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Rays won't rush Baldelli onto field
By MARC TOPKIN
Published January 19, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays are as eager to have Rocco Baldelli back on the field as he is to get there after missing the entire 2005 season.
But with the centerfielder having had major surgery to repair his left knee in November 2004 and his right elbow in June 2005, they are more concerned with making sure he is completely ready to play than when he actually starts playing.
Manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday Baldelli might not be ready for the April 3 season opener but should not need much additional time. Leftfielder Carl Crawford, meanwhile, continues to be treated for the sore left wrist that bothered him at the end of the season, but he is expected to be ready on time.
"Rocco is on a pretty good pace right now," Maddon said. "We don't know exactly if he's going to be ready for opening day, but if he's not it's going to be real close to that."
Baldelli, who in November signed a contract that can be worth $32-million over six years, said his rehab has gone well and he is hoping to be in centerfield on opening day.
"That's a pretty good goal to have in my head," Baldelli said. "That's pretty much what I'm shooting for."
Baldelli, who returned to St. Petersburg this week to work out at the team complex, has been running and hitting regularly and throwing with no problems from 90 feet. He is on a program to gradually extend his range, and though he will be limited early in spring training he expects to cut loose sometime during the exhibition season.
"The only thing I can't do is throw as hard as I can," he said. "I think by opening day it will take me to the point where you can start to play every day and your arm recovers and feels okay."
If not, Baldelli, who had 26 assists in 2003-04, said he could be used as a DH until ready to play the outfield regularly.
Crawford's sore wrist kept him out of the lineup for the final five games, which cost him a chance for the Rays' first 200-hit season. He is on the U.S. roster for the March 3-20 World Baseball Classic, but his participation could be in question if the wrist is still an issue, though the Rays expect him to be fine by April.
"Carl reports that he's feeling much better right now and he's doing a whole lot better," Maddon said.
Given the slight uncertainty with the two starting outfielders, the Rays may be less likely to trade Joey Gathright unless they receive an overwhelming offer.
The Rays picked up another potentially useful veteran bench player, signing former Twins second baseman Luis Rivas to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.
The Rays need a backup infielder who can play shortstop, which could make Rivas more appealing than incumbent Nick Green, though both will get an opportunity in spring training. Rivas, who gets $800,000 plus incentives if he makes the roster, has a career .262 major-league average but spent part of 2005 at Triple A and was nontendered by the Twins.
Maddon said he would explore using Rivas as a "super utility player" in the infield and outfield, much like the Angels have done with Chone Figgins.
Reliever Shawn Camp, who has a 3-6 record, two saves and a 4.98 ERA in 71 games over parts of two seasons with the Royals, signed a major-league contract and will compete for a bullpen job.
Two other Rays were on provisional rosters for the Classic, reliever Dan Miceli with Italy and minor-league catcher Chairon Isenia with the Netherlands.