Notes: Witasick makes Rays return
Reliever had been sidelined 38 games with right elbow strain
NEW YORK -- Jay Witasick returned to the Rays on Saturday after missing 38 games with a right elbow strain.
The right-hander last pitched for the Rays in the second game of the July 21 doubleheader against the Yankees in New York when he got roughed up for four earned runs in one inning. Afterward, he had a golf-ball-sized lump on the inside of his right elbow.
He made eight rehabilitation appearances with Triple-A Durham and Class A Vero Beach, tossing 9 1/3 scoreless innings. He last pitched Thursday at Richmond and threw two scoreless innings.
Witasick said he wasn't irritated in the least about not returning to the Rays until Sept. 1.
"The more times I had a chance to take the mound there, the better it was going to be when I got back," Witasick said. "I did everything you possibly could. I threw a two-inning stint, I threw back-to-back. ... The rest days in between were beneficial to me, just to build up the arm strength again that might have been lacking when I first got here.
"[I] got myself into a nice little groove down there, I was probably throwing the ball the best I could. I'm just looking forward to carrying what I had down there to here."
Rays manager Joe Maddon won't be shy about getting Witasick into the game.
"He's been throwing the ball very well in the Minor Leagues and I will not hesitate to use him," Maddon said. "... He's had very good command at Triple-A. He's been throwing a lot of strikes. His velocity is way up. I keep hearing about this great slider he's got. He can be a big help."
Keeping it simple: Jason Hammel will make his ninth start of the season Sunday against the Yankees. The right-hander made his first start of the season in the first game of the July 21 doubleheader against the Yankees. Hammel pitched well in the outing, allowing two runs on three hits in four innings to earn a no-decision.
"Last time he pitched here, he was making his first start," Maddon said. "... I'm really eager to see him pitch here tomorrow."
Hammel has been working on his mechanics with pitching coach Jim Hickey and believes he has been thinking too much about those adjustments rather than concentrating on the task at hand, which is to retire hitters.
He did better Tuesday night in Baltimore, when he pitched six innings against the Orioles.
"I'm just trying to think about what I did when I was younger -- just go out and have fun," Hammel said. It's a baseball game. In my last start, I went out there and said, 'Hey, I'm going to throw strikes, this is a baseball game.' I've been doing this for a long time; whether my mechanics are messed up or not, [I need to] throw strikes. Just make it as simple as I can. Just throw it. The things we were working on the side will show up after repetition. Don't try and make them show up right away, because then you'll start doing things you're not supposed to be doing."
By taking a different approach his last time out, Hammel had different results.
"That last game, I found a rhythm a lot quicker and I felt a lot more comfortable," Hammel said. "It's a baseball game. They're going to hit it and they're not going to hit it. You can't make it any more difficult that than. Trying to add difficulty won't help."
C.C.'s August: With two hits Friday night, Carl Crawford became the 27th player in the last 50 years to collect 50 hits in a single month, hitting .388 in August, which ranks second all-time for a month to Fred McGriff (July 1999), who hit .422. Crawford also became the sixth player in the past 50 years to post 50 hits and 10 steals in a single month.
Clinching: Durham (International League) and Double-A Montgomery have clinched playoff berths.
The Bulls clinched with a win Friday; their magic number to win their division is two games. Meanwhile, the Biscuits, who have won 12 straight, clinched the Southern Division title in the Southern League.
Class A Columbus has a three-game division lead with four games to go.
Up next: The Rays will finish their three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon in a 1:05 ET contest. Hammel will start for the Rays and will be opposed by left-hander Andy Pettitte.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.