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Tampa Bay Rays SS Elliot Johnson heads to disabled list with knee sprain; Reid Brignac coming back early

DETROIT — INF Elliot Johnson is headed to the disabled list due to a left knee sprain.

As a result, SS Reid Brignac was headed back from Louisiana to Detroit to rejoin the team for today's matinee, and INF Felipe Lopez apparently is headed back to St. Petersburg with the team.

Johnson was hurt on an awkward slide Monday during an unsuccessful attempt to steal third. A postgame MRI exam showed no tears or structural damage, but the sprain was enough to have Johnson still hobbling on Tuesday, and uncertain when he will return.

"It's still real stiff,'' he said. "Bending it is really hard, and walking has not been real wonderful.''

Brignac left after Saturday's game following the death of his grandfather and was placed on the bereavement list, with plans to rejoin the Rays on Friday. But the Rays called him late Monday and asked him to come to Detroit, which he was to do late Tuesday after the funeral services. Under MLB bereavement rules, he was to miss between three and seven games.

Lopez was called up as a temporary fill-in for Brignac but in Johnson's absence seems likely to stick around as a reserve.

Playing time at short will be split between Brignac and Sean Rodriguez, who made his sixth career start there Tuesday but played extensively in the minors.

BUMP AND RUN: OF Matt Joyce had a busy day: Three hits to hike his majors-leading average to .367, including the Rays' first homer in four-plus games, and two bruises, struck on the right elbow by a thrown ball and banging his left knee on the outfield wall. "Someone said it felt like football weather,'' he said. "I feel like I played a football game.''

NO. 9: Slumping Sam Fuld has been dropped from the leadoff spot to the bottom of the order and likely will stay there until he shows signs of breaking out of the 11-for-94 skid that dropped his average from .350 to .224.

C John Jaso batted leadoff Tuesday, but Maddon said he wasn't committed to him, either, and may also use B.J. Upton.

"I wanted to take some of the at-bats off of Sam — when you hit leadoff you get at least one more at-bat a night — until he really gets it going again," Maddon said.

LET'S DO THE TIME WARP: RHP Andy Sonnanstine said he welcomed Maddon's suggestions that he return to his 2008 pitching style tonight when he makes his fourth start in place of injured RHP Jeff Niemann.

The gist? "Just getting back to what I'm good at," Sonnanstine said. "Using both sides of the plate and attacking from a bunch of different angles. I feel like the past couple starts I haven't been pitching up to my capability."

J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell, who eventually will be used for longer stints, said he flung his glove out of frustration with his performance Monday after being removed after 20 pitches, not over the decision. He also said his reaction to the double play that ended his first inning, which appeared to include screaming and gesturing, was just a matter of emotion taking over: "I didn't even know what I was doing at the time. … I was just happy to be getting out of the inning."

THE DAN BAND: 1B Dan Johnson, designated for assignment Friday with a .115 average, cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Triple-A Durham. The Rays benefit from keeping him in their system, and Johnson gets to keep his $1 million guaranteed contract.

MISCELLANY: The Rays surpassed the 2010 Twins' record by going 49 games into the season without making multiple errors. … Maddon held his monthly meeting with the coaching staff to assess each player and team goals. … Second-grader Kaleb Gates of Pinellas Park's Skyview Elementary won the promotion to take 2B/RF Ben Zobrist to school and will do so on May 31.

Tampa Bay Rays SS Elliot Johnson heads to disabled list with knee sprain; Reid Brignac coming back early 05/24/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 1:18am]

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