Rays' Crawford to return Wednesday

Rays' Crawford to return Wednesday

ST. PETERSBURG -- C.C. is back.

Carl Crawford, the Rays' starting left fielder, is slated to return for Wednesday's game, after sitting out the final game of his four-game suspension in Tuesday night's series opener vs. the Cubs.

"I get to see [Cubs manager Lou Piniella] and I've been out for six days," Crawford said. "So it's nice to get back on the field."

The suspension came as a result of an on-field melee with the Red Sox on June 5, with a total of five Rays disciplined a combined 23 games.

Although Crawford was visibly excited to get back into the swing of things, the speedy outfielder acknowledged that the suspension did have a bit of silver lining.

"It's been good for me to get a chance to rest my legs," he said. "That's the most important thing, now I feel better. I've still got to kind of watch how I do it though, as far as the sliding catches and stuff. I've [got to] be careful with that."

Crawford is well known for his acrobatic ability in the outfield, as he is a constant fixture on Baseball Tonight's "Web Gems" and ESPN's "Top 10 Plays." However, he has been nagged by hamstring and knee problems, particularly on the artificial turf surface at Tropicana Field.

Manager Joe Maddon has already expressed his desire to give Crawford ample rest when possible, sitting the outfielder on days before the club has a scheduled off-day to help keep his legs fresh.

Prior to Tuesday's game, Crawford assessed that his legs are about "91 percent" and said he has no problem making the sort of diving catches that involve him sliding on his stomach.

"It's the one [dive] where I try to come in and stop the line drive," Crawford said. "Because for some reason, I always tend to go to the right knee instead of the left knee, and that's the knee that's bad."

For the Rays, even a 91 percent Crawford is exciting.

Despite the four-game suspension, he is the Rays' leading run scorer (43) and has a team-best 19 stolen bases. Predominantly the Rays' No. 2 batter, Crawford is hitting .265 with 33 RBIs, and is 15-for-52 with runners in scoring position.

In his absence, the Rays have used a platoon of right-handed hitter Justin Ruggiano and left-handed hitter Eric Hinske, depending on the opposing pitching matchup.

As for his own pitching matchup on Wednesday with Carlos Zambrano, Crawford said he isn't any more excited to face the right-hander, he is simply looking forward to getting back in the batter's box.

But he may hope for a different outcome.

Although Zambrano has never pitched against the Rays, Crawford said he faced the right-hander before, in the 2004 All-Star Game.

"He struck me out," he recalled. "My heart was beating so fast that I don't think I saw any pitches. He must have been feeling the same way because every pitch was over my head, and I swung."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.