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Carlos Peña approaching Tampa Bay Rays' record for walks

SEATTLE — In time, perhaps just a couple of weeks, 1B Carlos Peña will surpass Aubrey Huff as the top home run hitter in Rays history.

But first, he is going to stroll past Fred McGriff as the team's all-time leader in walks.

And to hear Peña tell it, a walk can be (almost) as good as a home run.

"If I'm walking, I'm hitting," he said. "I value them a lot. I think they're a very important part of my game, and it goes hand-in-hand with hitting, with driving balls in the gaps, and hitting balls out of the ballpark. … It means you're being selective, that when you get a pitch to hit, you hit it, and when you don't, you take it."

Peña is two walks shy of McGriff's team mark of 305. More impressive, since the start of 2007, only three major-leaguers have walked more: Adam Dunn (358), Albert Pujols (333) and Jack Cust (309).

Peña also had 121 homers as a Ray, seven shy of Huff's mark. It would take a while for him to complete what would be an interesting triple crown, as he had 498 strikeouts, well short of Carl Crawford's team record of 682.

Actually, Peña said walking really isn't as good as circling the bases — though he does have a "trot," or at least a routine, for both.

"I'll be honest with you, sometimes I get a walk and I'm like, outstanding job, good job, now go to first base, great job," he said. "I'll feel happy about what I had just accomplished. Maybe the guy was throwing some tough pitches and I laid off of them, or maybe I watched him on video and I kinda knew. So there is some pride to be taken there.

"But it definitely feels better to crush a baseball. That feels a lot better."

MORE TO THE STORY: Crawford's claim that Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter misquoted him in saying he and Peña were "leaving" after the season was disputed by magazine spokesman Scott Novak, who said: "We stand by our reporting and our recordings."

CATCHING ON: Manager Joe Maddon isn't committing to a set schedule of splitting playing time behind the plate but acknowledged looking for opportunities to play lefty-swinging rookie John Jaso, especially with the Rays facing five lefties in a six-game stretch.

One will be tonight, with Jaso starting ahead of switch-hitting Dioner Navarro against Ryan Rowland-Smith. Another may be Sunday, with Maddon saying he was undecided against Oakland lefty Dallas Braden. Navarro will start Friday vs. Oakland lefty Gio Gonzalez, Jaso Saturday vs. righty Ben Sheets.

"I don't want him to go backward either; he's played so well," Maddon said of Jaso,

MEDICAL MATTERS: Maddon said LHP J.P. Howell's comeback remains on track, but he also mentioned the J-word for the first time in discussing the time frame for his return, saying it will be "close" for a late-May debut.

"How many days in May, 31? It could be May 31, June 1, I have no idea," he said. "He's on task right now, he's doing well. Barring any setbacks, it's pretty much end of the month, beginning of the next month."

Howell will throw at least "a couple more" side sessions, then advance to a simulated game when the Rays return home May 14 and 3-5 minor-league rehab appearances.

MINOR MATTERS: Class A Charlotte SS Tim Beckham has missed the past three games due to a family medical matter. … Double-A Montgomery LHP Jake McGee pitched for the first time since an April 21 knee issue but went just 21/3 before hitting his 60-pitch limit, having thrown 33 in the first. RHP Alex Cobb, who'd been out since a spring oblique injury, made his season debut in relief. … Triple-A Durham INF Hank Blalock is leading the International League with a .377 average. Dan Johnson is first with nine homers and third with 26 RBIs.

Carlos Peña approaching Tampa Bay Rays' record for walks 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 2:05am]

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