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Tampa Bay Rays' Carl Crawford hopes fans vote him as All-Star Game starter

MINNEAPOLIS — LF Carl Crawford already has made three All-Star appearances and earned MVP honors in last year's game.

But Crawford, 28, acknowledges that this year could be extra special if he's voted in by the fans, which would give him his first start. Crawford was holding on to the third outfield spot by just more than 150,000 votes (ahead of Texas' Nelson Cruz) in last week's tally. Voting ended Thursday night with the announcement coming Sunday.

"That's one of the best things that could happen to you besides winning a championship or MVP or something like that," Crawford said. "Getting voted into the All-Star Game is huge. I've worked hard enough to get to that position. So I'd definitely accept it with open arms."

Crawford was voted in by the players twice (2004, 2009) and selected by manager Jim Leyland in 2007. But Crawford said, "It is different when you get the fans to do it. It just means you've got a whole new following paying attention to you now. I've put up numbers every year. But to have the fans realize it now is special."

Crawford has said he's not a good "self-promoter," letting his play on the field do the talking. But he altered his approach this year, appearing in a national commercial. Crawford said he went out in the public eye more, attending the ESPY's and Super Bowl functions, adding he enjoyed the experience.

"It's kind of cool hanging out with the A-listers," he said.

Crawford said he has reaped some rewards of the popularity of 3B Evan Longoria, one of the American League's top vote-getters.

"I never got that attention until after Longoria showed up," Crawford said. "I don't think if he wasn't around I'd probably be getting this much attention. Whatever works. I don't mind riding Longo's coattails to the All-Star Game."

MOVING DOWN: For a second time in a month, manager Joe Maddon has moved struggling 1B Carlos Peña down from the cleanup spot to seventh in an effort to "lighten his load."

Maddon said he could sense the frustration brewing in Peña, who entered Friday hitting .199, pointing to how he tossed his bat after a strikeout Thursday. Maddon had a lengthy, closed-door meeting with Peña, who emerged smiling and seemed to understand the decision.

"It seems like he's adding a little bit more to his plate than he needs to," Maddon said. "So I wanted to take a little bit off."

Maddon hopes Peña responds like he did when he was dropped in early June. He set a club record by hitting homers in six straight games.

MEDICAL MATTERS: Maddon said he expects CF B.J. Upton will return to the lineup today. Upton hadn't started the past four games (three of which because of a sore right quad) but felt a lot better after running in the outfield and around the bases before Friday's game. He was available to pinch hit.

STEPPING IN: Maddon said Willy Aybar, who hit cleanup Friday, will be back in the lineup today at DH. Though Maddon would like to get Aybar in the lineup more, he likes having the switch-hitter available off the bench like Thursday, when he delivered the go-ahead single in the 10th.

"It's a love-hate relationship," Maddon said. "I know how valuable he is to us and what he's done for us.

"I think if you really parcel Willy out properly, he can be very productive."

MISCELLANY: The Rays have signed 15th-round pick LHP Brandon Henderson and 18th-rounder LHP Jimmy Patterson. They have now signed 23 of their 53 picks. … C Dioner Navarro hit his first homer for Triple-A Durham on Thursday.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Carl Crawford hopes fans vote him as All-Star Game starter 07/03/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 3, 2010 1:46am]

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