ESPN's Bobby Valentine laughs off criticism, says he's 'a fan' of Tampa Bay Rays' Carl Crawford

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Actually, ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine chuckled over the phone Wednesday, he did have Carl Crawford's kind of ability.

"I was probably a little faster," Valentine said. "At least a half-step faster than Carl, maybe a full step."

Valentine was willing to have fun with comments Crawford made after seeing the former big-league infielder/outfielder/manager question his need to leap to make what turned out to be a spectacular catch Monday night.

"He said I could have caught that ball standing up," Crawford said following Tuesday's game. "I can't believe he said that. Obviously he don't know what's like to have this kind of ability."

Valentine said he raised the issue along the same lines of whether it's faster for a base-runner to dive into first or run through the base.

"I'm glad he's watching," Valentine said. "Hopefully he has one of those black boxes so it helps our ratings."

But seriously, Valentine said he greatly admires the way Crawford plays, noting his "aggressive style" at the plate and calling him a "plus outfielder" — though he did have some suggestions to improve Crawford's throwing motion.

"I appreciate that play," Valentine said. "I love that team. I really like the way Carl plays. I am a fan."

SIGN OF SOMETHING: Manager Joe Maddon made what at the least was an interesting move in the eighth with a runner on second and RHP Kevin Jepsen on the mound, having Willy Aybar pinch-hit for DH Pat Burrell, who already has been reduced to hitting only against righties. "I just felt (Aybar) had a better chance right there,'' Maddon said. Aybar grounded out.

CATCHING ON: There are probably at least three more weeks until Kelly Shoppach completes his rehab from right knee surgery, but Maddon made it sound as if rookie John Jaso could end up the odd catcher out despite his hot start.

"Of course it's made everything interesting, but by that time, when Shop's ready to come back, Shop will be back," Maddon said. "And I think (Dioner Navarro's) playing really well, too. It's just a nice problem to have. At the beginning of the season we were concerned about the catching in general, but with what Jaso's done and (Nevin) Ashley in Double A … and (Jose) Lobaton's done a pretty good job in Triple A, all of a sudden the catching's gotten a little bit thicker, which you absolutely need."

MORE OR 'LOS: 1B Carlos Peña was back in the lineup Wednesday after a one-day (actually seven-inning) break designed to help him snap his 1-for-40 slump, and — relatively speaking — it appeared to help. Peña went 1-for-3, striking out twice and doubling.

NO MINOR MATTER: Class A Bowling Green RHP Shane Dyer, whose work includes a seven-inning start with no hits, was named the Rays minor-league pitcher of the month, and advanced Class A Charlotte INF Henry Wrigley the top player.

Dyer was 1-2 but with a 1.55 ERA over five starts, including a complete-game shutout. Wrigley hit .373 with 14 RBIs while starting at five different positions.

MISCELLANY: RHP Dan Wheeler made his 208th appearance as a Ray, moving past Roberto Hernandez into third on the all-time list. … Maddon said reports are "really good" on LHP J.P. Howell, who Friday advances to the next stage of his rehab from shoulder weakness by throwing batting practice. … Cuban 1B/OF Leslie Anderson hit his first homer in his third game for Charlotte.

ESPN's Bobby Valentine laughs off criticism, says he's 'a fan' of Tampa Bay Rays' Carl Crawford 05/13/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 8:30am]

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