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ST. PETERSBURG - Veteran catcher Charles Johnson returned to the Devil Rays on Tuesday without saying why he had to leave the team for five days. But he did say the mysterious personal situation was resolved enough that he would be with the Rays for the rest of the season.
"Everything is great," Johnson said. "I hated to leave. Now I'm here. I'm glad to be back here and try to help the team win games. ... I'm very confident I'll be here. ... I want to be here and I expect to be here."
Devil Rays officials say they still don't know why Johnson left but were glad to see him back and to hear that he plans on sticking around.
"It was a personal issue, and I have not tried to pry into the whys of the personal issue," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "He shot straight with us from the start, and I think he appreciates how we handled the situation as well. ... I have total confidence that he's here to stay."
"He told me it was a very private matter, and I'm okay with it," manager Lou Piniella said. "I think he's here to stay."
Johnson, 33, took a mysterious leave of absence April6, issuing a vague statement saying he was going home to South Florida for "personal reasons."
He didn't say much more than that upon returning Tuesday.
"Basically there were some personal things I had to take care of back at home," Johnson said. "The team was very gracious to allow me the chance to take care of them. Unfortunately, I had to leave the ballclub. In my 11 years being here in the big leagues I never had to do anything like that. ... I hated to leave the ballclub at this particular time, but some things you just can't avoid."
Johnson refused to offer any details; team officials said all they knew is that the situation did not fit criteria for a bereavement leave, which is used when there is a death or severe illness in a player's family. Johnson is married with 6- and 4-year-old sons.
Fans and/or media may speculate on the reasons, but Johnson isn't concerned.
"People speculate all the time," he said. "There's always "a source says' something. In baseball, that's what we're all used to hearing. People are going to speculate and think what they want to think. But there are things I know I had to take care of."
Johnson came to the Rays under unusual circumstances, signing as a free agent a few hours before the April4 season opener to serve as the backup to Toby Hall.
After months of on-and-off trade talks between the Rays and Rockies, he was instead traded from Colorado to Boston on March30 and immediately released, with an unofficial understanding he would sign with the Rays when he cleared waivers April4. The Rays are paying him the major-league minimum $316,000, with the Red Sox and Rockies paying the remainder of his $9-million salary.
As a result, Johnson has gone two weeks without playing in a game. He plans to take extra batting practice and spend extra time learning the Rays pitchers to get up to speed.
"Pretty much right now I'm doing a lot of catching up," Johnson said. "The only way to stay sharp is playing, and hopefully I will be out there soon to start the season off."
With Johnson back, the Rays designated for assignment veteran backup Tim Laker, who was called up Friday after missing most of spring training with a broken hand. The Rays have 10 days to trade, release or pass Laker through waivers with hopes of sending him back to Triple A. "The saga continues," Laker said.