ST. PETERSBURG — Just when LF Carl Crawford started to feel the best he had all season, a nagging left hamstring has once again stopped him in his tracks.
Crawford, who has an eight-game hitting streak, sat out Monday's game against the Indians and is unsure when he'll return after a hamstring that has bothered him nearly all season started to feel more sore and strained.
The fact that manager Joe Maddon doesn't know when Crawford and SS Jason Bartlett (bruised right index finger) will be back in the lineup could play a role in when the Rays activate OF Rocco Baldelli.
Bartlett's finger, which was hit by a pitch in a failed bunt attempt Sunday, felt significantly better Monday, but he didn't play; the Rays medical staff drilled into his nail area to drain some blood, and they're waiting for the swelling to subside before he can throw. Maddon said he "wouldn't bet" on Bartlett starting today but didn't rule it out.
"I felt a lot better" Monday, said Bartlett, whose finger was in a splint. "Hopefully, it'll feel a lot better" today.
With Bartlett out, Willy Aybar made his second professional start at shortstop; the other came in August 2003 at Class A Vero Beach. Rookie 3B Evan Longoria has served as Bartlett's emergency backup, but Maddon wanted to "leave him alone."
Though Maddon admitted it wasn't an "optimal" situation, Aybar had an error-free game Monday. He dived to start a 6-3 double play in the first; in the second, he raced to his left but couldn't snag a David Dellucci single. If Bartlett's finger takes longer to heal, the Rays could look to Ben Zobrist or Reid Brignac from Triple A.
As for Crawford, he said he has felt great in recent days, and it showed with five triples in a seven-game stretch, but thinks he "might have pushed it a little bit too much." Crawford's left hamstring and right knee have hampered him throughout the season, part of which he has attributed to the Tropicana Field turf. An upcoming 10-game road trip on all grass surfaces has Maddon optimistic about his return.
The outfield Monday was Eric Hinske in left, B.J. Upton in center and Gabe Gross in right. In another twist, backup C Shawn Riggans replaced Hinske in the ninth, making his major-league debut at that position.
Maddon said Hinske was fine, and he pinch-hit Riggans because LH reliever Rafael Perez was tough on lefties. He said if the Rays had gotten within one or tied it, Jonny Gomes would have gone to left and they would have lost their DH.
BALDELLI BACK SOON: Baldelli met with Maddon and executive VP Andrew Friedman Monday, with Maddon saying that the 26-year-old OF is "relatively close" to being activated. Baldelli went through the regular pregame activities with the team Monday and will be re-evaluated today. Baldelli has been on the disabled list all season with a muscle fatigue disorder.
MINOR MATTERS: Rays minor-leaguers Cesar Guillen and Victor Henriquez have each received 50-game suspensions for testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. Guillen, an outfielder, and Henriquez, an infielder, are with Tampa Bay's Dominican Summer League team.
GROSS IN GEAR: Left-handed hitter Gross entered the game a career .126 hitter against lefties but had two hits against LHP Cliff Lee, the second time he has notched two hits against left-handers in a game (June 1 vs. White Sox LHPs Mark Buehrle and Matt Thornton).
MISCELLANY: The Rays are 26-60 against the Indians, their worst record against an AL team. … 2B Akinori Iwamura raised his average to .280, its highest since May 30. … The Rays wives will hold a Literacy and Back to School Drive at Gates 1, 4 and 5 on Wednesday and Thursday.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.