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Baldelli's hot bat moves up

The Rays' much-anticipated call-up of top prospect Carl Crawford on Saturday had a ripple effect down the minor-league ranks that gave several other prospects midseason promotions.

"This is great; the first time I've been promoted from one level to another during a season," said 20-year-old outfielder Rocco Baldelli, the Rays' first-round pick in 2000 who was promoted with shortstop Jace Brewer from Class A Bakersfield to Double-A Orlando. "I'm pretty happy to be here. Obviously, Double A is pretty close to the big leagues, so once you're here, everybody's trying to get a big-league job soon."

To help replace Crawford's bat at Triple-A Durham, first baseman Josh Pressley, 22, was promoted from Orlando. Pressley, the Rays' top pick (fourth round) in the 1998 draft, had a team-best .316 average and 43 runs to go with 41 RBIs. Also promoted to Durham was infielder Andrew Beinbrink, 25, who was batting .276 with 42 RBIs this season after spending most of last season at Orlando.

Baldelli has been the Rays' hottest minor-league bat _ Baseball America has him ranked fourth on its Prospect Hot Sheet this week _ with a California League-leading .333 average at Bakersfield. He went 2-for-5 in his Orlando debut Sunday, noting that he hit four balls hard but "the gaps close a little quicker" at the higher level.

After 11 home runs in his first two seasons, Baldelli has 14 in 2002, and he admitted his transition to professional baseball wasn't an easy one.

"I wasn't prepared for any of this," said the 6-foot-4 prospect, now Orlando's youngest player, four months ahead of shortstop Jorge Cantu. "Coming right out of high school, it was tough on me at first. I really didn't know anything about the game."

Despite losing Baldelli and Brewer, Bakersfield still has a dangerous hitter in 21-year-old Jonny Gomes, tied for the league lead with 22 home runs a year after leading the Appalachian League with 16 in his first pro season.

DURHAM: The Bulls bullpen lost consecutive games in the ninth inning Sunday and Monday, giving Durham eight losses in 10 games. Lee Gardner, leading the International League with 21 saves, gave up three runs and three hits Monday for his first loss. Outfielder Jason Tyner, batting leadoff, had six hits in his past three games to raise his average to .250.

ORLANDO: Catcher Pete LaForest, who played only nine games last year due to a knee injury, took over the Southern League lead with a three-run home run Monday, giving him three home runs and seven RBIs in his past two games. LaForest, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Quebec in 1997, has 16 home runs and a team-best 51 RBIs.

Last year's first-round pick, Dewon Brazelton, dropped to 0-6 since May 12 when he was tagged Thursday for eight earned runs on nine hits and four walks in three innings. Orlando pitchers gave up 12 runs to Jacksonville on Sunday, and Seth McClung (4-3) gave up 13 hits in five-plus innings in a 9-8 loss Monday.

BAKERSFIELD: With Baldelli promoted and Josh Hamilton injured, Gomes and outfielder Aaron Clark, 23, are the only Blaze players with more than six home runs. Clark, an eighth-round pick out of Alabama last year, has 14 home runs and a team-best 61 RBIs. Plate selection still is a concern for the two sluggers, as the free-swinging Clark (113) and Gomes (120) are averaging more than one strikeout every three at-bats.

CHARLESTON: The RiverDogs ran their season-best winning streak to five games with a rain-shortened 4-1 win Monday against Capital City. Jarod Matthews, 19, whose 2.78 ERA ranks eighth in the South Atlantic League, pitched seven solid innings to improve to 6-5. Teammate Chris Flinn (6-4, 2.66) took the mound Tuesday as Charleston tried to reach .500.

PRINCETON: Right-hander Nick DeBarr, a 14th-round draft pick last month, is off to a 2-0 start with a 4.22 ERA. DeBarr, 18, has a team-best 22 strikeouts with nine walks. Jason Pridie, the Rays' second-round pick, extended his hitting streak to 18 games. His .348 average is fifth in the Appalachian League, and he leads the league with 49 hits.

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