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Now healthy, Norton finally gets chance with Rays

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 28, 2006


NEW YORK - Greg Norton was on the verge of making the Devil Rays before an injury on the second-to-last day of spring training. Nearly a month later, he finally made it, getting called up from Triple A to replace injured Jorge Cantu.

"I'm glad to be back," said Norton, who last played in the majors in June 2004.

Manager Joe Maddon plans to use the switch-hitter in several roles, including DH, pinch-hitter and occasional starter at first base and in rightfield. He grounded out against Mariano Rivera for the final out Thursday.

With Cantu out, Ty Wigginton moved from third base to second and Russell Branyan made his first start of the season at third Thursday. Maddon said that will be the plan against right-handed starters, with Nick Green playing second and Wigginton going back to third against lefties.

But that could change in the next couple of weeks as the Rays get back injured infielders Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo, along with centerfielder Rocco Baldelli.

"This thing could get crowded relatively soon between Rocco and Huff first of all, and then Lugo after them, not too far behind," Maddon said.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Rays designated reliever Jason Childers, a surprise member of the opening-day roster, for assignment. That gives the Rays 10 days to trade or release him or pass him through waivers.

RELIEF COMING?

The Rays were believed to be close to acquiring reliever Tyler Walker, designated for assignment Sunday by the Giants. Walker, 29, saved 23 games for the Giants last season but struggled this spring and in six appearances this season.

Walker seems likely to replace rookie Scott Dunn, who has a 11.74 ERA in seven games, allowing 17 hits in 72/3 innings.

JONNY BE GOOD:

Jonny Gomes is close to returning to the outfield, having been limited to DH the past 21/2 weeks with tightness in his right shoulder. "There's nothing torn or ripped, it's just discomfort," Gomes said. Maddon said Gomes' throwing has gotten better in recent days.

SHIFT STICK:

Maddon said the Rays "absolutely" will use their "34" defensive shift against Boston DH David Ortiz, though he does have some concern that Ortiz could make use of the fast Tropicana Field turf to try to slap a ground ball through the vacated left side of the infield.

But if Ortiz wants to try what he did last week against Toronto's shift and drop a bunt single, well, Maddon said, "It's a nice thing."

"I may bunt eight times, you don't know," Ortiz told the Boston Globe. "But I'm not going to give up any home runs. I'm a guy who swings for the gaps. If you have four outfielders, it's going to be hard for me to get a hit. I'm not a guy who hits the ball a lot in the infield, you know what I mean?"

In essence, Ortiz admitted that Maddon's plan was a good one.

"Yeah," Ortiz said. "But I'll make something out of it."

ABOUT WEDNESDAY NIGHT:

Wednesday night's 4-2 win might have looked ugly, what with the Rays issuing a team-record 14 walks, but it turned out to be a bit historic.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rays were the second team in the "live ball era" (since the 1920s) to win while walking as many as 14 and allowing two or fewer runs.

The other was the 1954 Giants, who walked 14 Phillies in a Sept. 26 game and won 3-2.

"Isn't that the year the Giants won the World Series?" Maddon said. (They did.) The Rays walked the leadoff man in seven innings, including the first four by Seth McClung, and every Yankee starter walked at least once, but none scored.

MISCELLANY:

Norton is the major-league high 33rd player used by the Rays, and in 22 games. ... Carl Crawford's Yankee Stadium hitting streak ended at 11 games. ... The Rays went 2-7 on the trip to Boston, Texas and New York. "Could have been better," Maddon said.