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Plot thickens as live batting begins

After five essentially uneventful days of pitchers throwing relatively accurately to their catchers, Devil Rays spring training camp is bound to get more interesting today when hitters step to the plate for the first live batting practice sessions.

"I just hope I don't hit anybody," lefthander Casey Fossum said.

The pitchers' advantage over the hitters is usually never more obvious than today, when hitters, some of whom haven't seen fastballs in months, try to get their timing down facing pitchers excited to have someone swinging a bat.

"It'll be fun," Fossum said.

Another player looking forward to the challenge is Rocco Baldelli, who hasn't faced major-league pitching since the end of the 2004 season, having been sidelined with knee and elbow injuries.

"Whoever throws the slowest is who I want to face first," Baldelli joked.

Manager Joe Maddon said he expects all 63 players to be on hand for today's first full-squad workout and is eager to have the whole group together.

GERALD WILLIAMS REVISITED: A grievance over the June 2001 release of outfielder Gerald Williams appears headed to a hearing as soon as next month.

The players association filed a grievance shortly thereafter, claiming the Rays violated MLB rules by releasing Williams for financial reasons since he was 66 plate appearances shy of vesting a $4-million option for the 2002 season.

Rays officials contended Williams, the team MVP in 2000, was released because of poor performance since he was hitting .207 with four homers and 17 RBIs through 59 games.

Since Williams signed a $2-million deal with the Yankees for 2002, the hearing would determine whether the outfielder is entitled to the other $2-million.

The hearing is being scheduled now since his playing career appears to be over. It could also be settled.

ON THE MARK: Lefthander Mark Hendrickson's workouts will be limited over the next four to five days to prevent further problems with the strained IT band in his right thigh that forced him to cut short Sunday's bullpen session.

An examination Tuesday by Dr. Koco Eaton did not show any further damage, but Rays officials plan to take a conservative approach with Hendrickson, their top winner and highest paid pitcher. Hendrickson may be able to continue throwing, but is likely to be kept off the mound.

MISCELLANY: Maddon said veteran catcher Toby Hallhas "a real leadership quality about him." With the arrival of Sean Burroughs, Kevin Witt and Delmon Young, the only players who had not reported by Tuesday afternoon were Travis Lee, Darnell McDonald and Luis Ordaz. Dan Feinsteinstarted work as director of baseball operations.

- MARC TOPKIN, Times staff writer