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Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton to start season on disabled list

PORT CHARLOTTE — Centerfielder B.J. Upton has had more bad days than good battling soreness in his lower back in the two weeks since a violent outfield collision. In an effort to make sure he is well for most of the season, the Rays decided Wednesday they will place him on the disabled list at the start.

"The thing is they want to get it under control and make sure it's perfectly fine and then I can get out there and play," Upton, 27, said. "Would I love to be out there? Yeah. But if this is going to help me over the long term, this is what we've got to do."

Upton said "there's no timetable" for his return. He could be eligible as soon as April 10 (missing only three games) and doesn't expect to be out more than a few weeks at the most. "When I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go," he said.

Manager Joe Maddon said that was the idea: "I think we've been forcing a finish line on this whole thing all the way through, so we took the finish line away.''

With Sam Fuld also out due to a wrist injury that seems likely to lead to surgery, the Rays will open the season without two of their top four outfielders.

Utilityman Elliot Johnson is expected to fill one of the spots. The other could go to one of non­roster candidates Jesus Feliciano, Jeff Salazar or Will Rhymes; prospect Brandon Guyer; or a late-spring acquisition.

Also Wednesday:

• Right-hander Brandon Gomes was optioned to Triple A, giving the final spot in the bullpen to Burke Badenhop.

• Catcher/utilityman Chris Gimenez was reassigned to the minors, making Jose Lobaton the other half of the catching tandem with Jose Molina.

• Shortstop Reid Brignac was green-lighted to rejoin the big-league team and attempt to play through the plantar fascia injury in his right foot.

• The order of the starting rotation after opening day starter James Shields was set, with David Price second followed by Jeremy Hellickson, rookie Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann.

Upton had been pushing to return by the April 6 opener but has played in only part of one minor-league game since the March 14 collision.

The issue has been described as soreness in his lower back; Upton said it is more a matter of tightness.

"It won't loosen up," he said. "Other than that, there's nothing else major going on. I just think it's getting loose and being able to keep it loose, and I haven't been able to do that yet."

He said it would feel better with rest, then when he would get more active he would end up taking a step back. Now it sounds like he will shut down for at least a few days then start working his way back. "Resting is probably the biggest thing for it right now," he said.

Upton, making $7 million in his last season before free agency, is a key player with a blend of power, speed, grace, athleticism and a strong arm, and he was being considered for the No. 2 spot in the batting order. He hit .243 last season with 23 homers, 81 RBIs and 36 steals.

Fuld will see wrist specialist Thomas Graham in Cleveland on Monday and could have surgery as soon as Tuesday to correct issues with the tendon and sheath. An exact timetable would depend on the specifics of the procedure, but he is confident he will return during the season.

Brignac said after three days of extensive action in minor-league games he was confident he could play through the now-tolerable discomfort and added it was "great news" the Rays agreed.

His status remains somewhat tentative, as the partial tear could become a complete tear and sideline him for several weeks, but he isn't worried. "I don't feel like it's going to rip anytime in the next 10 days before the season starts," he said. "Where I'm at right now is more than tolerable to be able to play every day."

The Rays are taking a slight gamble in putting him back in a big-league game because a DL stay can only be backdated to the last major-league exhibition, but he likely would be out more than 15 days anyway.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

B.J. Upton, rear, and Desmond Jennings crumple after their March 14 collision, which is forcing Upton to miss opening day.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | TIMES

B.J. Upton, rear, and Desmond Jennings crumple after their March 14 collision, which is forcing Upton to miss opening day.

Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton to start season on disabled list 03/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 5, 2012 2:10pm]

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