ST. PETERSBURG — Having already mixed and matched-up his way to 105 batting order combinations in the first 132 games, Rays manager Joe Maddon couldn't wait to break out some of his new toys Wednesday, putting September additions DH Brad Hawpe, RF Desmond Jennings and C Dioner Navarro right into the lineup.
The tinkering will continue as Maddon finds ways to use those three, plus DH/OF Rocco Baldelli, and to get innings for RHP Jeremy Hellickson.
"We have several options per game now," Maddon said. "There's some static members of our lineup, and there's others that are not. And we'll be able to do different things now."
The plans are still evolving, but here's what it sounds like Maddon has in mind:
• Navarro: John Jaso will continue starting against right-handers, and while Kelly Shoppach will be out there "most of the time" against lefties, Navarro will get some starts, based on history against that day's pitcher. And because Navarro is the best thrower of the three, he may start against teams that run a lot. He also could get time as a late-inning defensive replacement. Maddon complimented Navarro for doing "everything right" in handling his demotion to Durham, on and off the field.
• Jennings: He's an option as a right-handed hitting rightfielder (perhaps cutting into Ben Zobrist's time) but may be of most use as a pinch-runner. One situation Maddon specifically mentioned is running for Shoppach. "He's got catalyst written on him," Maddon said. "He's one of those kind of guys."
• Baldelli: Primarily as a right-handed DH, and occasionally in the outfield, perhaps if he were to pinch-hit then stay in; Wednesday he was a decoy. Maddon lauded his power and bat speed and said: "I could see him really contributing this last month."
• Hawpe: Primarily a DH against right-handers, splitting time with Dan Johnson, with the decisions based on matchups. Could also be used in rightfield, though Matt Joyce has been playing regularly vs. right-handers. Hawpe struck out four times in his Rays debut.
• Hellickson: Unless the Rays need a starter, he'll be used in relief, and cautiously. They'd prefer — "theoretically perfect" — to have him start an inning, leery of having him rush to get ready or warm up repeatedly without getting in. As part of The Jeremy Rules, he won't be used in consecutive games. Plus, he has already thrown 144 innings and the Rays would like to keep him to around 170 for the season.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Baldelli, RHP Dale Thayer was removed — technically outrighted to Durham, where he already was. Though RHP Andy Sonnanstine was optioned to Class A Hudson Valley, he won't report, instead working out in advance of being "called up" Monday.
MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Grant Balfour looked sharp enough throwing to hitters Wednesday afternoon that the Rays activated him off the DL; he'd been shelved since July 30 with an intercostal strain. … OF Gabe Kapler (right ankle sprain) isn't expected to be back for at least another week.
EARL-Y WARNING: With travel director Jeff Ziegler monitoring the situation, the Rays are planning to fly as scheduled tonight to Baltimore, and hoping not to cross paths with Hurricane Earl.
With the latest forecasts encouraging, Maddon said they had just "some mild concerns," primarily about multiple rainouts: "The one thing I don't want to have happen is that we have to miss several games in a row right now, and then have to make up doubleheaders later in the year."
MAJOR MINOR MATTER: Class A Charlotte LHP Matt Moore became the first minor-leaguer to rack up more than 200 strikeouts since Minnesota's Francisco Liriano in 2005, and the first in the Florida State League since Houston's Mike Cosgrove in 1971. Moore has 208 in 1442/3 innings but a 6-11, 3.36 record.
EXTRA HANDS: Senior adviser Don Zimmer now will be on the bench for home games, assistant to the pitching coach Stan Boroski for road games.
THAT'S DR. MADDON: Maddon will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Lafayette College today in an on-campus ceremony; he plans to wear his BRayser and allow the school to auction it off.
MISCELLANY: The Rays have gone eight games without an error, one shy of their season high. … 2B Sean Rodriguez drew the first intentional walk of his career. … RHP Jeff Niemann said he felt "great" physically the day after his second post-DL start went bad in the sixth inning.