Crawford mulls pinch-hitting duty

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 22, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - All-Star LF Carl Crawford's season may not be over after all.

The left groin strain that seemed likely to keep him sidelined has improved enough that Crawford is now expecting to play sometime during the six-game homestand. Manager Joe Maddon went so far as to say Crawford could be available to at least pinch hit as soon as tonight.

"It was more encouraging than I thought," Maddon said. "He's going to go through some hitting drills. I don't anticipate him to run like he can, but we'll see if we can get him back out there to help us in some way."

Crawford was a bit more cautious, saying he didn't have a target date and, since he still felt "a little friction," would want to make sure he was 100 percent healed.

"I'm not going to play with any soreness in my leg," he said. "It feels better. It loosened up more, but as far as me being able to explode like I want, I still can't do that. You take away my speed, I'm just another player out there."

Though eager to have him back, Maddon said ultimately the Rays, too, will be cautious. .

"I really don't want to make this into something chronic over the offseason that we have to worry about next year," Maddon said. "I'd have to feel pretty good that he's okay to go."

Even then, Maddon may be more likely to use him as a pinch-hitter or designated hitter so he can control his running.

The Rays have lost the four games Crawford, who is hitting .315 and leads the AL with 50 steals, has missed and are 2-13 when he's not in the lineup.

MORE MEDICAL: 2B Brendan Harris remains sidelined with a strain of the left lat muscle (below his armpit) with hopes of returning by Tuesday at the latest.

"It feels better, but it's not like a sore ankle and you just try to run through it," Harris said.

C Josh Paul, who hasn't played since Sept. 7 due to a sore back, is also available for reserve duty.

FAN CLUB: Rays pitchers struck out 17, matching the team record set Sept. 12, 1999, against Oakland. And they became just the second team this year to lose while striking out that many; the Padres struck out 18 in a loss to the Diamondbacks. ... The 30 combined strikeouts were a Rays record.

MILESTONES: 1B Carlos Pena tied Fred McGriff's 2000 season walk record of 91. ... Scott Kazmir is the fourth Ray to pitch 200 innings but missed a chance to tie Rolando Arrojo's 1998 record of 14 wins. ... Boston's Josh Beckett (10-3 after losses) is the majors' first 20-game winner since 2005.

MISCELLANY: INF Jorge Velandia has hit in all six games since being called up. ... Beckett threw 35 of his 113 pitches in the first inning. ... 1B/DH Wes Bankston, designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for OF Justin Ruggiano, was claimed on waivers by Kansas City. ... All Rays players and coaches are scheduled to sign autographs from 11:40 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. before Sunday's game. ... The Rays raised $34,300 for Big Brothers/Big Sisters in their auction of unique experiences. ... RHP Al Reyes will be at Clearwater's Ross Norton sports complex (14266 S Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.) from 10:30 a.m. to noon today.