Baldelli eying return; role undetermined

Baldelli eying return; role undetermined

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli sprayed line drives around Tropicana Field prior to the Rays' batting practice on Tuesday and continues to be optimistic about making a return to the team this season in some capacity.

"He's participating, getting some work in hitting-wise," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's making some progress. We have no kind of timetable on him whatsoever, but he's starting to feel better."

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

"I plan on coming back [this season]," Baldelli said. "I don't know when it will be. Like I said, the discussion of the role that I'm going to have when I come back will probably be a pretty important discussion, because it's obviously not going to be what I've been used to while I've been here, and I'm fine with that. I just want to come back and help this team any way that I can. I'm perfectly OK with doing anything I have to do."

The question is: When will he come back?

"I'm going to talk to [head athletic trainer] Ron [Porterfield], and [Maddon] and Andrew [Friedman, Rays executive vice-president of baseball operations] and everybody," Baldelli said. "Throughout this whole thing, we've worked pretty well together as far as formulating a plan. We don't just wing it. It should be fairly soon [when he is available to play], but I don't know exactly how soon."

Maddon characterized the Rays' outlook about Baldelli's return at some point this season as, "cautiously optimistic."

"It would be wonderful for us and him if he's able to get back out there again, because you can just imagine," said Maddon, noting that he's not even talking about Baldelli playing every day, but the difference he could make by playing on occasion. "The guy is swinging the bat great in spite of not playing in a while, but we'll see."

Baldelli has not played since last May. He 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.

Sporting a beard and a smile, Baldelli said he is excited about the way the team is playing.

"They're going out there and doing such a great job," Baldelli said. "Never have I been excited to go through rehab, and I've done a lot of it. Just the way these guys are playing right now just kind of gets me excited. Coming to the field every day to see what they're going to do makes me want to get back as fast as I can."

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