Rocco Baldelli is set to make his return to the field as a player tonight for Class A Charlotte, the first step in what could lead him back to the Rays later this season.
Baldelli, 28, has spent this season working as a special assistant coach, but is expected to sign a minor-league playing contract this afternoon and be the DH tonight for the Stone Crabs.
Given that he hasn't played in games since last season with Boston, Baldelli is going to need an extended period of time in the minors, perhaps two or three weeks with Charlotte before moving up to Double- or Triple-A.
How he does and how he feels along the way will determine when, or if, he rejoins the Rays. One key date to keep in mind is Aug. 31, because he'd have to be on the roster by then to be eligible for the post-season.
Baldelli played 62 games for Boston last season, hitting .253 with 7 homers and 23 RBIs. He was with the Rays the five seasons before that, emerging as a top prospect and impressive rookie, then dealing with a series of injuries and a mysterious illness that sapped his energy. Extensive tests and doctor consulations led to a treatment plan that has the medical side under control. Baldelli missed much of the 2008 season but returned late in the year and played a key role in the postseason, including home runs in the ALCS and World Series.
He has also been rehabbing a shoulder injury, and was throwing from rightfield to third base during last Thursday's workout at Tropicana Field well enough that he could be used occasionally in the outfield.
The Stone Crabs are at home in Port Charlotte through Wednesday, then are in the Tampa Bay area for the next week, playing at Clearwater July 22-25 and at Tampa July 27-30.