ST. PETERSBURG — Senior adviser Don Zimmer is recovering from a small stroke suffered last month and hopes to join the Rays in spring training for what would be his 61st season in the game.
Zimmer, who turns 78 today, said Friday that he is regaining the speech and mobility he lost.
"I never felt bad," he said. "I never had anything bother me except that I'm a little wobbly and I'm slow taking a step. A week and a half ago, there's no way I could talk to you.
''But I'm getting better."
With family gathered at their Seminole condo for wife Soot's birthday on Dec. 23, several relatives noticed Zimmer was not his usual self. "They could see something was wrong," he said. "I wasn't talking right. I was very quiet, and that's not me. Everyone noticed it."
Zimmer said an MRI exam and other tests confirmed he "had a small stroke" but he has made considerable progress the past two weeks. "I'm hoping to be in spring training," he said.
The longtime Pinellas County resident is one of baseball's most legendary figures, having played parts of 12 seasons (from 1954-65) in the majors, and close to 40 years as a manager (Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs and Yankees on an interim basis), coach or adviser.
Zimmer, who has six World Series championship rings, joined the Rays in January 2004, serving under managers Lou Piniella and Joe Maddon.
Rays sign Cormier
Another low-cost, experienced option was added to the Rays bullpen as right-hander Lance Cormier signed a one-year contract.
Cormier, 28, spent most of last season with the Orioles, going 3-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 45 appearances, and earning his first big-league save. He has pitched for the D'backs and Braves, with a 17-21 record and 5.53 ERA in parts of five seasons.
Cormier (pronounced cor-MEE-A) gets a $675,000 salary, with the chance to earn an additional $175,000 in incentives.
The additions of Cormier and free agent Joe Nelson gives the Rays added depth if closer Troy Percival isn't ready to start the season, or if they were to trade veteran Chad Bradford, who has a $3.5 million salary.
They also have more relievers than they have room for in their seven-man bullpen. Grant Balfour (whose one-year, $1.4 million deal was officially announced), Dan Wheeler, Bradford, Nelson and lone left-hander J.P. Howell are automatics, as is Percival if healthy.
That leaves Cormier and converted starters Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann, who are all out of options and can't be sent to the minors without being offered on waivers, plus Juan Salas, Rule 5 draftee Derek Rodriguez and possibly lefty minor-league signee Randy Choate competing for the final spots. (Hammel or Niemann could end up in the rotation if David Price were deemed not ready for the big leagues.)
• Team officials said they were not aware lefty Scott Kazmir had committed to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and had no comment on his decision.
• Right-hander Jae-Kuk Ryu, designated for assignment earlier this week, was claimed off waivers by San Diego.
Around the majors
NEW YORK DEALS: The Yankees and Mets got public backing for added financing for their new stadiums. The city's Industrial Development Agency approved additional public bond requests for the teams, which got hundreds of millions in tax-exempt bonds when construction began in 2006.
CLEMENS CASE: Brian McNamee, the former personal trainer of Roger Clemens, was questioned for five hours by federal prosecutors and investigators building a perjury case against the seven-time Cy Young Award winner.
ANGELS: Lefty Darren Oliver (one year, $3.6 million) avoided arbitration.
INDIANS: Pitchers Matt Herges and Jack Cassel agreed to minor-league deals.
PHILLIES: Greg Dobbs signed for two years, $2.5 million, avoiding arbitration.
Times wires contributed to this report.