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Rays, one of leaders in African-American players, all don Jackie Robinson's number

ST. PETERSBURG — B.J. Upton was proud to wear No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson on Tuesday and even prouder to do so for a Rays team with five African-Americans, second most among MLB teams.

"He's someone that should be remembered, and he's someone that should be brought to people's attention," Upton said. "To have a guy who went through what he went through and fight for us to be in the game, that should be recognized."

Only 8.2 percent of MLB players are African-American, according to a recent study. The Angels have six, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, with the Rays among a half-dozen teams with five. "It definitely matters," Upton said. "We have among the most of any team in the major leagues, and you feel like it should be noticed."

What shocked Upton is that there are teams, such as the '07 Astros and Braves, with none.

"That's kind of hard to believe," he said. "There's still a lack of African-Americans in major-league baseball and I think something needs to be done about that."

By having all players and coaches wear No. 42, the Rays made something of a statement. "The more people that wear it, the more it highlights the reason why we are doing this," Carl Crawford said.

GARZA GOOD: RHP Matt Garza felt "great" and ready to return to the mound after a 30-pitch bullpen session at a shortened distance of about 55 feet.

Garza, on the DL with radial nerve irritation, hopes to be activated when eligible April 24; the Rays want to see more before deciding, starting with a full bullpen session Thursday.

Garza raved Tuesday about how good he felt, crediting diagnosis by Dr. Koco Eaton, treatment by team trainers and a shot of cortisone. He also revealed that his arm was "tired" throughout the spring, hurt for days after he threw and sometimes was so tender to even a trainer's touch he'd be "jumping off the table."

After Tuesday's session, "I sat there and thought, 'So this is what it feels like after throwing a pen and your arm is not throbbing anymore,' " he said.

CATCHING ON: The Rays could have an interesting decision to make early next week when Dioner Navarro is ready to come off the disabled list.

Navarro, who had cuts on his right hand, is progressing well and will test it in extended spring training games today and Thursday and at Class A Vero Beach, where he will catch rehabbing LHP Scott Kazmir on Friday then DH at least one game. Navarro, whose only issue has been some discomfort when he swings left-handed, is eligible to return Sunday, but the Rays may wait a few more days.

In his place, veteran Mike DiFelice has hit .429 with a staff-best catchers ERA of 3.25; Shawn Riggans is 4.50 and Navarro 5.21. "Mike's done a great job," manager Joe Maddon said. "He wants to be here, too."

MISCELLANY: The Rays have heard unofficially that RHP Juan Salas' extensive visa issues are resolved and he will arrive tonight; if so, they will eventually have to make room to reinstate him to the 40-man roster from the restricted list. … The Rays extended their working agreement with Triple-A Durham through 2010. … With the bullpen (collective 3.30 ERA) used heavily again, RHP Andy Sonnanstine will skip his usual between starts work and be available in relief tonight. … 2B Akinori Iwamura got his first game off. … Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez logged his 400th career double; Monday he tied Ted Williams and Willie McCovey for 15th place on the all-time homer list at 521. … LHP Jon Barratt, 23, a 2003 fifth-round pick, retired after starting the year at Double-A Montgomery. … 3B Evan Longoria has reached base in all four games.

Rays, one of leaders in African-American players, all don Jackie Robinson's number 04/15/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 1:23pm]
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