Crawford Voices His Opinion

Carl Crawford has never wanted to assume a vocal leadership role in the Rays clubhouse, but he stepped up his presence by speaking out last week about how he will enjoy having less drama following the offseason trades of tempestuous rookie outfielders Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young.

Carl Crawford has never wanted to assume a vocal leadership role in the Rays clubhouse, but he stepped up his presence by speaking out last week about how he will enjoy having less drama following the offseason trades of tempestuous rookie outfielders Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young.

Then he got even louder when he didn't like Young's response to his initial comments and set off a volley of exchanges that could carry over to the team's on-field meetings, starting with a March 4 exhibition.

When Crawford reported to camp on Feb. 19, he said: "I just feel like it's going to be a little more peaceful this year. I think it will be more at ease. Not so much crazy stuff. You just get the feeling it's about everybody just wanting to come out and play good baseball this year. ... You know I'm not really a drama person, so I'm kind of a glad that stuff just seems a little smoother right now."

He went on to say that said that Dukes and Young lacked maturity and didn't act the way rookies are supposed to act, and that if they hadn't been traded he thought they would have continued to cause problems.

Young responded to reporters at Twins camp that he discounted the comments because he'd seen other Tampa Bay players make criticisms, then trash the Rays when they left. He also said he and Dukes shouldn't be blamed for the Rays' poor record since they were a losing team before they arrived.

To which Crawford was uncharacteristically animated and upset in his response, stopping just short of suggesting he and Young needed to step outside. "

Nobody ever said he was the reason why we lost games. We know that. We said it was a more at-ease environment, which is true," Crawford began. "And second of all, I have no problem with coming directly to his face and telling him whatever it is he needs to know. Nobody's waiting 'til he leaves. Nobody cares about him leaving.

"For him to say we want to act like Toby Hall and leave, nobody's doing that. Trust me. Me personally? Tell him this is a direct statement from me; I will come say it directly to his face. If he wants to know, if he is not sure about anything, I'll say it directly to his face. I'd be more than happy to say it to his face. Make sure he gets that."

Crawford added later: "These are exactly the kind of distractions we were talking about with the Rays, a young guy popping off at the mouth, talking too much. He needs to just shut up and play baseball." WHERE, WHEN: Progress Energy Park at Al Lang Field, St. Petersburg, Fla. First exhibition is Feb. 29 against Cincinnati.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: Akinori Iwamura is shifting from third base to second, but if he can handle that move as expected, he could make a huge difference if he becomes more comfortable at the plate in his second season in the majors. Though he showed a quick bat at time, Iwamura hit only seven home runs and had just 38 extra-base hits in his first season since coming over from Japan.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: RHP Dan Wheeler was re-signed for $2.875 million to avoid arbitration, but the Rays don't know what they are getting -- Wheeler is coming off a rough season in which he went 1-9, 5.30 for the Astros and Rays and didn't have command of his fastball. Even with a move from the eighth-inning to the seventh, his performance could be an issue.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: Manager Joe Maddon, 127-197 in his first two seasons, brings an upbeat personality and always positive outlook, but with his two-year option picked up and an improved team, he is expected to show a heavier hand and exert more authority. Pitching coach Jim Hickey, who was arrested on DUI charges after the season finale, was retained in part to maintain continuity; when hired last year he was the Rays' seventh pitching coach in seven seasons.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LHP Scott Kazmir injured his left elbow while warming up for the Rays' intrasquad game on Feb. 26. He had an MRI that showed no serious damage, but he is expected to sit out for two weeks. Rays officials still believe he'll be ready to start on Opening Day.

--The Rays officially have started work on one of their biggest decisions of the spring: whether top prospect Evan Longoria is ready to be their Opening Day third baseman. Team officials plan to evaluate not only his spring performance but less objective factors such as his preparation, work ethic and knowledge of the game; how he carries himself and interacts in the clubhouse; his thought process at the plate; and how he makes adjustments during, and between, at-bats.

--RHP Juan Salas' chances to win a spot in the bullpen are decreasing the more days he misses while delayed in the Dominican Republic by visa problems. "The longer he is out the more difficult it is going to be for him," manager Joe Maddon said. Salas made the Opening Day roster last season and would be competing with Scott Dohmann, Grant Balfour and Kurt Birkins for one of the last spots in the bullpen. --RHP Edwin Jackson will start the March 1 exhibition opener but that is not necessarily an indication he had a lead in the competition for one of the two open spots in the rotation. RHPs Andy Sonnanstine and Jason Hammel are also very much in the mix along with RHP Jeff Niemann and LHP J.P. Howell.

--LHP Brian Anderson's unlikely comeback from two Tommy John elbow surgeries (and nearly three years away) could be ahead of schedule. On Sunday he threw his first batting practice session since June 2006 and impressed Rays manager Joe Maddon with his movement and location.

--LHP David Price, the top draft pick from Vanderbilt, has made strong first impressions, not only with how he has thrown, but how well he has fit into the clubhouse and how mature he has been. "If you didn't know you'd swear it was his seventh or eighth major league camp," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. New SS Jason Bartlett, a former Twin, compared Price to Minnesota lefty Francisco Liriano.

BY THE NUMBERS: 359 -- Games of the Rays' last 486 that Rocco Baldelli has missed because of injuries.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope this isn't the only time I get interviewed." -- RHP Chad Orvella, after winning Sunday's post-practice golf challenge.

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