ST. PETERSBURG - There are not enough words to describe Eric Hinske's value to the Rays.
Well, maybe two - Carlos Pena.
The 30-year old is fast becoming the 2008 edition of the first baseman who had such a breakout season last year he got a nice little contract extension.
"Obviously, the first thing you see in the hitting," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "This guy in the clubhouse and on the bench is really active, always talking about things, sees things and chats with the players about them. He's just a good baseball player."
The emphasis was on the word player.
"We did like a lot about his past, obviously, but recent history wasn't that good. I talked to him about a lot of things in spring training and the reservations I had about him, bring that to his attention fast, and he's made some minor adjustments at the plate which is real interesting and good. He's got a great eye and doesn't swing at balls, he swings at strikes. He maximizes his chances to get hits.
"I like the influence on the group as well." Maddon also seemed to endorse a nickname that has attached itself to the Wisconsin native: Eric the Hinske.
Early in the day, the 6-year big league vet received his World Series ring as Boston is in town for the weekend. He was with Boston for their championship run in 2007. He was supposed to receive it when he went to Fenway Park but the team surprised him with the presentation.
"I remember when I got mine," Maddon said. "In 2003 we got them on the line during pregame and it was pretty exciting for everybody. It's in my mom's possession right now because I don't trust myself.
"That's what you really try to accomplish and it's symbolic of all that hard work. It goes beyond money and everything else.
FLOYD IN THE PINK: DH Cliff Floyd is ahead of schedule after knee surgery and the Rays are already working on plans to get him out on the field.
"He's feeling pretty good," said manager Joe Maddon. "By the end of the month he should be playing in some games, just to get some at-bats."
RED CROSS: The Rays have fared well despite all the injuries more of the regulars are on the way. RHP Al Reyes will see some game action Saturday and Monday (at Vero Beach) and is slated to be activated on Thursday. INF Ben Zobrist will have the pins taken out of his finger Monday and then the team plans to take a couple of days of observation to see if everything is in working order. That will follow with some rehab assignments to get his at-bats. There is the excitement growing with anticipation of Scott Kazmir returning soon - he is starting for AAA Durham Monday - after a sideline toss today. The only one who is slow to mend is Willy Aybar.
TOMORROW, TOMORROW: Edwin Jackson (2-2, 4.63) will take on Clay Buchholz (1-1, 4.79) in game two of this three game set. The game can be seen on the Rays over-the-air network including ION-66 in Tampa Bay.
GIMME, GIMME: Saturday the Rays will hand out Rays cowbells to first 10,000 fans wearing Rays gear. Sunday, Scott Kazmir Strikeout Swirlers go to the first 7,500 kids 14 and under.
CHEAP, CHEAP: ESPN’s annual fan satisfaction ratings placed Tropicana Field as the most affordable park in the majors…ESPN surveyed more than 40,000 fans who voted Tropicana Field as being the best bargain for fans in terms of prices on parking, concessions and tickets.
FOUR! A Rays win on Friday will be their first four-game win streak since last August 28-31.
ROSTER DOIN'S: As expected, OF Justin Ruggiano was sent back to AAA Durham with the activation of RHP Matt Garza. In addition, 1B Dan Johnson was outrighted to Durham of the International League. He spent one day on the active roster before being designated for assignment when the Rays acquired OF Gabe Gross from Milwaukee.
"He's down there and that's a good thing," said Maddon about Johnson. "It's kind of neat that that happened. I know it was a tough moment for him and his family so to have it work out this way I'm pretty happy about that."
Although he has yet to speak to Andrew Friedman, Maddon expects Johnson to get the bulk of his time at first and occasionally DH.
WORST TO FIRST: The Rays bullpen has not allowed a run since the 5th inning a week ago Friday vs. the White Sox and they have gone 16.1 scoreless since. That’s the longest scoreless stretch by a bullpen in the majors this season. Through 22-games they have a major league leading 2.39 ERA compared to a 5.98 in 2007, which was dead last.
DUCAT DOPE: Large crowds are expected this weekend and the rays are asking fans to avoid long lines by purchasing their tickets in advance. They can call 727-898-7297, 813-288-8844 or 407-839-3900 or online at RaysBaseball.com . Saturday the first 10,000 who are wearing Rays gear will receive a Rays Cowbell and Sunday kids under 14 will receive Scott Kazmir Strikeout Swirlers.
MINOR MATTERS (Organizational Record: 35-47, .427)
DURHAM: The Bulls had an off-day on Thursday.
MONTGOMERY: The Biscuits snapped their 5-game losing streak defeating the Barons 5-4 on Thursday. LH Jake McGee won his 2nd game of the season while giving up 3 runs on 4 hits over 6 innings. RH Sergio Pedroza had 2 hits and 2 RBIs in the win. LF Erold Andrus had 2 hits including a double with a run scored.
VERO BEACH: The Devil Rays were shut out 3-0 by the Cardinals on Thursday. Vero Beach collected only 2 hits in the game. 2B Chase Fontaine batted 1-for-3 and hit his 1st triple of the year. CF Garrett Groce had the Devil Rays only other hit.
COLUMBUS: The Catfish lost to the River Dogs 5-3 on Thursday night. RH Kevin Boggan pitched 2 innings allowing 2 runs on 3 hits (0-K/0-BB), including the eventual game winning home run in the 8th inning. 1B Henry Wrigley hit his 2nd home run of the season in the loss. CF Emeel Salem stole his league-leading 19th base of the season.