Josh Hamilton knew it was coming. Waited for it actually. So when he was called into manager Lou Piniella's office Monday afternoon and told he had been optioned back to the minor leagues, Hamilton wanted to deliver a message of his own.
He thanked Piniella for the opportunity, let him know he was ready to play and told him he would see him later.
"Sooner than later," Hamilton said.
"I'm going to do my thing, go down there, tear it up, put up some numbers and see them later this summer."
The Devil Rays say they are committed to an organizational philosophy of giving youth a chance, and that was reflected in their first cut, which reduced the spring roster by 24 to 49, with another cut coming in about a week.
More than a dozen players with major-league experience were shipped out, including pitcher Mike James, who was released, and pitchers Carlos Reyes and Mel Rojas, and outfielder Chad Mottola, who were reassigned to minor-league camp.
"We kept as many young players in camp as we could," Piniella said. "The young players we did send out, it was important they either start playing and getting at-bats on an everyday basis or start stretching out their innings for the regular season.
"Some of the other kids we have here can really seriously start competing for jobs now."
Among the young players who survived the cut and will get a closer look were pitchers Seth McClung, Doug Waechter, Jon Switzer, Cedrick Bowers and Gerardo Garcia; and infielders Antonio Perez and Hector Luna, who was impressive in Monday's 5-4 win over Detroit. Piniella already announced that 21-year-old outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford made the team and will be in the opening-day lineup.
Others, such as Hamilton, a 21-year-old who was the top pick in the 1999 draft, and shortstop B.J. Upton, an 18-year-old who was the No. 2 pick in June, will have to wait.
But they're hoping it won't be long.
Hamilton, a multitalented outfielder, has missed most of the past two seasons because of assorted injuries (logging only 311 at-bats, barely half a normal season), but figures that with a solid couple months, likely starting at Double-A Orlando, he can join peers Baldelli and Crawford in the outfield.
"I know I can play with them," Hamilton said. "I just need to show I can stay healthy, that's the main thing. If I get my 300 (at-bats) and put up good numbers I'll be fine."
Piniella said he hopes Hamilton does just that, telling him to go down and play hard, and that the Rays will be watching.
"He just needs to play. He just needs at-bats," Piniella said. "There's nothing better I'd like to do than welcome him back to the big leagues sometime this summer."
Upton, who didn't play last summer because contract negotiations with the Rays dragged out, knew he was in camp as basically an observer, likely headed to Class A Charleston, S.C.
But he showed enough to make a good impression on Piniella _ and didn't see anything to diminish his confidence. If anything, he accelerated his timetable to join Baldelli and Crawford.
"I'm going to bust my butt and hopefully I can be here next year playing with them," Upton said. "They're great young players and I'm trying to be a great young player myself.
"You've got to be experienced to play this game and hopefully this season I'll get the experience that I'll need," Upton said. "I knew I'd be struggling to hit a little bit. Once I get the at-bats, I think I'll be all right."
Piniella said that, too, would be fine with him. "Put it this way _ it wouldn't surprise me," he said. "He's a good looking young player, and a nice kid too. He worked hard here in camp. He's a good young man with lots of talent."
RHP Leslie Brea
RHP Wayne Gomes
RHP Mike James
OPTIONED TO DOUBLE-A ORLANDO
OF Josh Hamilton
C Pete LaForest
LHP Hans Smith
RHP Brian Stokes
RHP Matt White
REASSIGNED TO MINOR-LEAGUE CAMP
INF Jay Canizaro
LHP Brian Fitzgerald
RHP Jeremi Gonzalez
C Charlie Greene
1B/OF Ryan Jackson
1B/OF Brian Lesher
INF Gabby Martinez
RHP Kevin McGlinchy
OF Chad Mottola
C Angel Pena
LHP Matt Perisho
RHP Carlos Reyes
RHP Mel Rojas
RHP Eric Sabel
RHP Blake Stein
INF B.J. Upton