6/12/2014 12:16 A.M. ET
La Russa throws out first pitch
By Bill Chastain and David Adler / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- Former St. Louis manager, Tampa native and soon-to-be Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tony La Russa threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Wednesday's game between the Rays and the Cardinals at Tropicana Field.
La Russa will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 27, and will be the second Tampa native in Cooperstown (the other being Al Lopez).
Rays manager Joe Maddon talked about his relationship with La Russa before Wednesday's game, which began when former Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, who had run clinics in Europe with Maddon in the mid-1990s, spoke well of Maddon to La Russa.
"Then we just started having conversations by dugouts before games, and he's always treated me so well, Tony has," Maddon said. "Last year, for instance, we were playing the Dodgers, and I called Tony specifically to talk about the eight-hole spot for the pitcher as compared to the nine hole and wanted to know why he did it.
"I got some pretty good thoughts out of that, it was a good conversation, and I feel very comfortable picking up the phone and calling him if I ever want to, for almost anything."
La Russa managed in the Major Leagues for 33 seasons, with the White Sox, A's and Cardinals, and won three World Series championships in 1990, 2006 and 2011.
Balfour reaches 10-year milestone
ST. PETERSBURG -- Grant Balfour hit a milestone on Tuesday when he reached 10 years of service time in the Major Leagues.
Prior to Tuesday night's game, Balfour was presented with a cake in the clubhouse commemorating what is a big day for any Major Leaguer.
Having any significant time in the Major Leagues once appeared like a pipe dream to Balfour, who experienced elbow and shoulder surgeries 4 1/2 months apart in 2005.
"It's been a long road, no doubt," Balfour said. "I talked to a couple of my friends about it. It's not an easy road. It wasn't meant to be easy. It's a great accomplishment to look back and think that you have 10 years in. You don't want to stop there, but it's always a goal that you have as a ballplayer. You set yourself goals, and to reach that goal is big."
Players with 10 years of service time are fully vested in the pension. Balfour acknowledged that was nice, but the other part of the equation seemed to mean more to him.
"You're fully vested in the pension, but just to get that service time in a game like this, which we know isn't easy," Balfour said. "You have to overcome a lot of things in this game, whether it be physical, mental, or whatever it is."
When asked about the highs and lows of his decade of service, Balfour noted that the injuries ranked as the low.
"Those are the tough days," Balfour said. "The Minor Leagues, getting to the big leagues, are tough days, too. Probably more the injuries, though. The not knowing kind of thing. Working hard every day and you're never sure if you're going to get back to where you were. If it's going to come back the same way and you're going to be healthy. For me, I was very lucky it did.
"The highs just being out there in big moments. You know, playoff games and World Series, and being able to jump up and down with your teammates. Celebrate all those special years I had here and Oakland, Minnesota. Just being a part of playing with guys that come here from all over the world. Great players I got to play with. Some great memories. It's a big part of your life."
When asked if it's seemed like 10 years had passed, Balfour smiled.
"Yeah, I'd have to say it does," he said. "I came here when I was 19. Now I'm 36. You can add that up and I spent eight years of that in the Minor Leagues. There's some tough days in the Minor Leagues, no doubt."
Hanigan activated, back in starting lineup
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan, who was activated from the disabled list after Tampa Bay's 1-0 loss on Tuesday, started Wednesday's game against St. Louis. Hanigan was catching and batting ninth.
"It's great to put his name back in the lineup, and I know he's very excited," manager Joe Maddon said.
Hanigan, who was recovering from a right hamstring strain, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk against the Cardinals.
After rehabbing and playing a few games in the Minor Leagues, Hanigan said he is 100 percent healthy, but Maddon said the catcher is still going to be eased back into action with the same type of timeshare with Jose Molina as when Hanigan was playing through the nagging injury.
"Yeah, I don't want to break him," Maddon said. "[Molina] has been overall doing a lot better at the plate, of course his catching's always good, so you'll see a lot of back and forth."
For now, Hanigan just wants to get back in a groove.
"I want to have good at-bats -- I've got to take it one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time, just to try get my rhythm," he said. " I had a few -- eight, nine, 10 -- at-bats in the minor leagues, but hopefully I don't feel too rusty."
Hanigan was batting .212 with three homers and 22 RBIs before going on the DL.
Hellickson set for rehab start
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson is ready to make his second rehab start on Thursday in preparation of what he hoped will be a late-June return to the Majors.
The right-hander, rehabbing after offseason arthroscopic elbow surgery, will start for Triple-A Durham in the Bulls' Thursday night game in Indianapolis. He is slated to throw four innings and 60 pitches, Rays manager Joe Maddon said on Wednesday.
Hellickson traveled to Indianapolis earlier on Wednesday.
"I think he left today, yes -- so everything's in order," Maddon said. "He felt really good -- I talked to him at his locker and he felt really well."
Hellickson made his first rehab start for Class A Advanced Charlotte on Saturday, allowing two hits and striking out two in three scoreless innings.
If all goes well on Thursday, Hellickson will make one more rehab start before potentially rejoining the Rays.
Hellickson was 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA for Tampa Bay in 2013.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.