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Rays confident they can cover for losses

Justin Ruggiano, sliding into Alfredo Amezaga’s tag during an earlier stint, is up with the Rays for the fourth time this season and is expected to start in leftfield against left-handers.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Justin Ruggiano, sliding into Alfredo Amezaga’s tag during an earlier stint, is up with the Rays for the fourth time this season and is expected to start in leftfield against left-handers.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Rays players and manager Joe Maddon remain confident the team can keep winning despite being without injured stars LF Carl Crawford and 3B Evan Longoria.

"Shoot, we don't feel like we're going to start losing a lot because they're gone," veteran Eric Hinske said. "We're going to miss them, for sure, but we'll be fine."

To fill in, the Rays will platoon in left and rightfields. Against left-handers, like Tuesday, Justin Ruggiano will play left and Rocco Baldelli — when he feels up to it — will play right. Against right-handers, Hinske will play left and Gabe Gross right.

Willy Aybar will get most of the playing time at third base, though Maddon acknowledged some concern about playing him every day and said he could use Ben Zobrist at times and possibly Hinske, who took ground balls there Tuesday.

"I'm not going to say we have the same quality whether it's offensively or defensively, all I'm saying is that I like the names and I really believe the people that are going to take their place in their absence are going to perform at a very high level and help us win," Maddon said. "I really believe that."

Maddon's emphasis is on what the Rays do well.

"My major concern is not necessarily the loss of Longo and Carl right now, it's the continuation of pitching well and catching the ball on defense, and just purely playing the game hard," he said. "That's all I want to see right now."

Ruggiano, called up from Triple A for the fourth time this season, said he was confident he could handle it: "I'll just step in and we'll pick up the pieces and keep it going."

SHORT AT SHORT: Jason Bartlett's bruised right index finger is getting better, but he still can't throw well enough to return to shortstop for the first time since Aug. 3, and Maddon said "more than likely" he won't until this weekend in Texas. Bartlett is able to hit and was the DH again Tuesday.

LONGORIA UPDATE: Executive VP Andrew Friedman said it was "very reasonable" to think Longoria would return to the lineup by Sept. 1, but the Rays would have a much better idea in two weeks when his fractured right wrist is X-rayed again.

The Rays would not disclose specifics of the injury, believed to be at the tip of the ulna bone, but Friedman said: "It's not bad. It could be a lot worse. There's no ligament involvement. It's at a place where it's very reasonable to expect it to heal pretty quickly."

CLAIMS DEPT.: The Red Sox made another move by trading for veteran RHP Paul Byrd, the day after Arizona acquired slugger Adam Dunn, but Friedman said it won't change how the Rays proceed, especially with the handicap of being near the end of the list to claim players due to their record.

"For us the process isn't going to change from really what it's been since the beginning of August," he said. "We've put in a lot of claims on guys and because of our position in the claiming order … there's going to be a lot of players we're not going to have claiming rights to."

The Rays could trade for players who clear waivers. It remains unlikely they would have interest in unsigned players, such as Barry Bonds or Kenny Lofton. Nor Detroit's Gary Sheffield, reportedly on waivers, based on manager Jim Leyland saying, "I have medical people telling me it's suicidal to play him in the outfield right now. He'd probably get hurt again. "

MISCELLANY: 1B Carlos Pena's six-game hitting streak came to an end, as did C Dioner Navarro's five-game streak. ... Top prospect LHP David Price makes his Triple-A debut tonight for Durham at home against Norfolk at 7:05 (listen through durhambulls.com). … Brian Anderson debuts as the TV analyst tonight filling in for Joe Magrane. … SS Tim Beckham, the top pick in the June draft, hit his first professional home run at rookie league Princeton.

Rays confident they can cover for losses 08/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 5:48pm]
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