ST. PETERSBURG — LF Carl Crawford could join elite company this weekend.
The All-Star outfielder picked up two singles Thursday against the Mariners, leaving him two hits shy of 1,000 for his career. Though Crawford said he hasn't really thought about it, he realizes the mark's significance — especially considering how quickly he got to this point.
"There's not too many people that can say they had 1,000 hits by the age of 26," Crawford said.
There are only eight active players who have achieved that feat: Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Pujols, Ivan Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, Derek Jeter, Vladimir Guerrero and Andruw Jones. Manager Joe Maddon credited Crawford's improvement in hitting to all fields and how the sixth-year pro constantly hones his craft.
Crawford said he plans to ask for the ball as a keepsake. Is he saving room on his shelf for Nos. 2,000 and 3,000?
"I don't know about all that," Crawford said, laughing. "But I'm going to hang on to this first one.''
AYBAR OUT: 3B Willy Aybar was scratched from the game with left hamstring soreness, and Maddon said he wouldn't count on him playing third today. Aybar, who was plagued by hamstring issues during spring training, tweaked it again Wednesday night trying to score from second on a Jason Bartlett single. Maddon said the switch-hitting Aybar would be available to pinch hit, but he doesn't want to rush him back into the field.
Aybar was coming off his best game as a Ray on Wednesday, going 3-for-4 with two doubles to raise his batting average to .292. Eric Hinske replaced Aybar at third Thursday, going 1-for-4 with a home run.
THE SPARK: Though Maddon raved about RHP Edwin Jackson's performance, he pointed to Hinske's homer in the fourth as a huge play. For the Rays, stuck in a .167 hitting slump the previous four games, getting that 1-0 lead "was huge," Maddon said. The Rays went on to score as many runs (seven) as they did in the previous four games.
"Hinske got the hit, (and) we kind of rallied around that a little bit," Crawford said. "Next thing you know one hit turned to two and we had the big inning."
KAZ BACK TO MOUND: LHP Scott Kazmir, rehabbing a left elbow strain, is scheduled to throw his second batting practice session today at the Trop (Maddon said he misspoke Wednesday in saying it would be Saturday). Kazmir likely will throw about 10 pitches more than in Tuesday's session, which was somewhere in the 70s and included 42 to live batters. If all goes well, Kazmir will move on to a start in extended spring training, with a late-April return still a possibility.
GARZA UPDATE: RHP Matt Garza, expected to be out four weeks with radial nerve irritation, cleared up the confusion regarding when the injury first surfaced. Garza said Tuesday that he has had similar issues since late last season with Minnesota, drawing Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to respond in Chicago that he was unaware of any health problems. One reason why? "I never said anything," Garza said. The 24-year-old said he merely told the trainers he was sore. As for his current rehab, Garza will play catch Saturday. The Rays have yet to announce who will start in his place Sunday, though it will likely be Triple-A callup Jeff Niemann.
MISCELLANY: C Mike DiFelice went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, both hits off the end of his bat. "I'm sure I've lined out enough in my career to maybe deserve those (hits)," he quipped. "It was nice to get a break." … 2B Akinori Iwamura emerged from a 1-for-18 slump by going 2-for-3 with two walks and a stolen base. …LHP Kurt Birkins (left elbow) will throw an inning today in an extended spring game.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.