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03/10/08 6:45 PM ET

Zobrist out with hairline thumb fracture

Infielder out four weeks, super-utility role to fall to Cannizaro

ST. PETERSBURG -- Long after everyone had left Progress Energy Park Monday, the Rays had a lot going on inside the home clubhouse.

Reporters waited around for the first cuts of spring to be made, but before addressing the cuts, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, revealed that shortstop Ben Zobrist had suffered a hairline fracture of the tip of his left thumb and will be sidelined for four weeks. Friedman also used the occasion to express concern about Rocco Baldelli.

Zobrist, who has been competing for a "super utility" role with the team, was injured sliding into second base during Sunday afternoon's game against the Reds; his thumb is now in a cast.

Critical to the super utility role is Zobrist's ability to back up at shortstop and second base. Without having Zobrist until at least April 11, Friedman said those duties will fall to Andy Cannizaro.

"We've got Cannizaro in camp, who is impressing people," Friedman said. "Assuming we don't bring anybody else into compete right now, it looks like he will start the season."

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Friedman then transitioned from Zobrist to Baldelli, who has not played in a game since March 1, when he went 0-for-2 as the DH against the Blue Jays.

"The point is coming pretty soon where we need to get him on the field and see what we can expect in April and beyond," Friedman said.

Friedman added that it is "extremely difficult to handicap" whether Baldelli will be ready by Opening Day, noting that it was "hard to get a good feel for that," without seeing him play.

Meanwhile, outfielder Fernando Perez, catcher John Jaso, and right-hander James Houser were optioned to the Minor Leagues (their designation to which particular level has not yet been determined), and right-hander Wade Davis, left-hander Jake McGee, and catcher Matt Spring were reassigned to Minor League camp.

"It was important to start to get [the three pitchers] stretched out," Friedman said. "For each one of them first it was their first big league camp. We're looking for big things from all three of them."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.