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Rays trying to see injuries as opportunity, not excuse

Even the most optimistic of Rays admit the first two weeks of the season have been "quite a test already," with four frontline players joining the five who began the season on the disabled list.

"But you know what?" manager Joe Maddon said. "Why not? Let's go through it."

From the adversity, the Rays preach opportunity. Rather than a woe-is-us, public dwelling-on-the-negative, they seek, somehow, to find positives amid the pain.

Maybe Eric Hinske becomes this year's Carlos Pena, a one-time touted player who rediscovers his groove and has a career-resurrecting year.

Or perhaps Evan Longoria or Jeff Niemann, or both, take advantage of their premature promotions and take off from the start, spending the next 10-15 years as big-league stars.

"It's a challenge for everyone in the organization what's gone on … and it's even more important for everyone, from the front office to everyone in the clubhouse, to band together here to do all the little things to try to win as many games as we can in April," executive VP Andrew Friedman said.

"We've got some talented guys out there. We're much better prepared to deal with the injuries than we were two years ago when they happened. And we're going to be that much stronger when we get our guys back healthy."

In the first month of the 2006 season, the Rays lost SS Julio Lugo, 3B Aubrey Huff, 2B Jorge Cantu, INF Luis Ordaz and LHP Mark Hendrickson to injuries. The replacements were INFs Russ Branyan, Sean Burroughs, Greg Norton and Tomas Perez, and RHP Jason Hammel.

Since this year's opening day, they've lost 3B Willy Aybar, DH Cliff Floyd, RHP Matt Garza and C Dioner Navarro (though none for the long term, they say), and called up C Mike DiFelice, Longoria, Niemann and OF Justin Ruggiano.

"It gets to why it's so important at the end of spring training to maintain depth and have as many options as possible because injuries happen," Friedman said. "There were certain ways we could have gone … where our depth would have been severely impacted. …

"That said, of course it's frustrating. But I expect there will be some nice, pleasant surprises. Guys are getting opportunities they may not otherwise who will step up and help us win games."

Might the Rays be planning Scott Kazmir’s return for April 26/27 vs. the Red Sox, against whom he tends to pitch his best (6-5, 2.66)? … There's talk of a promotion for fans to "trade in" old-logo hats for the new ones. … The Reds' now-official move of spring training from Sarasota to Arizona in 2010 is bad for the Rays, who lose one of the closest foes from their new spring home in Port Charlotte. … ESPN's Baseball Tonight funny guys described Al Reyes as "electrifying" Friday, the game after he was tased during a bar fight in Tampa. … One thing about those Coco Crisp trade rumors: He's due $11-million over this season and next. … In the ex-Ray file, Greg Norton was called up Friday by the Mariners and relievers Shawn Camp and Lance Carter are with Triple-A Syracuse (Jays), Ruddy Lugo and Brian Stokes with Triple-A New Orleans (Mets), Tim Corcoran and Doug Waechter with Triple-A Albuquerque (Marlins) and Jon Switzer with Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox).

Got a minute? | Jonny Gomes

Must-see TV? Rock of Love, with Bret Michaels.

Favorite car? A '92 Nissan Pathfinder with four-wheel drive. Champagne color. Had to part with it.

Best meal you can make? A grilled New York steak, sprinkled with blue cheese crumbles, some grilled corn and a tomato-mozzarella salad.

Dream date? You've got to ask me another question.

Band you'd love to be on stage with? Motley Crue. Or Kid Rock.

There have been lots of adjectives used to describe playing for the Rays, but C Mike DiFelice might be the first to use "surreal."

Then again, he's also the first — and likely only — to come back to the Rays in their blue-hued second decade after being part of the multicolored 1998 original team.

DiFelice, 38, rejoined the Rays by design — he has lived in north Pinellas County since he and wife Tish bought their first house here in 1998, having three daughters along the way — and he relished the chance to play at home.

Since he left in July 2001, traded to Arizona with Albie Lopez for Nick Bierbrodt and Jason Conti, he has played for the D'backs, Cardinals, Royals, Tigers, Cubs and Mets as well as Triple-A Tucson, Toledo, Norfolk and New Orleans and Double-A Binghamton.

But he has always kept an eye on returning and agreed to a Triple-A contract with the Rays, starting the season at Durham before getting called up when Dioner Navarro was hurt April 4.

And coming back was different than going anywhere else.

"This has more feel, because I left something here," DiFelice said. "For me, when you're with a team long enough, part of you is with that team. And I think the Rays have always been a part of me."

Last man standing?

C Mike DiFelice and Seattle INF Miguel Cairo, 33, are the only members of the opening day '98 Rays playing in the majors. There's no known prize for being the last — maybe one of those larger-than-life images of Vince Naimoli that used to be in the Trop food court? — but DiFelice wouldn't mind the title. "I've got a shot," he said. "It's me and Mikey (Cairo) and I play golf with him in the winter so I might have to hit a 3-iron off his shin or something." Here's a look at the other Original Rays:

Playing in minors: RHP Esteban Yan, Orioles Triple A

Coaching/advising: LHP Wilson Alvarez, Pirates Class A; RHP Dan Carlson, D'backs Class A; OF Dave Martinez, Rays bench; 1B Fred McGriff, Rays special adviser

Broadcasting: C John Flaherty, SS Kevin Stocker

Hall of Fame: 3B Wade Boggs

Out of pro game, apparently: Pitchers — Rolando Arrojo, Rick Gorecki, Roberto Hernandez, Albie Lopez, Jim Mecir, Tony Saunders, Dennis Springer, Ramon Tatis; infielders — Aaron Ledesma, Bobby Smith, Paul Sorrento; outfielders: Rich Butler, Mike Kelly, Quinton McCracken, Bubba Trammell.

Prospecting

Evan Longoria, promoted to the big leagues Saturday, was ranked the No. 2 prospect in the game for 2008 by Baseball America. The Rays have had a few other top-five selections, with mixed results:

1997: No. 4 RHP Matt White, never made majors due to injuries.

2001: No. 1 OF Josh Hamilton, derailed years by drugs, now w/Texas.

2003: No. 2 OF Rocco Baldelli, saddled w/injuries, future unclear.

2004: No. 2 SS B.J. Upton, sent to OF, on verge of stardom.

2005: No. 3 OF Delmon Young, decent '07 debut, traded to Twins.

Rays trying to see injuries as opportunity, not excuse 04/12/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 13, 2008 8:56pm]

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