard in right, the Rays have what amounts to a track team in the outfield. "Probably as athletic an outfield as you're going to see in the big leagues," manager Lou Piniella said.

Because Lombard had to first be put back on the 40-man roster, the Rays created space by designating James for assignment, which means they have 10 days to trade, release or pass him through waivers.

James, who made a remarkable recovery at Durham last season after being shot in a late-night incident at a restaurant, didn't impress during spring training and had an 8.38 ERA for the Bulls in six relief appearances.

LaFOREST UPDATE: Visa problems that kept catcher Pete LaForest in Canada since February may be nearly resolved. Rays assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said LaForest may get clearance to rejoin the team and report to extended spring training this week.

LaForest has been working out in Quebec waiting for his paperwork to be approved.

The problem, he told Montreal's Mirror, stemmed from using an improper student visa, at the suggestion of a Rays official, when he joined the team in 1997. He was caught by U.S. Immigration officials and, in his words, "banned from the States." In each of the past five years, he said he got a waiver, but there have been several delays in processing his application this year.

"My status hasn't changed, I haven't done anything wrong, it's just that their forms were late and missing," LaForest said. "With 9-11 and everything, it's all a big hassle."

NICK OF TIME: Having allowed 27 hits in 13 innings, Nick Bierbrodt goes into today's start without much room for error if he wants to stay in the rotation. Piniella had been concerned about a lack of velocity, but Bierbrodt said he feels fine and will try to keep the ball down.

FOR STARTERS: The Rays got their first win from a starting pitcher in their 17th game. The last team to go longer without one was Hal McRae's 1992 Royals, who got it in their 18th game. ... Lombard was the fourth player to homer in his first Rays at-bat, joining Esteban Yan, Gerald Williams and Terry Shumpert.

MISCELLANY:Baldelli caught eight fly balls and had a hit, giving him 27 through 17 games, second most among rookies to Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki over the past 35 years. ... The Rays hit three homers for the first time this season. ... This was the first time in 15 career starts Jorge Sosa didn't allow a run. ... Injured starter Jim Parque threw a simulated game at the minor-league complex with no problems and is likely to make a rehabilitation start this week. ... Crawford was caught stealing for the first time in six tries.

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