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Baldelli likes body's response

Rocco Baldelli usually is shrug-his-shoulders bored when asked about his progress from knee and elbow surgeries that kept him sidelined last season. So it was noteworthy when the Devil Rays centerfielder called "exciting" Monday's workout at the Naimoli Complex.

Baldelli said he long-tossed 135 feet for the first time as part of a rehab program that marks improvement in increments of 10 to 15 feet.

It was his body's response, though, that was the real story.

"I was happy because my arm felt so good today," Baldelli said. "It's not like it hurts other days, but today it felt like I'm getting closer to where I was before I got hurt and had surgery."

Baldelli, 24, has been rehabbing from November 2004 surgery on his left knee and June surgery on his right elbow.

"I'm coming from a couple of surgeries where I hadn't felt 100 percent in a while," Baldelli said. "My knee feels fine. I haven't felt anything in that at all in months, and my arm feels great. I feel healthy. It feels good."

Will he be ready for opening day?

"I plan on being ready," Baldelli said. "Until they tell me, "You're not going to be ready to do everything 100 percent opening day,' I plan on doing it."

"I'm not even going to make any guess about that until we see him in a (spring training) game," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're just going to be cautious."

HENDRICKSON'S LEG: Pitching coach Mike Butcher said Mark Hendrickson wanted to practice Monday, but the team believed it better that he get treatment for the strained ilio-tibial band in his right thigh that forced him to cut short Sunday's bullpen session.

"He wanted to go," Butcher said. "We shut him down."

Hendrickson, whose 11 victories last season led Tampa Bay's starters, is scheduled to pitch today. "We'll wait and see," he said, with hope the anti-inflammatories work.

Butcher said he is confident the injury will have no long-term effect. "There's very little concern," he said.

Added Maddon: "He seems to be fine. They just didn't want to mess with him too hard (Monday)."

TALKING IT THROUGH: The Rays ran an interesting drill in which pitchers and catchers simply spoke to each other.

It wasn't casual conversation. Maddon said he wants battery mates to communicate before bullpen sessions, games and even while sitting around the clubhouse.

"You're looking to build pitcher/catcher relationships," Maddon said. "We want the catcher to know where the pitcher likes him to set up in certain situations, what the fastball inside is supposed to look like. Do you want me on the corner (of the plate) or my whole body inside?

"What I don't want is issues during a game during the season, so this is a way to resolve those issues."

Catcher Josh Paul said Maddon brought the concept from the Angels.

"We need to know everything we can find out about our pitchers," said Paul, who last season played for Los Angeles. "Basically, this starts the ball rolling. It opens the door for further conversations. The thing is preparation and building instincts. You can rely on your instincts if you prepare them the right way."

GREEN'S DAY: Nick Green said he doesn't mind he has to prove he can play shortstop to secure a roster spot as a utility infielder. Green, who played mostly second last season, said he has wanted to try shortstop, "I just haven't had the opportunity."

Green's main competition is likely non-roster invitee Luis Rivas. But Green said his main competition is himself.

"The more you try to compete against somebody, the tougher it is," he said. "It's tough on me mentally. I do what I have to do and hope it's good enough."

MISCELLANY: Former bench coach John McLaren will work as a special assignment scout. The team expects to take live batting practice Wednesday, the first day of full-squad workouts. Six players have not reported: first baseman Travis Lee, third baseman Sean Burroughs, infielders Luis Ordaz and Kevin Witt and outfielders Delmon Young and Darnell McDonald.

- DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times staff writer

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