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Hamilton looking forward
By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 19, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Today isn't a particularly happy anniversary for Josh Hamilton. It was last March 19 when he was given a one-year suspension for violating baseball's drug policy, a penalty that was later extended to cover the 2005 season due to additional violations.
But Hamilton, 23, said Friday better days are ahead. He says he has been clean and sober since September and is hopeful of being reinstated this season.
"Everything's going good," Hamilton said from his North Carolina home. "Every time I talk to the doctors from (Major League) Baseball, they say they want to see a good length of sobriety and to keep doing well and that we could hear something sometime this summer, but there's nothing specific."
Rays general manager Chuck LaMar called Hamilton a few weeks ago and had a good chat with the power-hitting outfielder who was once considered the top prospect in the game.
"There's no question in his mind he's handling the situation, and he's hopeful of being in a Devil Rays uniform this summer," LaMar said.
Hamilton has been working out feverishly and is waiting to be reinstated so he can resume playing with one of the Rays' minor-league teams.
"That's all I can do," he said.
Father-in-law Michael Dean Chadwick said Hamilton is eager to resume his career.
"I don't know how many days have to tick off the clock until he has an opportunity to come back, but whenever that is, he'll be there," Chadwick said.
WELCOME BACK: Outfielder Alex Sanchez, released by Detroit this week, could rejoin the Rays as soon as today and join the competition for the backup outfield job.
The Rays were in serious talks with his representatives Friday about a minor-league contract. Sanchez, drafted by the Rays in 1996, has a career .292 average in parts of four seasons with the Brewers and Tigers. ...
Steve Cox, who played for the Rays from 1999-2002 and came back this spring on a minor-league deal, was brought over from minor-league camp so manager Lou Piniella could see him hit and went 1-for-3 on Friday.
"He's had some success on the big-league level," Piniella said. "He's healthy. We brought him here to take a look at him for a couple of days."
Cox went to Japan in 2003 but sustained a knee injury, then sat out last season after St. Louis let him go in spring training. "Just trying to knock some rust off," Cox said.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays lost 5-4 to Toronto on a chilly night, allowing three unearned runs. ... Seth McClung, a candidate for the No. 4 spot in the rotation, had trouble with his curveball but felt he pitched better than his line showed: 22/3 innings, six hits, four runs (two earned). "I want to win the game, I want to win a spot in the rotation, I want to win a spot on this team," the right-hander said. "It's real frustrating when you sit there and it just doesn't work out." Said Piniella: "I've seen him sharper." ... Rob Bell, also competing for a rotation spot, looked sharp, scattering five hits over 32/3 innings and striking out five. "Bell has been throwing the ball well," Piniella said. ... Josh Phelps made several nice plays at first base. ... Luis Ordaz, who could become a candidate for the utility infield job, looked smooth at second and shortstop.
BIG TEST: Today's outings could be important tests for veteran starters Hideo Nomo and Denny Neagle. While Neagle said he expects to open the season in the minors, Nomo has been showing steady, albeit slow, improvement in his bid for a job in the rotation.
"We're running out of time here in the spring, so from that perspective I would label (the outings) important," Piniella said.
SEE YOU SOON: First-round draft pick Jeff Niemann was optioned to Double-A Montgomery but made such an impression that he could be back soon, perhaps by the end of this season.
"He showed that he's a pretty good young pitcher," Piniella said. "He showed a lot of poise. He had good stuff. For a young guy who never pitched professional ball, he has pretty good mound presence. And he threw strikes.
"I would expect that his hiatus from the major leagues won't be too long."
MISCELLANY: Mark Hendricksen, with a spot in the rotation secured, pitched four shutout innings in a Class A minor-league game, allowing one hit and striking out seven. ... Outfielder Rocco Baldelli will sign autographs from 5-6 p.m. today at the new Checkers Drive-In, 6200 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg. ... Rays officials will participate in today's 10:15 a.m. rededication of the North Seminole Heights Little League fields at Tampa's Rowlett Park complex, 2401 E. Yukon St.