Lugo wants to stay, then explore options

Published October 2, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Julio Lugo wanted it clear he enjoys playing for the Devil Rays and prefers to stay with the team. Still, the shortstop said even if Tampa Bay picks up his $4.9-million option, he will test free agency after next season.

"I don't want to close the door on Tampa Bay," he said. "But I want to see what's out there."

Lugo, 30 on Nov. 16, has been one of the Rays' best players. He is batting .295 with six home runs, 57 RBIs and career highs of 182 hits, 39 stolen bases and 158 games.

There is the troublesome 24 errors (third among AL shortstops entering Saturday), but he has been a leadoff spark plug and a team leader.

"A nice player," manager Lou Piniella said. "A professional. He plays hard. He's got energy. You've got to like Lugo."

But there are issues. Lugo declined to elaborate but they are not difficult to figure out.

Lugo was not happy at second base last season when B.J. Upton was given a chance at short. That scenario would not play well next season, either, though in another Upton shifts to third and Lugo gets a long-term deal.

Lugo also has said that with management and ownership shakeups coming, he is uncertain about the team's future.

"If we add some pieces I think we can be a contender next year," he said. "When I got here there was (a feeling) we couldn't beat the best teams. Now we know we can."

As for his future, Lugo said, "There is no place I'd rather be than here. I love wearing this uniform. But I'm (close to) free agency. I want see what's out there for me."

Said Piniella: "He could play for any team I manage any time."

GOOD NEWS FOR CRAWFORD: Trainer Ken Crenshaw said Tampa hand specialist John Rayhack examined Carl Crawford 's left wrist. X-rays were negative and the pain was attributed to irritated cartilage.

Crenshaw said the treatment is rest, though an MRI could be ordered if the pain continues. Crawford missed his fourth straight start, though he pinch ran and was thrown out trying to steal third with none out in the ninth inning and the score 4-3.

A NICE FINISH: Starter Mark Hendrickson believes he gave the Rays something to think about for next season.

"There is nothing more I could have done the last couple of months," said the left-hander who won seven of his final eight decisions for a team-high 11 victories. "Sometimes these games are difficult at the end of the year. You really have to concentrate. I was happy I did that."

Hendrickson, 31, said pitching in September means understanding one's limitations.

"It's understanding what pitches you have and what velocity you have," he said. "As a young pitcher you have a tendency to try to reach back and get more. Just make sure you execute your pitches."

BALDELLI UPDATE: Rocco Baldelli threw a baseball for the first time since June's Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The centerfielder said he threw 15 soft tosses of about 50 feet.

HERE'S THE PITCH: Piniella said Tim Corcoran likely will start today's season finale, which could feature a series of pitchers. The right-hander, 0-0 with a 6.38 ERA in nine outings, hasn't started since May 20, 2004, for Double-A Montgomery.

AWARDS: The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America announced its awards. MVP: Infielder Jorge Cantu . Outstanding rookie: outfielder Jonny Gomes . Champion Award for professionalism on and off the field: catcher Toby Hall .

FAN APPRECIATION DAY: Tickets for a chance to win a player's jersey will be available for a $1 donation to the United Way of Tampa Bay's hurricane relief.

MISCELLANY: Cantu extended his team mark to 117 RBIs. ... The Rays played their team-record 54th one-run game (29-25). ... Rob Bell pitched Tampa Bay's previous complete game, Oct. 1, 2004, against the Tigers.