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Tampa Bay Rays call up Dan Johnson to aid ailing bench

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays put RHP Andy Sonnanstine on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain to make room for RHP Jeremy Hellickson — and then for INF/OF Dan Johnson.

With Hellickson optioned back to Triple-A Durham after his dazzling debut Monday, and Sonnanstine — whose injury was, if unfortunate, also convenient — not eligible to return until Saturday, the Rays had essentially a free spot for at least four games and used it to fortify their injury-depleted bench.

Though INF/OF Ben Zobrist (stiff back) is close to returning to active duty — perhaps pinch-hitting tonight and starting Wednesday — the status of 1B Carlos Peña (sore right foot) remains somewhat less clear.

Manager Joe Maddon said Peña — who left Saturday's game after feeling discomfort — was improved, but also that he was "teetering" on a possible DL stint, and today would be key.

Sean Rodriguez has been filling in at first, but Johnson — who is hitting .303 with 30 homers and 95 RBIs — is another option, plus he can play third and the outfield and DH.

"Here's a guy that's having one of the better minor-league seasons in recent history,'' Maddon said. "We've always liked him, we're fortunate to have him. … I'm really eager to get him here.''

Sonnanstine, the long reliever, hadn't pitched since July 18. And with Lance Cormier also well-rested, having not pitched since July 20, the Rays felt comfortable going short a reliever.

Sonnanstine said he has been available to pitch but first noticed the hamstring problem in his last appearance in New York.

"It's been nagging a little bit for a while now, but we got to the point where we needed to address the issue," he said.

By putting Sonnanstine on the DL, and backdating the move the maximum 10 days, the Rays can get him back by Saturday. Had they optioned Sonnanstine to the minors, he would have had to stay down for 10 days.

Zobrist hit off the tee, threw and went through agility drills early Monday and came through well. He is planning to go through a more extensive workout on the field this afternoon and with continued progress at least be available tonight and "definitely" back in the lineup Wednesday.

"Everything felt great," Zobrist said. "I was able to make most, pretty much all the normal moves I would make out on the field in a controlled environment."

HICKEY "SICK" OVER INCIDENT: Pitching coach Jim Hickey said he was, and days later remains, sick over the onfield horseplay that resulted in reliever Grant Balfour landing on the disabled list for four to six weeks.

"Oh my God, I felt like throwing up on the field," Hickey said. "I was nauseous. I'm still sick to my stomach."

Hickey and Balfour were fooling around on the field before batting practice — "the same kind of stuff that goes on day in and day out in baseball," Hickey said — but in a freak moment both went to the ground. Balfour ended up with a strained left intercostal (rib) and could be out until mid September.

RECORD RATINGS: The Rays-Yankees games were the most-watched TV shows in the Tampa Bay market all three days and drew the highest TV ratings for a regular-season series in franchise history, a 9.9 that reflects an average of 178,238 households, according to Sun Sports. Saturday's game had a record 10.7 rating (193,220 households).

The previous single-game high was 9.3, and series average 9.0, from a 2008 series with Boston. Overall the Rays are averaging a 5.7 rating, up 73 percent from last season.

GREAT GARZA: Matt Garza's no-hitter, and ensuing start against the Yankees, was good enough for American League co-player of the week honors. Garza had to share with Toronto's Jose Bautista, who had an 8-for-12 series vs. Baltimore with three homers.

MISCELLANY: RHP Jeff Niemann starts tonight saying the extra day's rest provided by Hellickson's promotion can make a "huge" difference in how a starter feels. … Rocco Baldelli was 0-for-2 for Class A Charlotte before the game was suspended in the fourth inning due to bad weather. … B.J. Upton stole a career-high three bases and has 31 for the season. … Triple-A Durham's 11-game winning streak ended.

Tampa Bay Rays call up Dan Johnson to aid ailing bench 08/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 1:24am]
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