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Maddon to be patient with reeling Baldelli

Rocco Baldelli finished the team's six-game road trip with another hitless day, his personal slump continuing to pile up, but Rays manager Joe Maddon said he will give his centerfielder the opportunity to work out his struggles and not move him from the leadoff spot.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 14, 2007


TORONTO -- Rocco Baldelli finished the team's six-game road trip with another hitless day, his personal slump continuing to pile up, but Rays manager Joe Maddon said he will give his centerfielder the opportunity to work out his struggles and not move him from the leadoff spot.

Baldelli was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, a walk and a lineout to first that turned into a double play in the Rays' 2-1 win over Toronto. He has just one hit in his past 39 at-bats, and over the past 12 games his batting average has dropped 80 points to .206.

Sunday, he had a few wild, lunging swings in his first two at-bats -- both strikeouts -- against starter Shaun Marcum, who pounded the ball low and outside against the Rays.

Maddon said he has no plans to take Baldelli out of the leadoff spot, mainly because even a slumping Baldelli is better than other options, such as placing B.J. Upton, the team's top run producer, or rookie Elijah Dukes, who has six homers, there.

"I know it's a tough moment for him right now, but he's a veteran and he handles things pretty well," Maddon said. "I talked to him and he seems to be in good order. I'm not overly concerned with him.

"It's just going to be a matter of time. He's just in front of the ball a little bit and he just has to cover the edge of the plate a little bit better. He will. It's something he's very capable of doing. He might just be getting out there a little too quickly."

RETURN OF REYES: After not having a save situation in 10 days, Al Reyes converted his 11th save in as many attempts Sunday, tying Danys Baez's team record for consecutive saves to open the season. After yielding a homer to Matt Stairs on a 3-and-1 fastball in a two-run game, Reyes sent the heart of the Blue Jays lineup -- Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Frank Thomas -- down in order.

Reyes pitched two-thirds of an inning Saturday in a nonsave situation, his first work since May 3.

"I felt good in the game (Saturday). It kind of got me back on track. It still feels good. I was throwing more consistently the first month. It's one of those things where you struggle sitting there for a couple days."

NORTON RETURNING: Maddon said DH/1B Greg Norton, who was 2-for-4 with two walks at Double-A Montgomery on Sunday, was supposed to fly to St. Petersburg to meet the team, a sign that his rehab assignment is over. Norton, who has sat out all season after knee surgery, could be activated from the DL as early as Tuesday for the series opener in Orlando.

"He's still a little bit sore at times, so we just want to made sure he's fine," Maddon said. "He's not 100 percent yet, but he's real close."

He is 7-for-25 in seven rehab games with the Biscuits.

MISCELLANY: Seven of the nine players in the Rays lineup used pink bats to raise awareness of breast cancer. The bats will be auctioned off and the proceeds given to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Players also wore pink wristbands and pink ribbons on their jerseys. ... When the team flew home after Sunday's game, alcohol was not served on the team charter, and the practice will continue on all return flights. ... SS Ben Zobrist was 0-for-1 with two walks in his first game at Triple-A Durham Saturday. RHP Ruddy Lugo also made his Durham debut, pitching two scoreless innings. Also, C Shawn Riggans was 3-for-3 with a triple, raising his average to .293 after a 1-for-21 start.