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Catcher Gregg Zaun hopes to return to Tampa Bay Rays in 2010

ST. PETERSBURG — C Gregg Zaun has been a Ray for less than two months, but he said he'd love to come back next year — and possibly beyond — if the feeling is mutual.

Zaun, a 15-year veteran, has a mutual $2 million option for next season, meaning he and the team must agree for it to be exercised. Zaun said having a home in Palm Harbor helps, but a combination of factors makes the Rays attractive.

"I'm very interested. I know this team is going to be a competitive group of guys," Zaun, 38, said. "I love the coaching staff. Home is here. I don't see any reason why, if the terms are agreeable, that I would want to go anywhere else."

The switch-hitter has performed well in a platoon with Dioner Navarro since being acquired from the Orioles on Aug. 7, hitting .286 (.301 against right-handers) with four homers and 14 RBIs. Manager Joe Maddon has praised Zaun for his work with the pitching staff and his professionalism.

And Zaun said that after playing a full season, he'll go into spring training completely healthy, "ready to catch 100 games or 40 games, whatever they need. … I'm at the point in my career where I'm good at doing either. I can start, or I can be a platoon guy or can be a straight backup. The most important thing is I'm comfortable here, and I like it. I'm not looking for a better situation."

With Navarro dropping off significantly from his 2008 All-Star season and Shawn Riggans missing most of the year with injuries, the Rays might consider retaining him. And Zaun said he'd be open to other ways to work something out. The Rays could pay him a $500,000 buyout and negotiate a new deal.

"Tampa is at the top of my list right now," Zaun said. "I'd love to come back."

beanball: LHP David Price drew some eyebrows in the first inning when he hit Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira on the left hand. The slugger stayed on the ground for a while.

But Price said it was not intentional, nor was it retaliation for Yankees LHP CC Sabathia hitting 1B Carlos Peña with a pitch Sept. 7, breaking two fingers.

"I was just trying to go (inside)," Price said. "Obviously, you don't want to miss over the plate to that guy because you won't get that ball back. It just rode up and in."

Teixeira, whose 39 homers are tied with Peña for the league lead, said the ball just grazed him and he was fine but stayed down to make sure "everything was all right."

"It's like when you get in a car accident," he said. "You kind of check everything to make sure you're all right."

TEACHING TIME: RHP Jeff Niemann makes the final start of his rookie season tonight, and Maddon said the 6-foot-9 Texan could learn a valuable lesson in the process.

Niemann, winless in his past six starts, has battled fatigue. Maddon said he wants the rookie to try to be productive without his best stuff, or best velocity, which is good practice for pitching deep into future seasons.

"That's how I fell into that trap last game, trying to generate velocity that really wasn't there," Niemann said. "I'm just going to go out there and try to stay smooth and just work with what comes out."

WINTER BALL: Maddon said the Rays are discussing which players will participate in winter ball. So far, Riggans (Puerto Rico) and OF Justin Ruggiano (Venezuela) are the only players on the 40-man roster assigned.

Chance to hit: Maddon said he put Perez at designated hitter Friday to get him at-bats.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Catcher Gregg Zaun hopes to return to Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 10/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 7:08am]

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