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Rays focus on drug awareness and prevention

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Josh Sale, the Rays' top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, found out by reading a letter from Minor League Baseball.

"Just letting me know," he recalled. "'You came up dirty.'"

Sale said he didn't take anything illegal, but he received a 50-game suspension on Aug. 28 after testing positive for a substance banned by Major League Baseball, one of seven players in Tampa Bay's system to be suspended over the past year. The latest came Monday, when MLB announced that Double-A catcher David Wendt tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine.

The previous suspensions were levied to outfielder Cody Rogers (refusing to take an offseason drug test); Tim Beckham (drug of abuse); Ryan Brett, Charles Cononie and Justin Woodall (methamphetamine and an amphetamine). Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics pointed out that the organization thoroughly educates its players about what they should and should not take.

"Obviously we're disappointed in the number of suspensions in our organization," said executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "We have to remember that these are young kids, and as much as you try to educate them, mistakes will happen. The important part is that they learn from them. We will tolerate guys making mistakes. We'll talk through it again, and it's incumbent upon them to learn from their mistakes and make sure that it doesn't happen again."

Sale, who will remain in Port Charlotte, Fla., for extended spring camp until his suspension is up, expressed remorse for the positive test and looks to put it behind him, taking a more optimistic outlook into 2013. If anything, Sale said, he has to let the mistake motivate him into proving that he was clean and that he can put together a full season without any performance-enhancing drugs.

But as Lukevics put it, a 50-game suspension "puts a dent in a kid's career. You can't make progress in this game when you miss 50 games.

"There are things that we can do, along with continual education, and things we can do on the field, but there's things that we can't do. He can't play in games. That hurts," Lukevics added. "Hopefully, with young men making a mistake in their life, they learn from that mistake and they get on with their career in a very positive manner.

"We're teachers of not only the game of baseball, but we're teachers, all of us, of life for these young men that come from so many different social and economic backgrounds. ... That's our challenge in player development, and we welcome that challenge."

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