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Rays lose Zobrist to injury, should learn Baldelli's fate soon

ST. PETERSBURG — An injury to Ben Zobrist will force the Rays to shuffle their roster plans, and further changes may be coming as a verdict on Rocco Baldelli's status nears.

Zobrist, making an impressive transition to super utility man, fractured the tip of his left thumb and will be out about a month, making Andy Cannizaro the apparent frontrunner to be the backup shortstop on the opening day roster.

Whether Baldelli is on that roster is a much larger question, and Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Monday there may be clarity soon: "I would anticipate by the middle of the week to have more of an update to really try to make heads of this."

What that could mean is this: Baldelli's status is no longer a day-to-day proposition — either he says he feels well enough to start playing again, or, seemingly more likely, he doesn't and the Rays start making plans to at least open the season without him.

"The point's coming pretty soon where we're going to need to get him out on the field and get a clear sense of what we can expect in April and beyond," Friedman said. "We're not there yet — we still have 18 days of spring training left to figure these things out — but it's fast approaching."

Baldelli has not played since last Tuesday due to unspecified issues with muscles in his legs, and the Rays agreed to give him until today to see how he felt and reassess. Friedman said it was not "impossible" Baldelli could at least DH in a game this week but was not "probable," either.

From what Baldelli said earlier Monday, it didn't sound like he would be playing anytime soon.

"As far as a timeline, I don't have a timeline," he told the Bradenton Herald. "I'm trying to get to the point where my body feels good and I can go out there and not have to worry about it. I've been having trouble getting to that point, so that's the reason for the extended time off."

But he may be running out of time, as the Rays need to see him in action soon to know what to expect in April. "I think the only way all of us, including Rocco, can get a good feel for that is if we can get him on the field and see how he does and how he feels and kind of get him back into a fairly regular routine of playing," Friedman said.

If Baldelli is unavailable, and Cliff Floyd is used primarily as a DH, the Rays may be in the market for another outfielder to share rightfield with Jonny Gomes and create needed depth, either via trade or by signing a free agent (Kenny Lofton? Barry Bonds?). They are also considering three in-camp candidates: John Rodriguez, Justin Ruggiano and Jon Weber.

"Just like any position on the field, we're lining up different options and different scenarios and different ways we can go," Friedman said, "but it's difficult to be proactive on it right now."

The Rays had big plans for Zobrist, who sustained a hairline fracture of his left thumb while sliding in Sunday's game. Cannizaro, who has played in 13 big-league games, is the likely replacement since none of the other projected infielders (Willy Aybar, Joel Guzman, Akinori Iwamura) can back up shortstop Jason Bartlett. They could also consider prospect Reid Brignac.

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

Rays lose Zobrist to injury, should learn Baldelli's fate soon 03/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 10, 2008 11:00pm]
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