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Tampa Bay Rays cut ties with Pat Burrell, promote Hank Blalock

UNWELCOME VISITOR: Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton backs off as an unidentified fan dashes around the field.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

UNWELCOME VISITOR: Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton backs off as an unidentified fan dashes around the field.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Pat Burrell era is officially over.

The Rays designated the slumping DH for assignment, ending a disappointing 16-month stint for Burrell, who didn't produce the way Tampa Bay had hoped when it signed him to a two-year, $16 million deal in January 2009.

To replace Burrell, 33, the Rays selected Hank Blalock from Triple-A Durham, saying the two-time All-Star gives them more versatility defensively and in the lineup. Blalock, 29, will platoon at DH against right-handed pitchers, can back up at first and third base and makes Tampa Bay's bench stronger as it heads into interleague play.

Blalock said he found out Saturday morning and was excited to be back in the big leagues, especially with the Rays. They were the only team to make him an offer in a humbling offseason, and they give him an opportunity to make the playoffs for the first time in his eighth big-league season.

"Anything you do in life, you constantly have to prove yourself," Blalock said. "You don't deserve everything, you have to earn everything you get. I was in Triple A for a reason and had to earn my way back to the big leagues."

With the switch-hitting Willy Aybar performing well against left-handed pitchers and Burrell hitting just .053 against them (1-for-19) and .202 overall, executive VP Andrew Friedman said a "left-handed bat fit us better."

Friedman said they also considered INF Dan Johnson, who is hitting .303 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs for the Bulls, but chose Blalock, who is trying to rejuvenate his career after signing a minor-league deal in spring training.

At the end of camp, Blalock agreed, at first reluctantly, to go to Durham, where he hit .349 with 24 RBIs, four homers and a .405 on-base percentage. Agent Scott Boras told the Times on Tuesday that Blalock would activate the out clause in his Triple-A contract within the next week, but both Blalock and Friedman downplayed that.

"We talked in spring training about evaluating it at this point and talking through it, and we spent close to a week really talking through it and going through with both Hank and Dan Johnson," Friedman said.

Friedman met with Burrell on Saturday morning to deliver the news, saying he was "a real pro." Manager Joe Maddon said it probably didn't come as a complete shock, especially with Aybar getting more playing time against lefties. He said he spoke to Burrell on the phone and "there was no malice or vindictiveness or any kind of negativity in his response." The Rays have 10 days to trade or release Burrell, who with a $9 million salary is likely to clear waivers.

Reached on his cell phone Saturday, Burrell hung up on a Times reporter and texted back that the reporter should "lose" his number.

In two seasons with the Rays, Burrell hit a combined .218 with 16 homers and 77 RBIs with none of his homers coming against left-handed pitchers.

"If Pat was hitting to his normal previous levels, there wouldn't have been a move (today)," Maddon said. "Again, I have no solid answers. I wasn't around him before. And based on work ethic and caring, the way he conducted himself, you would think it would have worked out better."

GOING STREAKING: The game was delayed for several minutes in the top of the ninth when a shirtless fan ran onto the field, dodging several security guards in amusing fashion before getting gang-tackled to the ground. "Monte Kiffin defense right there," Maddon joked.

The fan ran up to CF B.J. Upton, who laughed afterward about stepping back, not knowing what he had planned. "I kind of had my guard up … once he kind of got close and started waving like, 'What's up?' " Upton said. "After that, it was pretty funny. That was the first time I was on the field when that stuff happened."

The streaker was arrested. No other details were available.

SWITCH IT UP: Aybar hit in the fifth spot Saturday against LHP Jason Vargas, bumping 1B Carlos Peña to sixth, but Maddon said it was based on matchups and Peña should return to the fifth slot today.

MISCELLANY: C Kelly Shoppach, rehabbing from knee surgery, said he began hitting Monday and hopes to do live batting practice soon.

Tampa Bay Rays cut ties with Pat Burrell, promote Hank Blalock 05/15/10 [Last modified: Sunday, May 16, 2010 12:50pm]

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