ST. PETERSBURG — DH Pat Burrell is healthy, the neck strain that sidelined him for more than a month finally healed.
Now it's a matter of feeling better at the plate, an uncertain process that makes his return to the active roster a day-by-day proposition. After going 1-for-9 with four strikeouts in two rehab games for Double-A Montgomery, he'll play for Class A Charlotte tonight then re-evaluate, with the options of being activated Friday or playing additional rehab games.
"I've got to get some baseball skills back," Burrell said. "That's the frustrating part. You've got to be realistic, too, being out for five weeks, there's a part of it you have to get back. I think some of the things that, with (my neck) bothering me, there's some bad habits that were developed and I have to get back to where I'm productive."
The Rays would welcome the production they expected when signing him to a two-year, $16 million contract, though the timing of his return isn't ideal, even less so if it's not until Saturday or Sunday.
After the weekend games against Washington, Burrell will be of limited use as a pinch-hitter as the Rays play six games without the DH in interleague series with the Rockies and Mets.
To make room for Burrell, they seem likely to send OF Matt Joyce back to Triple A or part with INF Joe Dillon, who is out of options and would be exposed to waivers. They will have to make another move next week (Dillon, or sending Reid Brignac to Triple A) if SS Jason Bartlett comes off the DL as expected.
Burrell attributed his lack of production through his first 30 games — a .250 average, one homer, 17 RBIs, five extra-base hits — to the neck problem. "It bothered me; I've dealt with this in the past, but it never got to the point where I didn't feel like I could perform," Burrell said. "It just got to the point where I wasn't helping, it was on my mind constantly, and I had to deal with the problem. I don't think there's anything I could have done differently.
"There's no excuses. I'm on the field, I'm playing. This is a game where you got to produce. Yesterday doesn't count."
He remains confident he is capable of his past production: "It's there. Just gotta find it. Maybe it will show up tonight on my door. But it's there."
LESS SHINY: 1B Carlos Peña won the AL Gold Glove last season after making only two errors in 132 games, and 1,099 chances. After 59 games, he has already made six.
Peña said he's working just as hard and approaching everything similarly, even using the same model glove. As much as the increased errors are frustrating, Peña is trying to not get down. "It's not about making no errors, it's about making plays for the team," he said.
REHAB REPORT: Maddon said they could finalize plans today for Bartlett (sprained left ankle), to begin a weekend rehab assignment Friday in Port Charlotte. … LHP Scott Kazmir will throw a three-inning simulated game Friday and if all is well could next pitch in a minor-league game.
LABOR DAY OT: Friday's rainout will be made up as the second half of Labor Day-Night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, with game times of 1:05 and 7:05.
MISCELLANY: RHP Lance Cormier got his first win since Sept. 11, with Baltimore. … LHP David Price said he's comfortable going into tonight's start, and looking to get better in some areas, such as allowing 12 walks in 142/3 innings.… RHP Chad Bradford and his wife, Jenny, had a baby boy, Charles Walker. … The Rays beat Angels RHP John Lackey for the first time since May 7, 2004, snapping a seven-game losing streak. … INF Willy Aybar, RHP Grant Balfour and Joyce will visit this morning with high school students participating in the Anytown Program about youth leadership and diversity awareness at Eckerd College. … An Inside The Rays show on Burrell debuts Sunday at 4:30 on FSN.
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.