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Rays plot next step as Baldelli arrives in town

ST. PETERSBURG — RF Rocco Baldelli arrived in Tampa on Saturday night from his 20-day rehab assignment with Double-A Montgomery, and he will be re-evaluated before the next step of his attempted comeback from a career-threatening muscle-fatigue disorder is plotted today.

The 26-year-old, who has played just 127 major-league games since 2004, could be activated by Monday. He could work out with the team for a while, or he could take another rehab assignment, executive VP Andrew Friedman said.

Whatever the course, Friedman said, Baldelli should not feel any urgency to be the right-handed bat with power potential that the Rays failed to acquire before last week's trade deadline.

"We've tried to get him to not think that way," Friedman said. "First and foremost, his health is the most important thing. Again, this isn't a broken arm. This is very unusual." Baldelli's quality of life "trumps anything else," he said.

Baldelli's eventual role will be as measured in its expectation and intensity as his rehab. The Rays are in the odd position of asking him to sometimes "not play the game as hard as he does," Friedman said.

"It's a weird thing to say to an athlete. Rocco would sprint after balls 110 percent, no matter what the scoreboard (said)," Friedman said. "That's how he played the game, or plays the game. We're trying to get him to pick situations and understand situations on the scoreboard, different things to conserve his bullets, for lack of a better word."

Manager Joe Maddon said Baldelli would platoon in the outfield, DH, pinch-hit and remain in games for defense while managing his "fatigue factor."

Baldelli missed the 2005 season with knee and elbow injuries, and was plagued with hamstring problems before his condition was discovered.

"All I know is he is feeling better," Maddon said. "He's talking better. He's more positive about being able to do this, and that makes us feel pretty good, too."

Rays officials are still somewhat mystified by Baldelli's disorder — they think a similar mitochondria condition ended three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond's career — and aren't sure how much of his improvement has been a lessening of the disease's severity and how much is his learning to manage it. Either way, Friedman said, "I certainly think it's more likely that he is going to help the 2008 Rays. I think it's a lot more likely today than I thought it was a month ago."

STOPPED: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (11-6) bemoaned his lack of run support in losing his third straight start at Kansas City last Sunday, but he was awash in support Saturday. Still, he seemed more relieved than happy in improving his team-best wins total.

"I kind of felt bad about those comments in Kansas City," he said. "The best way I can put it was, it was an emotional reaction to a pretty tough loss for me. I like being the stopper. I like winning after we lose, and (Saturday) I felt like I was my own stopper, the last three stops not being so great. It really boosts my confidence."

ETC.: C Dioner Navarro was rested but will be one of six left-handed batters today against Armando Galarraga, who has held right-handers to a .149 average. … LF Carl Crawford stole his 25th base. He had not swiped one in 18 games until Friday. With a single, he has hit safely in seven straight games. … Evan Longoria hit his 21st homer, tying the club rookie record set by Jonny Gomes (2005). … LHP David Price, the top pick in 2007, had another strong start for Double-A Montgomery, allowing a run on four hits, walking none and striking out 10 in seven innings against West Tenn. He's 6-0, 2.08 with the Biscuits. … USF men's basketball coach Stan Heath threw out the first pitch.

Rays plot next step as Baldelli arrives in town 08/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 3:28pm]
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