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Tampa Bay Rays' Pat Burrell returns to St. Petersburg to have stiff neck examined

BALTIMORE — With Pat Burrell's stiff neck not responding to treatment, the Rays sent him back to St. Petersburg for further evaluation to determine the cause of the lingering problem.

Burrell had an MRI on Wednesday and will be examined today by team spinal consultant Dr. Tom Tolli.

"Not that it's gotten worse; it's not getting better. I think that's the better way to describe it," manager Joe Maddon said. "We just thought it's at that point, let's really see what's going on there if it's anything more. And if there's not, that's great and we'll just continue along the same path."

Burrell first missed the April 28 game because of the problem, then played through it — and actually hit better — until sitting out Tuesday as the degree of discomfort would vary.

"It wasn't that it necessarily went away, but it would kind of lighten up a bit so he felt better about it, and then all of a sudden the next day might be a little more tight," Maddon said. "So it just kept vacillating. And finally you could just see (Tuesday) that when he said he was stiff, he was stiff. You could just see that. So we decided let's get it checked out."

Burrell was signed to a two-year, $16 million contract to add right-handed power to the lineup but has yet to produce much. He has a .250 average and 17 RBIs but has only five extra-base hits (four doubles and one homer).

Maddon said the problem on the left side of Burrell's neck may have been something of a pre-existing condition: "I think it's just been a continual thing. I think there's even some history in the past with it before we even saw him."

A stiff neck is troubling for a hitter because it can prevent him from being able to turn and see the pitcher with both eyes and can inhibit his swing and follow-through. Maddon said Burrell's slow start "could be tied to it because it's been bothersome."

CRAWFORD OUT, TOO: LF Carl Crawford said he doesn't expect to miss much time after leaving the game with a bruised right shoulder.

"I hope to be back in the lineup soon,'' he said. "I don't think it should be anything that's going to keep me out for a long time or anything like that.''

Crawford was hurt making a diving catch of Aubrey Huff's line drive in the fourth. "I twisted it in a weird way and I guess I tweaked something in there a little bit, and it was a little sore.''

It was worse after he batted the next inning: "That's when I knew I had to come out of the game; it just felt sore, like I couldn't swing the bat right."

He is considered "day to day" and will be re-evaluated this afternoon. Maddon said there didn't appear to be "anything drastically wrong.''

SHIELDS UP: Having workhorse ace James Shields on the mound, especially at Tropicana Field, is usually a comforting thought for the Rays. And it's even more so with their starters averaging less than six innings an outing, putting a strain on the bullpen, which has a 3.99 ERA through 991/3 innings.

"We just need him to continue to be himself, and we need the other guys in the rotation to start picking up a couple extra innings here and there," Maddon said. "We have to take some of the burden off the bullpen at some point. … We've just got to get some of these guys deeper and Shields is the right guy to get it started."

ON THE RUN: With Jason Bartlett's sixth-inning larceny, the Rays extended their streak to 15 games with a stolen base. There have been only two longer streaks by AL teams in the past 55 years, 17 games by the 2001 Yankees and the 1976 A's.

MISCELLANY: The Rays had 15 hits, but none by 3B Evan Lon­goria, who was 0-for-6. … Tickets are available for all Indians games, but the Rays are advising advance purchases for Saturday, when all fans get a Longoria rookie of the year figurine. … Double-A Montgomery 1B Rhyne Hughes hit his Southern League-leading 11th homer.

Tampa Bay Rays' Pat Burrell returns to St. Petersburg to have stiff neck examined 05/13/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2009 9:08am]
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