For now, the Rays are going to continue to be patient with DH Pat Burrell. They'll keep having him work with hitting coach Derek Shelton. And they'll keep saying they're confident he'll start to produce.
But they won't keep that up for long. There's a date — maybe in mid May at the 45-game mark, perhaps into June after 60 or so games — when if Burrell (hitting .083 at 1-for-12 with six strikeouts) continues to struggle, enough will be enough.
The $9 million they are paying him this season, on top of the $7 million last season, is spent money. Barring a team unexpectedly willing to make a token trade, the Rays will just have to accept their mistake and cut him loose.
Hank Blalock, assuming he doesn't use his opt-out clause from Triple-A Durham before then, could be a decent replacement.
More intriguing is the idea of Rocco Baldelli returning, maybe in a platoon of sorts with Willy Aybar. Baldelli, 28, is working out and taking batting practice regularly at the Trop. (He resumes his minor-league "special assistant" duties when the Rays go on the road.) And though his shoulder still isn't right, he could hit in a big-league game today. And, be sure, he wants to play again.
For now, the Rays are hoping Burrell, 33, shows some signs of promise. They see small signs of improvement in how he fouls off and takes pitches. Scouts and opponents see a slow bat.
"Last year was clearly a disappointing season for Pat, and he'd be the first to say it," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Saturday.
"My thoughts from the offseason haven't changed in that Pat has a lengthy track record of success. He's a year into a new league and a new role, and I'd be very surprised if he's not a significant contributor for us in our lineup."