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Cautious Baldelli has positive day

Baldelli hopes to be ready to play Monday

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published March 29, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Before his three ailing players took the field at the Naimoli Complex on Wednesday, manager Joe Maddon said their performance would help indicate whether they would be ready for opening day.

"If all three come out of this pretty well, I imagine they're a pretty good bet for Monday," Maddon said. "Wednesday is a pretty big day overall."

CF Rocco Baldelli (right hamstring tightness) was 2-for-4 with a single, double and two runs scored as a DH against the Yankees' Triple-A team. C Dioner Navarro (left hamstring strain) caught five innings in the same game, going 1-for-3. C Josh Paul (bruised right hand) caught five innings in a Double-A game.

"This was important," Baldelli said. "I wasn't on the field in about a week, so just to get out there and get through it feeling okay was a big step forward for me."

Baldelli said it was important to get at-bats and run the bases to test his hamstring, but more important not to overexert himself in his first game since March 20.

"Once I get on the field it's usually a difficult thing for me not to go 100 percent, but I think today I was able to dial it down a little bit and just try to do it the right way and take it back a little slower than I think I did last year," Baldelli said.

Paul said he will be ready by Monday's opening day against the Yankees. Catching felt fine, he said, but his hand has prevented him from extending his swing. Navarro has played twice since his injury March 8. Maddon hoped to get his hitters 60 at-bats each in the spring, but because Navarro has just 12 at-bats, it is unclear whether he would be season-ready even if he is healthy.

"I just need to keep working, keep doing my stuff and see how I feel day in and day out," Navarro said. "It's kind of hard, being off and then coming back. You have to be smart about it."

Maddon has said he hopes to have all three ready to play in Friday's exhibition.

RAYS HEAT UP PITCHER: Phillies RHP Brett Myers had some unkind words after he was hit in the left shoulder by RH reliever Chad Orvella in the fourth inning and was nearly hit again the next inning by RHP Brian Stokes with high-and-tight pitches while trying to bunt.

"When the first guy hit me, I was like, 'Did he do that on purpose?' " Myers said. "He smoked me. ... (Stokes) came up and in on me, and I was like, 'All right, there's something going on.'

"The thing that irritated me more than anything is evidently they already knew their spot already passed in the lineup. ... If that's how they teach their guys - when we square around to bunt, up and in - I wouldn't advise throwing them in the National League. Someone might get hurt."

OPENING DAY TUNEUP: LHP Scott Kazmir allowed one run on five hits over a scheduled three innings in a 9-2 loss to the Phillies in his last start before opening day, ending a spring training that began with questions about his left shoulder on a positive note.

"I'm pleased with it," Kazmir said. "I always thought coming in it would be fine, even at the end of last season. It really wasn't on my mind at all."

MISCELLANY: LHP J.P. Howell said the disappointment of losing the fifth starter's job to RHP Edwin Jackson was "pretty bad," but "I did everything I could." ... Surgery for Navarro's 19-month-old son, Dioner Jr., was rescheduled for April 23.

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes.com