tampabay.com

Crawford feeling good at the plate

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 26, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Carl Crawfordtook only a couple of swings Saturday in his first batting practice session of the spring against live pitching, but the ground ball back to the mound and the drive to the right-centerfield gap were enough for him to feel better about how his bruised left wrist felt.

"I took a few nice, strong hacks and it felt good, just like it felt (Friday, when he hit against the coaches)," Crawford said. "We're moving forward on a positive note. ... I definitely feel better about it than I felt when I first got here, and every day is a better feeling for me. I'm starting to swing more in the cages and I can start to work on my technique."

When Crawford first stepped in against hard-throwing prospect Edwin Jackson, he took the first three pitches, hit two, then took several more. He said that while making contact felt good, he was more concerned about swinging and missing.

"I'm just trying to make sure it's a pitch I can hit because if I swing through the ball I don't want to know how that feels," Crawford said. "But I'm not holding back."

FIRST AT THIRD? Aubrey Huff is showing the coaches he is serious about his bid to move back to third base, coming in early several days last week for extra work with infield coach Tom Foley. "This guy wants it," Foley said. "And he's working hard at it."

BACK FOR MORE: After spending two seasons in the Boston organization, including pitching in 19 games for the 2004 champion Red Sox, left-handed reliever Mark Malaska returned to the Rays, where he spent the first four years of his career.

Malaska, 28, said he turned down a more lucrative offer from the A's to re-sign with the Rays, figuring it was a better situation given his comfort factor with the organization and the opportunity, since the Rays don't have a lefty reliever on the 40-man roster.

He said it's obvious how different the Tampa Bay organization is.

"The vibe has really kind of changed here," Malaska said. "Before it was kind of depressing - "strap on another 100-loss season.' But now you've got all these young players and they've got great confidence. It's way more optimistic."

ROLLIN': Scott Kazmir got his Escalade back on the road after his custom wheels were stolen and the truck left on blocks early Friday morning at teammate Casey Fossum's new home in Bradenton's gated Heritage Harbor development. "It's all taken care of," Fossum said. "And by (Friday) night, security was already beefed up."

ON THE MARK: Starter Mark Hendrickson, sidelined since Feb. 19 due to a bone bruise in his right thigh, threw about 45 pitches off flat ground Saturday and said he only felt discomfort when throwing across his body. "For the most part it felt pretty good," he said.

Hendrickson will be re-evaluated today by Dr. Koco Eaton and hopes to return to the mound sometime this week.

MISCELLANY: Outfielder Joey Gathright cut short his workout due to an infection in his left leg. ... After modeling Jorge Cantu's World Baseball Classic Mexico jersey on Friday, manager Joe Maddon Saturday wore an Italian team cap for reliever Dan Miceli. Today, he plans a Netherlands cap for minor-league catcher Chairon Isenia. ... Maddon said "the energy" the players showed during the morning workout was among the best he'd seen anywhere. ... The April 10 home opener will start at 7:15 rather than in the afternoon. "It's so more people can come," team president Matt Silverman said.