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Canseco targets next homestand

The next time the Devil Rays play at Tropicana Field, Jose Canseco plans to be in the lineup.

After taking batting practice against manager Larry Rothschild hours before Wednesday's game, Canseco pronounced himself fit and ready to play Aug. 20 when the Rays return from their road trip to face Kansas City.

"If it were up to me, I'd be in the lineup yesterday," Canseco said. "It's not like I'm trying to push it, I'm just going on how I feel."

Canseco had surgery July 11 to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. Team officials said Sept. 1 would be a good target date for his return, but they acknowledge his rehabilitation is going better than expected.

"He's ahead of schedule. How far ahead? Quite a bit," Rothschild said. "You could tell today swinging the bat, he's missed five or six weeks, he's human. I think."

Canseco hit off a pitching machine for a couple of days before stepping in against Rothschild. The Rays said they were looking for Canseco to take nice, easy swings while working himself back into shape.

"For a person coming off surgery, he looked good," hitting coach Leon Roberts said. "It's just going to be conditioning and getting acclimated again."

The Devil Rays have gone 9-18 since Canseco left the lineup, but Rothschild says he will not hurry him back.

"I'm not going to set dates because I don't want him to think he has to reach dates. I don't want him injured again, because if he is, it's going to be serious for his career. That's what I'm looking at."

CAIRO ACTIVATED: Miguel Cairo, who was activated from the disabled list Wednesday, said he hopes to avoid further hamstring trouble with additional workouts.

"I'm doing more exercises to strengthen the muscles," Cairo said. "If I get stronger, maybe I won't have problems."

Cairo has been on the DL twice this season with hamstring problems in both legs. He said the experience was no better the second time around.

"I was miserable," Cairo said. "I don't like sitting around, watching games."

JUST ABOUT READY: Fred McGriff's strained quadriceps is almost fully healed, and he could be back at first base against Kansas City, Rothschild said. "He's moving a little better, but he was pretty sore (Wednesday). The better he moves the more soreness there is. But he may be ready to play first base (today)." Since the July 30 injury, McGriff has been the DH when he has played.

BACK TO THE FARM: Rookie RHP Mickey Callaway was sent back to Triple-A Durham to make room on the roster for Cairo.

Callaway has been with the Rays twice this season, with five appearances, including his debut in relief Tuesday night. Callaway, who is 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA, could return when rosters are expanded Sept. 1.

"It was a good experience, I got a couple starts in, I worked out of the bullpen last night which I had never done before," Callaway said. "I'm going to go down there, hopefully keep pitching well and get called back up in September."

SHORT-HANDED: With the demotion of Callaway, the Rays are down to 11 pitchers for the first time since July 10.

"You better hope the starters go a long way the rest of the year," closer Roberto Hernandez said. "That's what you're hoping for."

Rays pitchers have been averaging 5 innings.

ONE SHORT OF THE ECK: When Jesse Orosco relieved Mike Mussina in the eighth, it was the 1,070st appearance of the Baltimore left-hander's career, tying him with Hoyt Wilhelm for second place. Orosco's next one will tie him with all-time leader Dennis Eckersley.

"This is a great personal stat to have," Orosco said. "It's longevity, but another way of looking at it is consistency in my career. I've had ups and downs in my career, but I've had much more success than failure.

"I guess 1,070 is a good number, like 3,000 hits. I don't think this compares to that, but it is a significant milestone."

_ JOHN ROMANO, BRUCE LOWITT

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