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Camp abuzz with talk of Shinji's forkball

The first full-squad workout of the spring tends to be a day for first impressions. And reliever Shinji Mori made a good one.

Mori was a five-time All-Star in Japan, and it took only a few minutes of his first session throwing to major-league hitters - and one particularly devastating forkball - for the Devil Rays to see why.

Mori gave up a few hard-hit balls - including a home run to Aubrey Huff - as he started the batting practice session throwing fastballs.

But after being told he could use his other pitches while giving the hitters advance notice, Mori showed what makes him special, unleasing a forkball that left Huff spinning in his cleats.

"It just fell off the table," Huff said. "It looked just like a strike until the last 5 feet. All I could do was one of the Bugs Bunny swings where you get turned around. And I knew it was coming - that's the sad thing.

"I can see why everybody is talking about it."

Catcher Toby Hall, already impressed with Mori during bullpen sessions, raved about the quality of his out pitch.

"It's unhittable," Hall said. "Unhittable. He's good. He's nasty."

Mori, who pitched nine seasons with Seibu, said he knew it was just the first batting practice of a long spring. But he also felt good about what he did.

"It was a lot of fun," Mori said through an interpreter. "And kind of exciting."

HENDRICKSON HAS BONE BRUISE: Koco Eaton, the Rays orthopedic physician, said Tuesday's MRI on pitcher Mark Hendrickson's right thigh indicated the left-hander has a bruised femur. The preliminary diagnosis was a strained IT band.

Eaton said Hendrickson's treatment (he isn't running and won't throw off a mound for four or five days) and prognosis (Eaton said he should be ready for the start of the sesaon) remain the same.

As for pitching in spring games, Eaton said, "We're going to be cautious so he's ready at the start of the season."

Manager Joe Maddonsaid he is not concerned: "He's going to be fine."

ANOTHER GOOD STEP: Rocco Baldellisaid his usual routine on the first day of batting practice is to get in the cage and not swing. It's called "tracking" in which players gauge pitch speed and how the ball releases from the pitcher's hand.

But because Baldelli, rehabbing from knee and elbow surgeries, hadn't seen live major-league pitching since October 2004, the centerfielder swung away. He also made sure he was first at the plate.

"I couldn't help myself from going in there and taking some hacks," said Baldelli, who admitted losing sleep Tuesday because he was so excited.

"He looked good," Maddon said. "His timing was on. His bottom half was on and the ball was coming off his bat well."

SPEECHIFYING: Maddon, executive vice president Andrew Friedman and president Matt Silverman addressed the team before practice.

Maddon said he told his players to think playoffs.

"Why do you play if you don't want to play for the postseason? I don't get that," he said. "I truly believe with this group, heads up, it's a good group."

"In my time here, I never heard anybody say anything about postseason play or just the chance of having a shot at it," leftfielder Carl Crawford said. "It was always some kind of number put on us."

Maddon said the numbers - especially a team-record 70 victories - had to be addressed.

"There's no such thing as 70 wins being a good season," he said. "Eighty-one is just okay. We keep talking about aiming high. Why would you aim so low?"

"He's cool," Crawford said. "He's just one of the good ol' boys who wants to go out and win a ballgame every day. That's the way it should be."

MISCELLANY: Crawford said the discomfort in his left wrist, on a scale of 1 to 10, is about a 4. Maddon said Crawford, recovering from a bone bruise, will take batting practice either today or Friday. Everyone reported. The 63 players in camp tied 2004 for the fewest in team history. Former Rays outfielder Dave Martinez is a special instructor.


Times staff writers