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Rays OF Baldelli progressing rapidly

TORONTO — Executive vice president Andrew Friedman is keeping his trade talks so quiet that manager Joe Maddon swore even he had no idea how likely the Rays were to make a move before Thursday's deadline for nonwaiver deals.

But it's starting to sound more and more like they could soon add a potential impact bat with the return of OF Rocco Baldelli — possibly this weekend.

"We are taking a good look at him and he's been responding very well," Maddon said. "Hitting the ball well, running better, playing on defense. Seems to be the recovery is a little bit quicker. So we'll see. … It has a good tone to it right now."

Baldelli, sidelined since spring training with a rare muscle fatigue disorder, has continued to progress, and impress, at Double-A Montgomery. (He was 1-for-4 as the DH on Tuesday.) In what has been their most optimistic assessment yet, Maddon said that if Baldelli has no setbacks the Rays could soon start pondering, if not planning, his return.

"I think as he continues to progress this way we can start thinking that," Maddon said. "It's the old setback. If he can avoid the setbacks, I think we can continue to be optimistic that he's going to return, and I would have to say relatively soon."

Baldelli's rehab assignment with Montgomery ends Friday, when he is scheduled to play seven innings in rightfield for the Biscuits. It will be his most extensive test.

At that point the Rays' choices would be to activate him, option him to the minors so he could keep playing regularly or come up with a medical reason to send him on another rehab assignment.

With the Rays scheduled to face Detroit left-hander Kenny Rogers on Saturday, it would seem at least possible if all goes extremely well that he could join the team then, or for the following series against Cleveland, which is also likely to start a lefty or two.

Clearly the Rays are planning for his eventual return. By design, Baldelli (hitting .333 in 11 games) has been used in Montgomery in situations similar to how the Rays would use him — against left-handed pitchers, primarily as a DH with some time in rightfield and as a pinch-hitter who could stay in the game — and thus far has passed all tests.

"We've been trying to recreate the kind of scenarios that would be presented him when he came to us," Maddon said.

TRADEWINDS: Mark Teixeira might have been a long-shot candidate for the Rays anyway, and he is no longer available after being traded to the Angels.

With Baldelli's encouraging progress, the Rays would seem to be more likely to trade for pitching help, probably an experienced late-inning reliever (with Atlanta's Will Ohman among the possibilities) though they are believed to have discussed some starters as well.

"We are continuing to go through the available options to determine what, if anything, fits with our current roster and depth," Friedman said Tuesday night, declining to offer details.

HELPING HAND: The Jays' feel-good promotion of longtime minor-leaguer and native Canadian Scott Richmond to start today could be a good thing for the Rays, too.

That's because the Jays were scheduled to start lefty John Parrish, and the Rays have struggled extensively against lefties, with only a 17-15 record.

MISCELLANY: Maddon said he planned to use mostly the regulars in today's matinee since the Rays have Thursday off. DH Cliff Floyd is the only usual starter likely to rest. … RHP Edwin Jackson starts today aware that he hasn't beaten the Jays in eight previous games, but not sure why: "All the games haven't been bad." … The Rays logged their 10th shutout of the season. … Carl Crawford is now tied with Baltimore's Brian Roberts for first in the AL with eight triples.

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

Rays OF Baldelli progressing rapidly 07/29/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 2, 2008 5:28pm]

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