02/15/08 5:38 PM ET
Notes: Navarro excused from camp
Catcher returns to Venezuela to be with ailing mother
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The Rays' starting catcher left Florida on Monday for Venezuela.
"His mom's sick," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He had to go down there on Monday. She's still in intensive care."
Maddon said they told Navarro to take his time and make sure everything is in order before returning.
"Navvy's been working his butt off, he's in great shape," Maddon said.
Balfour ready to compete: Grant Balfour came to the Rays in a swap with the Brewers prior to last year's trade deadline. Now, the right-hander finds himself competing for one of the limited open spots in the bullpen.
"Yeah, it's going to be tough," Balfour said. "It's good they've got some extra guys. Adding [Troy] Percival bumps everybody back a spot as the closer. Al [Reyes] is a setup guy. Then you've got [Dan] Wheeler and [Gary] Glover as setup guys. Hopefully, I can be a part of it."
Balfour went to Spring Training with the Twins in 2007 after battling a series of injuries.
"Last year, I came in and I was healthy and I could pitch. I just hadn't pitched in a while, faced hitters," he said. "It was tough coming into a situation like that. They also had a good team. There was some good competition coming into Spring Training. This year, I'm just coming in and trying to make the team. There are no other issues, just nothing else but going out there and pitching. If I can go out there and get the job done, there are no excuses."
Balfour went 1-0 with a 6.14 ERA in 22 appearances for the Rays in 2007. In the 22 innings he pitched, he surrendered 16 walks and struck out 27.
"I feel like I've always gotten my strikeouts," Balfour said. "It's just a matter of cutting down my walks. I think if I can do that, I'll be all right. Last year, I think things went pretty well, except on my numbers I had about four bad games in a row. That kind of blew it out on my numbers. Take away those games, and I feel like I pitched pretty well."
Time to win: Evaluation and development of the organization's young players has played a huge role in the first two year's of Maddon's first two years as manager of the Rays. Now, Maddon and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman believe it's time to focus on winning.
"We've evaluated these guys, they have experience, we've seen ... all these things, it's about time we started actually doing it on the field and not just talking about it," Maddon said.
Maddon also spoke about the players "getting it," and that it's time for the players to implement the manager's theories and the teachings of the coaching staff. But he likes the players in the clubhouse, and he believes in the players wearing the Rays' uniform this season.
"To be here with a different group of guys, we've had a change -- a positive change," Maddon said. "I really anticipate that that's not really going to be a problem. We're going to see this group really respond to our coaching methods this year."
Friedman echoed Maddon when it came to expectations this season and he believes competition will help fuel the quality of performance and the effort.
"We feel this is the first time we've actually had the requisite depth to really challenge guys," Friedman said. "And [it's good] for guys to look around and see faces in here and names in here, and watch them play and say, 'Wow, I've really got to work hard. Someone's coming after my job, and these guys are talented.'"
Baldelli status: Monday will be a big day as far as Rocco Baldelli is concerned. Rays coaches and the medical staff plan to sit down with the oft-injured outfielder to try to come up with a plan on how he'll be used this spring.
According to Maddon: "We're going to take it very slowly."
Heading into the spring, Baldelli is being touted as part of Maddon's "right-field triangle" that also includes Jonny Gomes and Cliff Floyd. One of the players who does not play right would likely DH and the other would be available off the bench.
It's likely the Rays will gradually build up Baldelli's activities leading up to Opening Day in Baltimore against the Orioles. Due to hamstring injuries, Baldelli played in just 35 games in 2007.
This and that: Right-hander Juan Salas has been delayed from reporting due to problems in the Dominican Republic. ... When asked for a one-word description for what transpired during the first official workout for pitchers and catchers, Maddon smiled and answered "pleased." ... The Rays have agreed to terms on one-year deals with left-hander Kurt Birkins; right-handers Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, Calvin Medlock, Salas and Mitch Talbot; outfielders Fernando Perez and Justin Ruggiano; and Navarro. ... Trever Miller will participate in Miracle Little League's Opening Day by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on Saturday at 8:45 a.m. ET (2950 75th St. N., St. Petersburg). ... Jackson will sign autographs from 2-3 p.m. Saturday at Baywalk as part of Diversity Day sponsored by the NAACP. ... Also on Saturday, pitchers Jason Hammel, Percival and Reyes will visit Sarasota Square Mall for an autograph signing at Champs Sports (2-3:30 p.m.) and hold a mini-clinic at the Manatee District 26th Little League Opening Day celebration at G.T. Brady Park, 3701 59th St. W., Bradenton (4:30 p.m.).
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.