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Maddon encouraged after All-Star discussion

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays must have at least one representative named Sunday to the American League All-Star squad, and after talking to AL/Boston manager Terry Francona on Wednesday, manager Joe Maddon said "it's possible" they could have more.

Maddon has acknowledged it's difficult to identify the Rays' All-Stars because their success has been a team effort, and he has publicly supported C Dioner Navarro, LHP Scott Kazmir and relievers LHP J.P. Howell and RHP Dan Wheeler.

Unless a Ray finishes high enough in the player balloting (nine position players, not voted starters by the fans, and eight pitchers), Francona will have to use one, or two, of his five "selections," of which at least three have to be pitchers, to have the Rays represented.

"He's right on top of things, I think, in regard to how he evaluates our players," Maddon said. "He's going to have to pick somebody, we talked about it, and I thought he had our team pegged perfectly."

Francona admitted it will be a tough decision.

"One of the harder things that seems to be developing where I sit is Tampa Bay," he said. "They have the best record in baseball. They have done it in a number of ways, which makes Joe Maddon really proud. He's gotten it from all over the place. (But) it's not necessarily translated yet into votes from fans. So that's a little difficult."

RELIEF REPORT: Closer Troy Percival said the hamstring strain that forced him to the DL this week is in a different (and actually higher) spot than his previous problem, and that there were "a few nerve issues," but it was too early to tell if he would return when eligible after the July 14-17 All-Star break.

"It's not a complete tear, it's not anything like that," he said. "We've got to basically treat it, rest it and we started strengthening it."

With Percival out, the bullpen has a different look, starting with just-called-up RHP Mitch Talbot taking over the long relief role, and the other right-handers, such as Gary Glover, Grant Balfour and Wheeler, moving up a peg.

TALBOT'S TURN: Talbot, 24, was predictably thrilled to be called up for the first time, even if the bullpen gig is something different. His only previous relief appearance came in 2006 at Houston's Double-A Corpus Christi team, when Roger Clemens made a rehab start and Talbot replaced him.

MISCELLANY: Tuesday's TV ratings gave the Rays a record high for the second straight night, with FSN reporting a peak rating of 13 from 9:45-10 p.m. with 232,000 Tampa Bay area households watching, making it the top-rated show of the night. … Attendance for the three-game series was 101,305, third largest for a weekday series in team history. … Carl Crawford snapped an 0-for-17 slump with a second-inning single. … The Rays signed four prospects during Wednesday's opening of the international signing period. … Four players from Triple-A Durham were named to the International League All-Star team: SS Reid Brignac, 1B Chris Richard and RHPs Jeremy Cummings and Dale Thayer. … The Red Sox's 31/2-game deficit is their largest since the end of 2006.

Maddon encouraged after All-Star discussion 07/02/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 1:35pm]
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