tampabay.com

Drug scandal hits Rays' Salas

Major League Baseball suspends the pitcher for 50 games after he fails a drug test.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 8, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Devil Rays relief pitcher Juan Salas has been suspended 50 games after testing positive for a "performance-enhancing substance."

Salas is punished as an individual, and there are no sanctions against the team. But Salas could draw the attention of former Senate leader George Mitchell, who has been leading an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs and said last week he expects to start interviewing active players soon as his inquiry enters the final phase.

Major League Baseball did not announce what Salas tested positive for, but under the restructured drug program the punishment indicates it likely was a steroid or steroid precursor. Neither MLB nor players union officials are allowed to comment on specifics.

Salas could not be reached for comment and agent Myles Kahn did not return repeated messages.

At Salas' family home in the Dominican Republic, his younger sister, Maria, said they were not aware of the situation. "I can't tell you anything because I don't know, " she said by telephone. But she also defended her brother by saying, "Of course he's innocent."

The announcement was made shortly before the Rays left for Baltimore on Monday afternoon and players found out as they gathered at Tropicana Field. "I'm surprised, " veteran reliever Al Reyes said.

Team officials said there would be no further comment beyond this statement: "The Tampa Bay Devil Rays fully support Major League Baseball's drug testing policy. We will do all we can to help Juan get his career headed back on a positive course."

Salas will be suspended without pay until July 2, which will cost him $115, 500 of his $382, 200 salary.

The team is expected to replace him on the roster with reliever Tim Corcoran.

Salas is expected to spend a few days in the Dominican Republic, then resume workouts at the team's minor-league complex in St. Petersburg. He will be allowed to pitch in games in the extended spring training program, which usually consists of lower-level minor-league players, to stay in shape for his return.

Some players take performance-enhancing drugs to make themselves stronger and/or to accelerate their recovery time from one game to the next. For a pitcher, the benefits could show up in extra miles per hour on a fastball or the ability to pitch more frequently.

Under the current MLB program, players are given a urine test within five days of reporting for spring training and at least one more random test during the season. Given the usual time lapse for a second test of the sample, notification of the players union and a potential hearing (which is held before the announcement), it seems likely Salas' violation occurred during the spring.

He is at least the fourth Ray to be suspended for drug policy violations, joining outfielder Josh Hamilton, who was suspended for the 2004-05 season and has resurrected his career this season with the Cincinnati Reds; outfielder Alex Sanchez, who was suspended 10 games on the eve of the 2005 season; and minor-league pitcher Matt Rico, who last year was suspended 100 games under the minor-league program.

Salas, 28, pitched in 15 games for the Rays this season, going 1-1 with a 3.95 ERA. He was not used in the last three games, with the Rays saying on Friday that he was tired and on Saturday that he was sick.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Salas was signed by the Rays in 1998 and spent most of his first six seasons as an infielder. In the middle of the 2004 season he was converted to pitching. By last season he developed into a promising prospect, beginning the season with a streak of 47 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run.

He was selected to participate in the All-Star Futures Game, was named minor league reliever of the year by mlb.com and to Baseball America's All-Minor League All-Star team, and made his major-league debut on Sept. 5.

Times staff writers Dalia Wheatt and Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this report.

Fast Facts:

 

Drug crackdown

Salas is the fourth major-league player suspended since baseball toughened its drug policy last season, making it 50 games for a first offense, 100 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third. Other suspended players:

Guillermo Mota, pitcher, New York Mets Yusaku Iriki, pitcher, New York Mets Jason Grimsley, pitcher, formerly of Arizona Diamondbacks