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Rule 5 draftee happy, healthy, eager to play

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- After four years of minor-league ball, Damian Rolls spent the 2000 season in the majors. And he was fairly miserable.

Acquired by the Rays before last season, Rolls was coming off major shoulder surgery. Because he was a Rule 5 draft pick, he had to spend the season in the majors or be put on waivers and offered back to the Dodgers. So the Rays kept him on the major-league disabled list until he was activated in the final month when rosters were expanded.

"It killed me to sit on the bench and watch," Rolls said. "I would have been glad to go down and play in rookie ball just to be playing again."

When the season was finished, Rolls immediately went to Venezuela to play winter ball. He hit .324 with 18 RBI in 40 games playing third base for Lara before returning to Tampa Bay.

Now that he is healthy, ironically, Rolls' spot on the roster is more precarious. He was on the active roster for 31 days at the end of last season, but needs another 59 days before the Rays can send him to the minors. If he is not on the active roster on opening day, the Rays have to put him on waivers.

Vinny Castilla is the only lock at third base and Aubrey Huff is also a strong candidate there. Rolls would have to beat out players such as Bobby Smith and Russ Johnson for a backup infield job.

Rolls, 23, said he is just happy to be healthy again and is not fretting about his Rule 5 status.

"When I went in for surgery, the doctor said if I was a pitcher I wouldn't be playing anymore. That really opened my eyes," Rolls said. "It helped me realize that anything can happen. Just playing again puts a smile on my face. So I try not to worry about the other stuff too much. All I can handle is the time and effort I put in. The rest is out of my hands."

STOP THE MOVING VANS: The Rays traditionally vacate the Ray Naimoli Complex the day before exhibition games begin and work out of the Florida Power Park clubhouse for the remainder of the spring. This year, however, they will stay at the complex for an extra week because of the Devil Rays College Invitational being held Friday-Sunday at Florida Power Park. South Florida, Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic and Notre Dame are playing. So that means Rays players will report to the Ray Naimoli Complex in the morning before games and take a bus to the ballpark. The Rays will move to Florida Power Park on March 7.

STRIKE TALK: Along with representatives from the Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays and Tigers, Rays manager Larry Rothschild met Saturday night with Major League Baseball executive vice president Sandy Alderson and umpires to discuss plans for the high strike to be called this season.

NEW PITCHER: Treasure Island resident Michele Smith, a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic softball team, will work out with the Rays at the end of today's practice. Smith is filming a promotional video in conjunction with MLB.

SPRING LUNCHEON: The Rays are providing lunch and player autographs for 30 adults from the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children at today's workout.

Today's schedule

Workout starts at 10 a.m. at the Ray Naimoli training complex and will run for about three hours. Parking and admission are free.

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