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Speedster startled by his rapid rise

MARC TOPKIN
Published June 26, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Joey Gathright does everything fast. But the speedy outfielder was surprised at how quickly he got to the major leagues.

Gathright, 23, was called up from Triple-A Durham on Friday and started in centerfield, going 0-for-3 while being hit by a pitch and scoring a run.

"It was fun," he said.

Gathright had played well since being moved up from Double A, hitting .326 in 21 games, but hadn't expected to go anywhere else until September.

"I wasn't even thinking about it," he said. "I was in shock. Still am."

Gathright stayed up much of the night calling his parents, other relatives and friends in his hometown - "Half of Mississippi knows about it," he said - and slept on the flights to Tampa.

Gathright is considered by some scouts the fastest player in pro baseball, even faster than Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford, and has the ... um ... unusual ability to jump over cars. But he said he is focused on a more serious pursuit.

"I'm here to play ball, that's it," Gathright said. "Get on base, try to score some runs."

The Rays called up Gathright to provide outfield depth, especially with Rocco Baldelli and Jose Cruz slowed by lingering leg injuries and three more games next week under NL rules.

"We needed an extra player," general manager Chuck LaMar said.

With Damian Rolls starting an eight- to 10-game rehab assignment at Durham, Gathright should have about two weeks to show what he can do.

To make room, infielder/outfielder Jose Bautista was designated for assignment. The Rays have 10 days to trade, release or waive him. As a Rule 5 draft pick, he can't be sent to the minors without first being offered back to Pittsburgh.

WAECHTER WOES: Doug Waechter probably won't be back in the rotation until after the mid-July All-Star break. The strained tendon in his right middle finger has not healed as quickly as the Rays had hoped, and he is going to take a week off from throwing to let it rest.

"It's better, but it's going to be a while," manager Lou Piniella said. "This is not another 10-day or two-week thing. ... If we can get him back within a month I think we're doing well."

PROUD PAPA: Closer Danys Baez rejoined the team Friday after spending five days at home in Miami for the birth of his daughter, Daniela Lucia.

Baez's wife, Mireya, had a fever and some other complications before the C-section delivery Sunday night, and the 7-pound, 10-ounce, 21-inch baby remained hospitalized for four days due to a low platelet count.

But Baez said Friday all was well.

"The doctor was a little scared ... and we had to wait a couple days to see what the resolution of it was," Baez said. "Everything was fine by Wednesday night."

Baez left Phoenix early Sunday morning and got to Miami around 4 p.m.; Daniela was born about 10 p.m. "A great Father's Day present," Baez said.

Baez spent most of the four days at the hospital but worked out Wednesday night and went to a local field to throw Thursday morning. He looked ready to go Friday, picking up his 14th save with 11/3 scoreless innings.

MISCELLANY: The Rays' 17 June wins are a record for any month. ... Tino Martinez said his tight left hamstring is getting better slowly and he hopes to be back in the lineup tonight or Sunday. ... The five combined hits matched the fewest for a Rays game; Thursday's game had a record-high 39. ... Crawford stole his major league-leading 32nd base. ... The Rays collected about 2,000 cans of fish to be donated to Metropolitan Ministries. ... About 350 fans attended a mid-day rally at St. Petersburg's Baywalk shopping complex.

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