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07/29/08 8:36 PM ET

Baldelli could return soon to Rays

Outfielder may become option against left-handed pitching

TORONTO -- Manager Joe Maddon's pregame talk on Tuesday gave legs to the prospect that Rocco Baldelli could return to the Rays at any time.

The 26-year-old outfielder is playing for Double-A Montgomery and is scheduled to do so through Friday, while trying to overcome the effects of having a mitochondrial disorder. Baldelli announced his malady during Spring Training, beginning the season on the 60-day disabled list because of it. The disorder is an abnormality that has kept him in a constant state of fatigue.

"I think as he continues to progress this way we can start thinking [about getting him back]," Maddon said. "It's the old setback. If he can avoid the setbacks, I think we can continue to be optimistic that he's going to return, and I would have to say relatively soon."

Baldelli had one hit in two at-bats for the Biscuits on Monday night and entered Tuesday night's action hitting .345 with three home runs and eight RBIs.

"He's still reporting good," Maddon said. "We are taking a good look at him right now and he has been responding very well. Seems to be that the recovery is a little bit quicker, so we'll see."

The Rays are in need of a right-handed bat to face left-handed pitching. Baldelli could be the answer, if he proves able to deal with his condition, which needs to be handled properly. Baldelli has described it as a balancing act, where he tries to go as hard as he can, without getting to the point where he is completely zapped of energy. If Baldelli reaches that point, he needs an excessive amount of time for his muscles to recover.

There are still questions about Baldelli's playing time when he does come up. But the idea of having him help out as a designated hitter against left-handed pitching, being able to play some late-inning defense or being available as a pinch-hitter is quite attractive, considering some didn't envision him playing again this year.

Baldelli has exceeded Maddon's expectations.

"I could not have told you I would have thought he'd be doing this well at this particular juncture," Maddon said. "He's moved it along pretty quickly recently."

If Baldelli -- who hasn't played since May of last season -- proves healthy enough to return, Maddon sees no reason whyBaldelli should have to make a stop at Triple-A Durham along the way. He has a .282 career average in four Major League seasons with 48 home runs and 221 RBIs. He hit just .204 with five home runs and 12 RBIs in 35 games in 2007.

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