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04/10/09 6:43 PM ET

Crawford quickly proving health is back

Left fielder showing off wheels in young stages of season

BALTIMORE -- Despite going 0-for-5 on Thursday afternoon against the Red Sox, Carl Crawford is off and running in 2009.

The Rays left fielder has been dinged up since the 2007 season, and now he feels good.

Crawford struggled with his legs in 2008 before getting sidelined for most of August and all of September with a right hand injury. He returned for the playoffs, but he went into the offseason with resolve to be in the best shape of his career for the '09 season. Now he's reaping the rewards from that effort.

"It feels good, because all that hard work you put in you see the results from it," Crawford said. "It's just a good feeling inside that when you work hard, you see it pay off on the field."

Crawford felt good in 2007, until he jammed his ankle while sliding hard into a base at Yankee Stadium.

"Ever since then, it went downhill -- [it] lasted a whole year, which surprised me," Crawford said. "I used to wait and let my body heal, because normally I healed on my own. But it didn't. So I had to force the issue and then got healthy again. And so now, I'm feeling good."

Crawford entered Friday night's game against the Orioles with a .308 average and two RBIs -- and he's running with the reckless abandon Rays fans have witnessed throughout his career, including his familiar fielder-beware slides.

"His at-bats have been great," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You see him choking up with two strikes. You see him moving the ball against the tough lefties. He's just playing the game right now. And I'm really enjoying watching this."

While Crawford's initial downward health spiral began with his ankle, it moved to his hamstrings.

"My hamstrings were weak last year," Crawford said. "Just felt deflated, like all the air was out of them the whole year last year. Now I feel like I'm stronger. I really concentrated on that area."

Not having his wheels at full throttle gave Crawford an uneasy feeling, and he's more appreciative of his speed.

"You take for granted how it feels to be able to run fast, and now that I've gone through a season knowing how it feels not to be fast, I don't want to ever have that feeling again where I'm not feeling quick and fast," Crawford said.

"Being healthy again definitely makes me want to run more -- every chance I get. When I hit a ground ball, I'm running to first base hard. Just whenever I get the chance to run now, I'm running."

Maddon believes the sky is the limit for a healthy Crawford.

"Carl is just going to keep getting better on an annual basis," Maddon said. "He's becoming a better baseball player and he's understanding the game better. He's putting a lot of efforts into the other part of the game. The sky is the limit. He has been an All-Star. He can be a Gold Glove outfielder. And he should at some point vie for a batting title. He can."

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