Baldelli hopes to get back in the game

Baldelli hopes to get back in the game

ST. PETERSBURG -- A bearded Rocco Baldelli took batting practice Tuesday and still hopes to play this season.

The Rays outfielder is on the 60-day disabled list with a mitochondrial disorder, an abnormality that has kept him in a constant stage of fatigue.

Since Baldelli announced his disorder during Spring Training, his presence had been scarce until the current homestand.

"I had that little infection in my right leg a couple of weeks ago," Baldelli said. "So I couldn't do anything for a couple of weeks. I was doing nothing. I was resting and letting it heal up with some antibiotics. And I started working out again last week. That's pretty much it."

Baldelli has not played since last May. Under the terms of the long-term contract he signed after the 2005 season, the Rays had until April 1 to decide whether to pick up his $6 million option for the 2009 season, and they did not. By declining the option, Tampa Bay must pay him $4 million, and Baldelli will become a free agent at the end of the 2008 season. Had the Rays exercised the option, the team would have had to face the same question of whether to renew him for 2010 and 2011 at a cost of $17 million, or buy him out at $2 million.

Baldelli 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.

"I'm still trying to come back and play ... just trying new things, and hopefully one of them works," Baldelli said. "I work out, throwing and hitting -- about as basic as it gets for baseball. At this point, it's all I really think I need to be doing. Do it for an extended period of time and hopefully my body responds well."

Baldelli said he is working "with a couple of doctors" and that he has learned more about his mysterious condition after more tests were conducted in April.

"They found some things out, but it's not worth mentioning because they have to run all their secondary tests now," Baldelli said. "That's what I'm waiting on."

Baldelli said he is feeling more optimistic.

"Shoot, when the team's playing this good, it's easy to be optimistic about anything," Baldelli said. "It gets you kind of excited just being around here. I was hitting BP, I was throwing, I don't know if I can do it every day, but as of now, I feel really good."

The Rays are equally optimistic.

"He's working hard and we're hopeful in the next couple of weeks we'll get a better sense about the 2008 season," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.

Baldelli smiled when the topic moved to his "Stanley Cup beard," which resembles the one Tom Hanks sported in the movie "Castaway."

"Now it's turned into my D-Rays beard -- not D-Rays," said Baldelli, recognizing his mistake. "I'll be doing that until the day I die."

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