tampabay.com

Minor-league changes needed, Maddon says

By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 19, 2006


PHILADELPHIA - With the indefinite suspension of Triple-A outfielder Elijah Dukes the latest issue, manager Joe Maddon said the Devil Rays have to make changes in their minor-league system to prevent continued disciplinary problems with their top prospects.

"We've had way, way too many of those occurrences," Maddon said. "We have to really sit down as a group and try to figure out how we're going to prevent that in the future. Really, this last one should be the last one.

"It's nonsense. It's unacceptable behavior. We can't have that there or here. This is a year of trying to understand what goes on within the group, and I'm really cognizant of not trying to influence too quickly because I do respect the people that have been here before me. So before I give a strong opinion on anything, I want more information."

Dukes, who has had numerous on- and off-field problems, was suspended after an incident before Saturday's game at Charlotte. The Rays have not disclosed details, but several players said they heard it involved other Bulls at the team hotel.

Dukes, 21, had been playing well and was under consideration for a promotion to the major leagues this summer.

"This is really unfortunate because Elijah is a very, very interesting baseball player," Maddon said. "Obviously, there are some issues that are well beyond my comprehension as a professional."

Friday morning, shortstop B.J. Upton was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Earlier this season, manager John Tamargo was suspended 10 games for repeatedly bumping an umpire, and Delmon Young was suspended 50 games for throwing his bat at an umpire. Young returns from his suspension tonight.

PITCHING IN: The Rays decided to change their rotation after today's off day, moving rookie James Shields up to Wednesday against Arizona (he'll face major-league ERA leader Brandon Webb ) and Scott Kazmir up to Thursday's 12:15 matinee to keep them pitching on regular rest.

Casey Fossum , who was struck twice on the right shin in his last start, will move back to Friday or Saturday against Atlanta with Seth McClung pitching the other game. Mark Hendrickson will pitch Tuesday and Sunday.

FRONT AND CENTER: Carl Crawford prefers to stay in leftfield, but he made the first of what could be several starts in centerfield as Maddon tries to pick spots to rest Rocco Baldelli .

"I brought it to his attention that on a day when a right-hander is pitching and I want to give Rocco a day off, I asked him if he would not mind playing centerfield under those circumstances. And he said he absolutely understood," Maddon said.

Crawford hit his 10th homer Sunday, his sixth among his past 24 hits.

MEDICAL MATTERS: Closer Tyler Walker , sidelined with a sprained elbow ligament, is scheduled to see team orthopedist Koco Eaton today. "Hopefully we can figure out a throwing schedule," Walker said. ... Reliever Shawn Camp 's wife, Heidi , was taken to a Philadelphia hospital after having trouble breathing at Friday's game, but she was released and allowed to fly home.

PIECE OF JOE: Hundreds of fans from Maddon's hometown of Hazleton, Pa., attended Sunday's game, including his former Little League coach, youth football coach and high school baseball coach. About 30 close friends and relatives, many wearing Rays gear, talked and took photos with him near the dugout beforehand.

MISCELLANY: The Rays blew their major league-high 43rd lead. ... Eight of Russell Branyan 's past 13 hits have been home runs. ... The Rays tied a team record with eight homers in the three-game series. They had nine in a four-game series at Boston in 2001. ... According to the Philadelphia papers, Cory Lidle was ejected Saturday for yelling obscenities at Julio Lugo because he bunted in the eighth with the Rays leading 6-2. ... The Rays went 5-5 on the three-city trip and 9-17 in a stretch of 20 of 26 games on the road.