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Concern, not panic, for a sore shoulder

When it comes to the sore right shoulder of Doug Johnson, the Devil Rays aren't quite ready to panic.

"We're going to continue to evaluate Doug," general manager Chuck LaMar said of Johnson, who plays baseball for Tampa Bay in the summer and started seven games at quarterback for the University of Florida last season. Johnson is the Gators' incumbent this fall.

"When I say we, I mean both the Devil Rays and the University of Florida," LaMar said. "As soon as we have a definite diagnosis, as well as a treatment, we will let everybody know. We're going to have further people evaluate him before (taking action)."

After complaining of pain and having two MRIs at UF, Johnson was examined Thursday by Devil Rays team doctor Koco Eaton. Results were not released. On Monday, the 6-2, 215-pounder is scheduled to be examined by orthopedic specialist James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.

"Dr. Andrews is as good as it gets," LaMar said. "So before anything gets done, we would like to have him look at Doug. It's going to be a situation where we get our heads together, get the right people to evaluate him, then make a decision."

Concerns over Johnson's shoulder escalated Thursday when UF team doctor Keith Meister released a statement: "Doug has had some ongoing shoulder pain and has been further evaluated with a repeat MRI. He will continue his rehabilitation during his assignment with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He will undergo further evaluation by the medical staff of the Rays."

Johnson reportedly was injured in a 21-6 victory over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, with the second MRI revealing a small cyst.

"You have an athlete that is injured, and so whatever the outcome is both sides are going to do what's best for Doug," LaMar said. "Let's say the decision is who is going to do surgery, Doug Johnson will have that decision."

Johnson told the Orlando Sentinel: "I'm going to get through this. For me, it's another hurdle, and I've had more hurdles in the last year than I've had in my whole life. I'll be back."

STILL THE STARTER: Bobby Smith, filling in for injured third baseman Wade Boggs, may rank among the AL rookie leaders in batting, home runs, RBI and hits. And he may be batting over .400 in his past 10 games. And he may have 12 RBI in the past 12 games. And the Rays may have a 6-2 record when he starts. And he may have gone 11-for-25 on the recent seven-game road trip.

But don't get crazy. He's not going to supplant Boggs as the starter when Boggs returns from the DL in early May.

"Wade is going to play third base, as he was before," manager Larry Rothschild said. "But Bobby will get his at-bats, whether it's at second base or moving him around. (Maybe he'll play) shortstop a little bit whenever (starter Kevin) Stocker needs a rest. Whatever we can do, we'll try to get him his at-bats. He's done a great job."

Then Rothschild added, smiling, "But Wade has had a pretty good career."

READY TO GO: Rays reliever Esteban Yan, bothered by a sore shoulder, threw on the side for the first time since an appearance in Anaheim on April 16. Rothschild said Yan probably could have pitched Friday.

NEW PITCH: LHP Chuck Finley has a new pitch, but says it isn't some kind of illegal scuff ball. A few Devil Rays quietly suggested otherwise after Finley shut them out in Anaheim last week. Finley's reply: "Which ones were saying that, the ones who belong in Triple A? I don't need to cheat."

"Yeah, he's throwing a new pitch. It's a screwball-knuckle curve," Angels pitching coach Marcel Lachemann joked. "I told Fin to let them think that all they want. It can only help him."

WRAP-UP: Sports Illustrated is in town for a feature on the Rays. Meantime, more national attention comes Sunday night when ESPN televises from Tropicana Field. Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax attended Friday night's game and met with Anaheim manager Terry Collins and Rothschild. Rays pitcher Eddie Gaillard was nearly a half-hour late Friday, but he had a good _ and painful _ excuse. He spent most of the day getting a root canal. Anaheim OF Tim Salmon did not make the trip because of a problem with his foot. An MRI revealed a strain of the plantar fascia (the ligament that supports the arch). No timetable has been set for his return.

BUMP IN THE NIGHT: Rays reliever Dan Carlson had a run-in with Anaheim catcher Phil Nevin to start the fourth inning after Carlson hit two batters in the third inning. As Nevin returned to the dugout after flying out, Carlson said Nevin intentionally brushed him with an elbow and said something.

"He was fired up over his two guys being hit by me," Carlson said. "He ran right over the top of the mound. I just got fired up over it. I didn't quite hear what he said. I heard that he swore at me. He can say whatever he wants, but when he bumped me, that fired me up."

Rays starter Wilson Alvarez hit two batters to start the second inning. The major-league and AL record is six hit batters, last accomplished June 20, 1913, when the Washington Senators hit six New York Yankees.

_ ROGER MILLS, TOM JONES

TIMES WIRES

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