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Notes: Baldelli to begin rehab Monday

Notes: Baldelli to begin rehab Monday

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli has been out with a left hamstring problem since May 17. Now it appears the Devil Rays center fielder is finally ready to begin playing again.

Baldelli will head to Class A Vero Beach on Monday to begin a rehab assignment of approximately five days before heading to Triple-A Durham.

"We have him mapped out to play the outfield and also to DH," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's going to go back and forth, playing and DH-ing, playing and DH-ing. The thing that's going to be important is his legs; that he can run as hard as he wants to on a daily basis without the threat of injuring himself."

Baldelli took batting practice before Saturday night's game during a session that included, among others, principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

The Rays' injured outfielder "looked really good," Maddon said. "He did a lot of work on his running form and just getting in overall shape with his legs. He looked really good running. The biggest thing I wanted to do was see him run, and I liked what I saw out there."

As for the rest of the group ...

"The other prospects, they'll be getting a nice little form letter, thank you very much," said Maddon, with a twinkle in his eye.

Baldelli seemed optimistic about where he is physically.

"I'm heading out for my rehab assignment," Baldelli said. "I feel like I'm ready to play and I really don't have to worry about my legs anymore."

Baldelli said his legs feel strong after incorporating weight lifting for the first time in a long time, along with other things, to try to prevent future injuries.

The rehab "was a lot of different things," Baldelli said. "Physically, my legs feel different, and add to that I'm running a little bit differently. I think it's really going to change the way I play out there. I have nothing holding me back right now."

Baldelli said he doesn't have any particular goal for his return to the Major Leagues.

"Hopefully, I can get back as soon as possible," Baldelli said. "Go out there and maybe [be] back by the end of August."

Cabrera on open market: Reliever Francisco Cabrera has declined his waiver assignment and is now a free agent. The Rays plan to continue to talk to him as he speaks to the other 28 teams.

The Rays claimed the right-hander as a free agent via release waivers on Monday, which kept him from going out on the open market initially.

Cleveland released Cabrera last week after he went 1-2 with a 5.61 ERA this season. Since Cabrera is out of options, the Rays would have to put him on the Major League roster.

Cabrera, 25, struck out 39 in 33 2/3 innings for the Indians this season and will not be eligible for arbitration until 2008.

Minor Leaguer suspended: The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced on Saturday that Rays Minor League player James Houser Jr. has been suspended for 50 games, effective Saturday, for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Houser is currently with Double-A Montgomery of the Southern League.

"The Tampa Bay Devil Rays fully support Major League Baseball's drug testing program," said Mitch Lukevics, Rays director of Minor League Operations. "Including the measures taken against James Houser."

The left-hander was scratched from his start with Double-A Montgomery on Friday night; he has a 5-4 record with a 3.65 ERA in 30 starts with the Biscuits this season. The Rays selected Houser from Sarasota (Fla.) High with their second pick in the 2003 Draft.

The Biscuits have 15 remaining games, which will count toward the games he must serve. If they make the playoffs, those games will count toward that number as well. Houser will continue to workout with the team, but he will not be allowed to dress out. He is eligible to participate in the Arizona Fall League.

Shields on Sunday: James Shields will start for the Rays on Sunday against the Indians and their ace C.C. Sabathia.

"He's hands down one of the best, if not the best, pitcher in the American League," Shields said. "It's going to be a tough competition for me. A tough game for us as a squad, but I'm going to go out there and pitch like I know how to pitch and try to win the game."

Price to Columbus: David Price will report to Class A Columbus (Ga.) rather than short-season Hudson Valley.

Price, 21, is 36 hours short of attaining a degree in sociology from Vanderbilt and is registered to take 12 hours during the fall semester that begins on Aug. 29. By going to Columbus, Price will miss less class time and will have more time to participate in the instructional league, which runs from Sept. 17 to Oct. 12.

About last night: The Rays and Indians combined for 23 hits and just three runs Friday night. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, in the last seven seasons there has been only one other game that produced a minimum of 23 hits and no more than three runs combined -- that was Aug. 15, 2006, when Arizona won, 2-1, at Colorado with a total of 25 hits in the game.

Up next: Shields (9-8, 4.22) will start for the Rays in Sunday afternoon's finale against the Indians at Tropicana Field at 1:40 ET. He will be opposed by Indians left-hander Sabathia (14-6, 3.48).

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

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