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03/20/08 11:34 PM ET

Minor League Report: Wade Townsend

Pitcher feeling strong after two injury-plagued seasons

ST. PETERSBURG -- After Wade Townsend spent the entire 2006 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery to replace a torn ligament in his right elbow, the start of 2007 had everyone in the Rays farm system asking one thing.

Could this be the year Townsend, the Rays' first-round pick in 2005, resurfaces?

Unfortunately, after a strong start with Class A Columbus (Ga.), Townsend was plagued by injuries and was shut down in August 2007 due to arm soreness. He finished the season an unflattering 6-10 with a 5.08 ERA.

Now, with an offseason of even more conditioning and rehab, Townsend says he is entering the 2008 season stronger and with more velocity than ever.

And with a strengthened arm and attitude, the 25-year-old hopes to finally answer the questions surrounding his career.

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An All-American at Rice, Townsend was 12-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 2004. He reentered the draft after failing to reach agreement with the Orioles, and eventually signed with Tampa Bay in 2005.

"He's still got the mindset, the attitude to go out there and compete," Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann said. Niemann was a teammate of Townsend at Rice, and the two remain close.

"He's just on a little bit of a different timetable than he would like to be on, and obviously not one that anyone wants to be on," Niemann said.

Although Townsend says he has learned his pitching career should be treated more like a marathon than a sprint, he admits it has been difficult to remain optimistic.

"That's the biggest challenge," he said. "People don't realize with rehab, it's not the physical thing that takes a toll on you ... it's the mental aspect that you have to deal with."

While he has spent most of his post-college career on the bench, Townsend is emphatic about spending this season on the mound.

"Everyone has injuries. At least I'm going to get it [Tommy John surgery] out of the way now," Townsend said, citing players like current Rays pitcher Al Reyes who have come back from multiple Tommy John surgeries.

"Why can't I go through one? And then focus on having a good career, rather than dwelling on the negative."

Among the negatives surrounding Townsend are the questions about the righty being past his prime.

"I'm still 25 years old, I could have a good 15-year career still ahead of me," Townsend said.

"I've never lost confidence in my abilities or myself. It's something my performance will dictate, it's not something I can worry about. I just take it one pitch at a time and go out there and trust what I can do."

While Minor League operations director Mitch Lukevics said the jury is still out on where Townsend will start the season, the right-hander said his goals remain the same, no matter where he pitches.

"My velocity and the curveball are the best they have been," he said. "It's just a matter of going out there and transforming that into performances this year, and hopefully I'll start as high as I can go."

Lukevics said it's not as important where Townsend starts, as long as he can remain healthy.

"We're optimistic with Wade, and we're rooting for him," Lukevics said. "That's a lot of peer pressure, he's the No. 1 pick who really has been saddled most of his career due to injuries. I can only imagine how frustrating it is."

Still, Lukevics is confident Townsend can overcome his prior setbacks and find his place back in baseball.

"He will take on this challenge, he's that type of young man," Lukevics said. "He's very determined and is a real bull dog type [of personality]."

We're No. 1: A decision on top prospect Evan Longoria is expected to be made by the end of this week. The Rays' 2006 first-round pick, Longoria's Spring Training stats have been impressive. Through Thursday's game, the 22-year-old is batting .313 with three home runs and nine RBIs. Showing a maturity and patience at the plate, Longoria has been walked 10 times, including an intentional walk Wednesday from Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer. In the field, Longoria has committed one error in 75 innings at third base.

"We just have to do what we feel is the right thing to do at that moment," manager Joe Maddon said of the pending decision.

If Longoria does get optioned to Triple-A Durham, it may only be a temporary stay as the Rays are hoping to delay his arbitration and free agency clock by keeping Longoria out of the Major Leagues for the first few months of the season.

What they're saying: "I've been doing this for 10 years now. I'm not saying I'm a superstar or anything like that but I'm a pretty good hitter. And I'm a pretty good baseball player. So hopefully one of these days I'll make it, and if not I'll just keep on playing." -- camp invitee Jon Weber on his baseball future

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.