Excitement beats exhaustion in rookie's debut

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 20, 2007

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Tuesday morning, Justin Ruggiano was on vacation, hanging out in Dallas with a friend after the end of the Triple-A season.

Wednesday, he was playing in the major leagues.

The Rays added Ruggiano to provide some needed outfield depth with LF Carl Crawford injured, and he made his debut as a pinch-runner in the ninth. The 25-year-old - who spent 20 hours driving from Durham, N.C., to his parents' home in Austin, Texas - wasn't aware the Rays needed reinforcements. And he couldn't have been more surprised, or excited.

"It's an awesome feeling," he said. "The way it happened was perfect."

Ruggiano, acquired last season from the Dodgers, led the Bulls in almost every offensive category, hitting .309 with 29 doubles, 20 homers, 73 RBIs and 26 steals. He was the only 20-20 man in the International League.

"I'm just going to enjoy the moment and whatever happens, happens," he said. "Hopefully I'll go out and play as well as I did in Durham."

To make room on the 40-man roster for Ruggiano, who had to be added anyway this winter to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, 1B/DH Wes Bankston was designated for assignment. The 2002 fourth-round pick has been injured and inconsistent in six seasons, hitting .238 with 15 homers and 59 RBIs in 104 games for Durham this year.

The Rays chose Ruggiano over Jason Pridie because Ruggiano is more experienced playing the corner outfield positions; Pridie is more of a centerfielder.

Ruggiano - who had to fly from Dallas back to Austin then through Phoenix on the way to southern California - was the player to be named in the June 2006 trade of Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson for Dioner Navarro and Jae Seo.

HARRIS IMPROVING: 2B Brendan Harris felt a little better and hopes to play Friday after being scratched Tuesday after straining a lat muscle (under his left armpit) during batting practice. "I thought it kind of cramped up on me and when I went to take another hack it felt like someone stabbed me in the side a little bit," he said.

CRAWFORD NOT: Crawford's left groin strain is not improving, increasing the likelihood his season is over. "We'll stay with the plan of getting home after the off day and see where we're at, but we're not seeing a whole lot of definitive progress," manager Joe Maddon said.

HOT STUFF: The hazed rookies got off relatively easy compared with past years, wearing Hooters tank tops and shorts. The embarrassment was limited to those who hadn't gone through it with any team: Akinori Iwamura (and interpreter Masa Koyanagi), Jeff Ridgway, Ruggiano and Josh Wilson. RHP Andy Sonnanstine, who stayed in southern California with Delmon Young, gets his turn on the way to Toronto.

MISCELLANY: C Josh Paul, sidelined by a sore back, left Wednesday to attend to a family medical issue and will rejoin the Rays on Friday. ... The Rays were swept for the seventh time. ... INF Jorge Velandia has hit in all five games since his promotion, 9-for-15 overall. ... Young gained a hit Tuesday, his 177th, when Angels pitcher John Lackey requested a review of what was originally scored an error by SS Orlando Cabrera.