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Salas returns, Hammel stays in latest shuffle

Devil Rays recall Salas from Durham to help bullpen, while J.P Howell heads back to minors after a poor performance over the weekend.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 24, 2007


BALTIMORE - RHPs Juan Salas and Jason Hammel are back, LHP J.P. Howell is down, and RHP Jay Witasick is out (for at least two weeks) as the Devil Rays shuffled their struggling pitching staff again Monday.

Salas, who has yet to explain the circumstances leading to his 50-game unpaid suspension for violating baseball's policy against performance-enhancing drugs, was recalled from Triple-A Durham in a bid to bolster the beleaguered bullpen. Salas was 1-0, 2.08 in seven games with the Bulls, allowing just a .161 average, and the Rays apparently felt he had paid for his mistake. He last pitched in the majors May 3 and was 1-1, 3.95 in 15 games.

Hammel was recalled, though he really never left. The Rays optioned him out Saturday so he could transition back to starting, then told him to stick around New York once they learned of Witasick's injury. Hammel will go into the rotation and likely start Friday or Saturday against Boston.

Howell delivered a poor performance Saturday in his first start after a demotion to the No. 5 slot and a brief stint at Durham, and the Rays were disappointed enough to send him back to the minors for more work.

Witasick was placed on the 15-day disabled list with what is being called a right elbow strain after being examined Monday in St. Petersburg by Dr. Koco Eaton and having an MRI exam. He will rehab for a week and be re-evaluated.

FROM THE HOME OFFICE: After watching the pitchers give up 45 runs in the final 21 innings at Yankee Stadium, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said: "For the most part, this weekend was very difficult from a pitching standpoint. They obviously have some very good offensive players, but we need to do a better job of executing. We all know we need to get better at keeping runs off the board."

UPTON HONORED: CF B.J. Upton's sizzling return from the disabled list is no secret. Upton on Monday was named the American League's co-player of the week, sharing the award with Yankees 2B Robinson Cano. Upton hit .414 (12-for-29) with a .514 on-base percentage and .759 slugging percentage.

AND ANALYZED: Maddon said the reason Upton has done so well at the plate is because he doesn't have to think as much about his defense in centerfield as he did in the infield.

"He's coming out with a clear mind every day, and he knows the defense is something he can just do naturally, thus he can pay more attention to his hitting," Maddon said. "And I think you're seeing what everybody thought he can do."

Although Maddon isn't ready to consider Upton a full-time outfielder, especially not with Rocco Baldelli possibly returning in a few weeks, it's clear he has been impressed.

"He's looking very natural out there," Maddon said. "I think from what I'm seeing, he will always hit better because that's such a more ... it's a mentally easier position for him to play defensively. And I think that promotes the offensive side of his game."

MISCELLANY: LF Carl Crawford is expected in the lineup tonight after missing 2 1/2 games with a sprained left ankle. ... There will be an extensive pregame ceremony honoring Orioles icon Cal Ripken as he heads to Cooperstown for the weekend Hall of Fame induction. ... Jorge Cantu started at first base for Durham on Monday. ... The Rays hope to have LHP Casey Fossum back from paternity leave by Thursday. ... The Rays have won four of their past 20 road games.