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Tampa Bay Rays say keeping Jeremy Hellickson in major-league bullpen would be too risky

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Jeremy Hellickson headed back to Triple-A Durham after Monday's dazzling debut, and manager Joe Maddon was entertained — giggling even — by all the chatter from people questioning why the 23-year-old top prospect wasn't kept around as a reliever.

"You take a young arm like that that's thrown a lot of innings this year and you stick him in the bullpen which he's never done before — you have to be really cautious about that," Maddon said.

The concerns are about the impact on Hellickson and on the rest of the bullpen as he'd likely need two or three days between appearances.

"You can't use him like you use (LHP Randy) Choate or (RHP Joaquin) Benoit or (RHP Rafael) Soriano or (injured RHP Grant) Balfour; that's the misconception," Maddon said.

"You don't just throw him out there and have this everyday weapon or every-other-day weapon. You've got to be very careful with this because this is an arm — you saw it (Monday) — that you do not want to mess up. So to put him in the bullpen is not as easy as people think, and to have him be constructive and be utilized in a manner or often enough that benefits us right now, too."

Maddon said it would be easier to use Hellickson as a reliever in September when expanded rosters would allow the Rays to have more arms available.

PEÑA HAS LIGAMENT ISSUE: 1B Carlos Peña remains in what Maddon called "that limbo state" but insisted he would not need to go on the disabled list — "No chance; I feel way too good for that to be the case" — with hopes to return to action in Toronto this weekend.

The problem is a slight tear in the plantar fascia ligament on the bottom of his right foot, an injury he said doesn't require any kind of repair. "Now it's all about how much pain can I tolerate, and I'm tolerating it pretty good right now," said Peña, who was walking relatively normal.

Maddon said today will be a key day, as head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield plans to push Peña "to really test it a little bit and see if we can find out one way or another exactly where this is going to go."

Meanwhile, INF/OF Ben Zobrist's back felt good enough Tuesday that he was available to pinch hit and expects to return to the lineup tonight, likely at first base to minimize the jarring of additional running.

Zobrist went through an extensive workout Tuesday, hitting from both sides of the plate, running and taking ground balls.

DJ HERO: After two days hanging out at the Renaissance Vinoy as the Rays sorted out their roster, INF/OF Dan Johnson was eager to get back to work, making his first big-league appearance since his dramatics of September 2008, then spending a less pleasant 2009 in Japan. He went 0-for-2 with two walks.

Johnson — who had 30 homers, 95 RBIs and an impressive 75 walks to 71 strikeouts at Triple-A Durham — figures to play a lot, Maddon said, filling in at first until Peña returns, then primarily as DH against righties, with the possibility of time at third and the corner outfield spots.

Johnson, 30, is most known for his Sept. 9 winning homer off Jonathan Papelbon at Fenway Park that helped the Rays to the AL East title. "That was probably the best moment in my career, yes," he said. "But I've got to try to make some more moments."

MISCELLANY: The Rays are tentatively scheduled to open next season at home vs. Baltimore on April 1. … Sean Rodriguez, who had seven walks in his first 80 games, drew two for the fourth time in his career. … LF Carl Crawford grounded into just his second double play. … Last time the Rays had two three-run homers in a home game, the hitters were Damon Hollins and Julio Lugo, on June 4, 2006. … SS Jason Bartlett and Soriano will visit patients at All Children's Hospital this morning. … Free prostate cancer education and screenings are being offered Aug. 26 at the Trop, with reservations required by calling 1-888-663-3488.

Tampa Bay Rays say keeping Jeremy Hellickson in major-league bullpen would be too risky 08/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 1:10am]
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