ST. PETERSBURG - If it seems like every time reliever John Halama makes an appearance for the Rays something good happens, then don't adjust your glasses.
Manager Lou Piniella is seeing the same thing.
After three scoreless innings in relief in Saturday's 10-7 win over the Rockies, Piniella rewarded Halama (2-1, 2.76 ERA) with a spot in the starting rotation.
"He's going to get a start," Piniella said. "We're going to put him in the rotation and let him pitch."
In a game where runs and hits were on the clearance rack, Halama was the stopper, giving up no hits or walks to the final nine batters.
But while Halama's bullpen production has been important, the Rays can no longer deny him a start.
"He's been so valuable in the bullpen for us," Piniella said. "And we really haven't wanted to change something from working, but he deserves the opportunity. He's earned it."
Piniella said Halama will start late next week in Arizona.
"Our starting staff here, as a whole, we've made quite a few changes, obviously, but I think we need to keep playing with it a little bit," Piniella said.
And who will move to the bullpen?
"We'll talk about that later," Piniella said.
ROUGH WEEK: Outfielder Rocco Baldelli, hitting .282 with six home runs and 25 RBIs, sprained a ligament in his left thumb sliding into second base to break up a double play in the seventh inning Friday.
He was inserted as a defensive substitute in the ninth inning Saturday and is expected to sit out today's game.
"We don't know how long he'll be out," Piniella said. "According to what the trainer has told me, we'll see how much improvement he has over the next couple of days."
Baldelli's MRI exam was "inconclusive" but team officials said he likely has a "first-degree sprain," which will be treated with ice and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Earlier in the week, Baldelli had to overcome a bout of food poisoning that caused him to miss two starts. "That's a bad week," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get it all out in one week."
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: Utility infielder Damian Rolls is steadily recovering from sternum and internal organ injuries after he collided with outfielder Jose Cruz's knee late in a game against the Indians on May 23.
Rolls got the worst of the collision and was placed on the disabled list.
"When I got to the emergency room, the doctor told me he thought I was in a car wreck," Rolls said. "The doctor asked, "What, the steering wheel hit your chest?' I said, "No it was a knee.' "
Rolls came off the DL on June 8 and has missed 17 games. He said he expects to be with the team on the upcoming 11-day, nine-game road trip.
Any lessons learned from running into Cruz's knee?
"I drive about 5 mph slower just because of what the doctor said," Rolls said.
DEWON, DEWON: The Rays are anxious to see how right-hander Dewon Brazelton pitches tonight. The third overall pick in the 2001 draft will make his first start since being called up from Durham on June 3. Brazelton, who turns 24 on Wednesday, made a relief appearance Tuesday against the Giants, taking over for injured Doug Waechter. In 4.2 innings, he gave up one unearned run.
"He did a nice job (in relief)," Piniella said. "We'd be very pleased with that type of performance."
THIS AND THAT: With his inside the park home run Friday night, second baseman Rey Sanchez snapped a stretch of 745 at-bats without a homer. Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling holds the current record with 762 at-bats without a homer. ... The team signed its fourth-round pick, catcher Matthew Spring of Dixie State College in Utah. ... The team has a four-game interleague winning streak, the best in club history. It also equaled the franchise's best record (25-34) after 59 games.