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Rays in pain: Longoria to join Crawford on the sideline

OAKLAND, Calif. — As if having star leftfielder Carl Crawford likely sidelined the rest of the season isn't bad enough, the Rays are also going to be without rookie sensation Evan Longoria for about three weeks due to a fractured right wrist.

Longoria, hit by a J.J. Putz pitch Thursday, said he planned to return to the lineup this week after missing three games with what had been described as a bruise. But the Rays sent him back to St. Petersburg, and further examination by their hand specialist, Dr. Doug Carlan, revealed a non-displaced fracture, and Longoria was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Crawford told the Times on Monday night that he was "debating" whether to have surgery to repair the torn tendon band on his right middle finger but would miss six-eight weeks either way, meaning, at best, he could return late in the postseason. The Rays said no decisions had been made.

Losing their top two all-around players would seem a considerable blow to the Rays, even with a four-game lead in the American League East.

"Obviously, it's a tough situation," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "But this team has shown great perseverance all year. I expect it will continue."

Justin Ruggiano was recalled from Triple-A Durham to join a left- and rightfield mix-and-match ensemble that includes Eric Hinske, Gabe Gross and, on an occasional basis, Rocco Baldelli. Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist will man third base.

Friedman said the Rays would look for help through waiver claims and trades but downplayed that possibility ("extremely unlikely") while playing up the idea that their current players could handle it.

"It gets back to the fact where we are in the standings, it isn't because of one player," he said. "It's a challenge for us, but we have great confidence in the guys we have, because there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse who have helped us get to this point. … We have confidence they will keep us in the position we are today."

Adding impact players might be difficult because the Rays' good record leaves them in a bad position to make waiver claims: 29th for NL players, 13th for AL players. And in front of them are the Red Sox, who can — and would — block them by claiming any potential help. The Rays could acquire players who have cleared waivers, or were released. (Friedman wouldn't touch a Barry Bonds question.)

Longoria said Sunday in Seattle that he was feeling better and set to return when the pain subsided, but that was based on the diagnosis that a fracture seen on the X-rays was old, Friedman said.

The Rays wanted to be sure and flew Longoria back to Tampa overnight, confident enough he was okay that he had a ticket back to San Francisco, but Carlan determined with additional imaging it was a new fracture, on the tip of the ulnar bone.

Friedman said that had Longoria kept playing, it could have become displaced and developed into a serious injury.

Longoria has been their top producer, hitting .278 with a team-high 22 homers and 71 RBIs. He is eligible to play Aug. 23 and will be re-evaluated then, with the hope he will return soon after. "It shouldn't be too much longer than that time period," Friedman said.

On Crawford, the Rays were waiting Monday night for input from some other doctors to "come up with the best course of action," Friedman said.

But Crawford said from St. Petersburg that whether he tries to heal naturally (with the finger in a splint) or has surgery, he was likely done for at least the regular season, so neither choice was good. "It's about the same for both, six-eight weeks," he said.

Ruggiano, who hit .290 in three previous stints with the Rays and .311 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs at Durham, was chosen (over Jonny Gomes) because of his defense.

"Defense is a big focus for us," Friedman said. "Obviously, Carl is a premier defensive leftfielder in baseball. With Ruggiano we feel like he will eat into that a little bit."

Friedman said Baldelli came through Sunday's return "feeling very good," but "it's unrealistic for us to be able to count him on a day-to-day basis."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays in pain: Longoria to join Crawford on the sideline 08/11/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 12:26pm]
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