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08/22/10 5:05 PM ET

Maddon: Much respect for 'fearless' Piniella

OAKLAND -- Former Rays manager Lou Piniella announced on July 20 that he was retiring as the manager of the Cubs at the end of this season. But citing his mother's health, he has now opted to retire early. Sunday's game against the Braves was Piniella's final one as manager. He will take off the uniform for the last time to go home.

Prior to the Sunday's game with the A's, manager Joe Maddon spoke about Piniella.

"I really got to work against him when he was with Seattle, and really always had the utmost respect for his teams," Maddon said. "They were good, they were really good. As an Angel at that time, [the Mariners] and Oakland were the two main guys. And we really had to get over the top of Seattle to move it forward, and we were able to do that eventually. Like I've always talked about, I thought he was a fearless manager, and I really respected that about him. His teams played solid baseball."

Maddon said that he didn't know Piniella that well, but added: "He's been very respectful when we've had conversations. I wish him well with the family and everything else. The limited times we've had conversations they've been very good."

Sonnanstine back to 'pen after fill-in starts

OAKLAND -- After making three starts for the Rays due to Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis going on the 15-day disabled list, Andy Sonnanstine has returned to the bullpen.

Sonnanstine has been a starter for most of his career, so the assignment came naturally to him, but after being in the bullpen for the entire season, he felt good about having the flexibility to pull off the assignment.

"Actually, it's been, I don't want to say like super easy, but very encouraging on my part," Sonnanstine said. "I was very excited about it. I felt like all three starts I kept us in the game and gave us an opportunity to win.

"[Starting is] something that I've been doing my whole life, so that's kind of getting back to who I am. Now that Niemann and Davis are healthy, they've been doing a great job all year. I'm not frustrated at all about the situation. I'm just very happy that I got the opportunity. I could have gone through the whole season without starting at all. I'm glad I could fill in."

Sonnanstine's first start came in Toronto a day after the Blue Jays scored 17 runs, and he allowed just one run in five innings. Unfortunately for Sonnanstine, his performance came on the same day Toronto's Brandon Morrow flirted with a no-hitter.

"I was ecstatic about the first one in Toronto even though it was kind of the wrong day to pitch when their guy struck out 17 and almost threw a no-hitter," Sonnanstine said. "I was really happy about getting through five. Now that I'm going back to the 'pen, it's familiar."

Rays manager Joe Maddon couldn't say enough nice things about Sonnanstine's performance and his professionalism.

"Of course Jeremy [Hellickson] did a great job, and I love what Jeremy did, but I think Sonnie has to be talked about in the same breath," Maddon said. "I thought he did a wonderful job. He gave us a chance to win all three of his games and pitched great. If anything were to happen down the road, he's definitely there to help us once again."

Sonnanstine still believes he's most valuable as a starting pitcher, but he added: "On this team, which is of championship caliber, I'm privileged to be in this clubhouse. If we can go deep in the postseason and hopefully win it all, it will definitely be worth it."

Qualls returns to action after brief hiatus

OAKLAND -- After missing two games to attend his grandmother's funeral, Chad Qualls returned to action Saturday night to make his ninth appearance for the Rays since being acquired from the D-backs on July 31.

Qualls entered the game in the eighth with a man on and retired all three of the hitters he faced, two by strikeouts.

"What he went through is kind of difficult, but on the backside, you just want to get back to work, and that's what he did," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And he told me he was ready to roll, and he was."

Six of Qualls' nine outings have been scoreless.

"If we can just get him out there in the right situations and get his confidence going, he's able to do that stuff," Maddon said.

Next homer puts Crawford into elite club

OAKLAND -- Carl Crawford entered Sunday's game against the A's with 99 career home runs, which has him tied with Fred McGriff for third on the Rays' all-time list.

Crawford also has logged 402 stolen bases and 100 triples, when means his next home run will make him the eighth Major League player since 1900 to reach 100 home runs, 100 triples and 400 stolen bases.

He would join some lofty company by doing so: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Lou Brock, Frankie Frisch, Kenny Lofton, Paul Molitor and Tim Raines.

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