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Tampa Bay Rays reliever Chad Bradford out 3-4 months after elbow surgery

ST. PETERSBURG — The bullpen depth the Rays worked hard to assemble during the winter will be tested with Monday's announcement that veteran Chad Bradford could be out until June after having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow.

Bradford first felt discomfort during the playoffs, but an MRI exam then was clean, and the Rays felt he would be fine with rest, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. But when Bradford, who gets $3.5 million this year, began his usual throwing program in late January, he had more discomfort and swelling, and a doctor's visit led to surgery Feb. 5 by Dr. James Andrews to remove loose bodies.

Friedman said they "expect him to miss the first month or two of the season," and it will be a boost when he returns. Bradford said he is shooting for late May/early June: "I hope to be back sooner, but I want to make sure it's right and I can finish the year strong."

Friedman had good news on closer Troy Percival, whose recovery from offseason surgery is "progressing very well." Percival has already thrown off the mound a couple of times "and reported he feels great," but Friedman said the Rays will know more when their medical staff sees him this week. "We probably won't get a real accurate sense (of a timetable) until the second week of March or so," he said.

Even without Bradford and Percival, there are at least nine candidates for the seven bullpen jobs: returnees Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell, plus Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann (assuming one isn't in the rotation); signees Lance Cormier, Joe Nelson and Brian Shouse; and Rule 5 pick Derek Rodriguez.

"One of the things that was most important for us was to have depth," Friedman said. "We felt like we had some exposure early in the winter, so we aggressively addressed that, and, in our mind, we have some very capable candidates and some very good pitchers who won't make our team, or hopefully won't."

More Rays news:

• A decision is expected today on Monday's arbitration hearing with catcher Dioner Navarro as the three-person panel will choose the Rays' offer of $2.1 million or Navarro's request of $2.5 million. The Rays are thought to be close to a two-year deal with infielder Willy Aybar that would avoid his hearing this week.

• Infielder Morgan Ensberg, whose career has been in decline since a 2005 All-Star season, signed a minor-league deal with an invite to big-league camp. Ensberg will try to make the team in a utility role (and get $650,000 if he does). "He's a guy who has great upside," Friedman said. "We feel like in this environment he may get back on track and have some success."

• There are no problems with Shouse's physical and his signing to what is thought to be a one-year contract with an option should finally be official today, as will a corresponding move to create 40-man roster space.

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Chad Bradford out 3-4 months after elbow surgery 02/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 9:05am]
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