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Tampa Bay Rays reliever Grant Balfour out 4-6 weeks

ST. PETERSBURG — The only trade the Rays made before Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline for nonwaiver deals was an unexpected one, not so much because they acquired a reliever, Chad Qualls, rather than a hitter, but because of the circumstances: They needed to replace Grant Balfour, who was injured in freak fashion, "messing around … wrestling, in a way" with pitching coach Jim Hickey.

Balfour is expected to miss 4-6 weeks due to a left rib strain, and his absence in key seventh-inning situations will be significant, given his 2.08 ERA, .218 opponents average and 44 strikeouts in 431/3 innings. "Definitely going to miss him," manager Joe Maddon said.

Balfour was injured Friday when he and Hickey were on the field before batting practice for the Yankees game. Maddon called it "just kind of a freaky thing … something that guys do almost every day in these situations. Nothing ever happens. It happened." Both fell to the ground, and it became obvious Balfour was injured.

Maddon said no one will be disciplined and he won't implement rules banning future conduct among players or coaches.

Executive VP Andrew Friedman compared the freakish nature of the injury to Angels 1B Kendry Morales breaking his leg in a home plate celebration, but he said a lesson is to be learned. "It's obviously very frustrating and obviously very avoidable now that you look back on it in retrospect," Friedman said. "Both guys were kidding around; it's what happens in a major-league clubhouse all the time.

"Nothing ever happens, but when it does, hopefully it makes people more conscious of that because we have a chance to do special things this year, and that's the part of it that's frustrating."

Balfour was at the Trop on Saturday but declined to speak to a reporter until talking to the trainers. Hickey went through his normal pregame routine.

With Balfour out potentially until mid September, the Rays are likely to initially make use of Dan Wheeler and Qualls. In 22 seventh-inning appearances, Balfour didn't give up a run and allowed a .123 average.

NOTHING DOING: The Rays had targeted five hitters for a trade and were willing to be aggressive and creative, Friedman said, but despite extensive conversations, no deals were to be made. He noted that none of the five was traded.

"We set our sights high," Friedman said. "We had a specific group of players that we felt like would really impact us that we felt like we'd be aggressive to go out and get."

Their top three were Kansas City's David DeJesus (who got hurt), Philadelphia's Jayson Werth (who was taken off the market) and Washington's Josh Willingham. Others who may have been of interest included Washington's Adam Dunn and Baltimore's Luke Scott. Houston's Lance Berkman, who went to the Yankees, apparently wasn't on their list.

Friedman said it was hard to say how close they ended up to a deal. "We felt at different points over the last two, three days … or even going back a couple weeks that we had real momentum on a deal that we thought had a real chance," he said.

But "things didn't pan out," he said, citing "extenuating circumstances" with the other parties.

Players who clear waivers can be traded in August. The Rays will continue to monitor the market, but Friedman said a deal would be unlikely.

Q-BALL: Qualls, acquired from Arizona for a minor-leaguer to be named, is a ground-ball specialist with brutal stats (8.29 ERA, .370 opponents average) and an expectation he'll do better in front of the Rays' sure-handed infielders.

"Hopefully with our defense out there, we'll put him in the right spots, he throws the ball on the ground, and hopefully we'll catch it," Maddon said.

Qualls, 31, said he has struggled with his mechanics much of the year coming off September left knee surgery — "I kept throwing and throwing and developing even worse habits" — but has "definitely" been doing better recently.

Qualls, a career National Leaguer, has 51 big-league saves and postseason experience in 2004-05 with the Astros, where he teamed with Wheeler and Hickey. The Rays, who had interest in Qualls but accelerated talks Friday night before details of Balfour's injury got out, will pay the approximately million remaining on his $4.185 million salary. Maddon said he would have liked to have added Qualls even if the Rays still had Balfour.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg noted the addition of salary and said he believes the Rays strengthened the team: "I'm perfectly fine with everything."

MISCELLANY: LF Carl Crawford became the seventh major-leaguer with 400 steals before his 29th birthday. … The Rays should know more after a pregame workout today about the status of OF/INF Ben Zobrist, who has been sidelined since Wednesday with a stiff back. … Rocco Baldelli was 1-for-4 as the DH for Class A Charlotte at home against Dunedin.

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Grant Balfour out 4-6 weeks 07/31/10 [Last modified: Sunday, August 1, 2010 1:32am]

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