ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Catcher Ryan Hanigan knows there’s healing left to go, but he’s optimistic that his return to the Tampa Bay Rays’ lineup could come next Wednesday.
"I feel good, man," he said Friday. "I can do everything. I’m ready to get back on, you know?"
Hanigan, placed on the disabled list May 28 (retroactive to May 27) with a strained right hamstring, will catch right-hander Jeremy Hellickson on Saturday when High-A Charlotte plays the Tampa Yankees at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Hellickson, rehabbing from January arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow, is expected to throw about 60 pitches in the first of three expected rehab starts before he returns to the rotation possibly later this month.
"I feel great," Hellickson said. "I’m ready to finally finish it and get in a real game."
Hanigan, meanwhile, eyes a return to the lineup next Wednesday when Tampa Bay hosts the St. Louis Cardinals at Tropicana Field. Rays manager Joe Maddon said Hanigan should have three rehab starts, perhaps the second coming Monday. Hellickson anticipates to make two more rehab starts after Saturday in his work back, though he doesn’t know where those next assignments will take place.
Hanigan, though, is pleased with his own progress. He can tell the end of his recovery is near.
"The pain feels pretty good," Hanigan said. "It healed up good. It’s still got a little bit of healing to do. But for the most part, I don’t feel too much. I scooted through my rehab. Kind of ease back into it, but nothing hurts right now."
MADDON HONORS DON ZIMMER WITH HOT DOGS
Don Zimmer, the late baseball legend, had an affinity for hot dogs from Coney Island Grill in St. Petersburg. So Maddon honored his friend by ordering 50 for the Rays before Friday’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field.
"I wanted to get the Zimdog, which I think would benefit any establishment, whether it’s a restaurant or a ballpark," Maddon said.
So what, exactly, is a Zimdog?
Maddon said the hot dog is slathered in chili, onions and mustard, among other possible condiments. He mentioned the hot dog as a fond memory of Zimmer after learning of the iconic figure’s death Wednesday night at age 83. Maddon said Zimmer used to eat Coney Island hot dogs while talking baseball with him before games.
The Rays are set to honor Zimmer, who served as the team’s senior advisor since January 2004, with a pregame ceremony Saturday at Tropicana Field. Shortly after disclosing his decision to buy the hot dogs, Maddon also revealed this nugget: He almost convinced Zimmer to join Twitter.
"I really wanted Zim on Twitter, bad, badly," Maddon said.
"That’s the one thing I wish I would have pursued a little harder, to get Zim on Twitter. Oh my God, it would have been spectacular."
"PEACE OF MIND" COMES WITH COLLEGE-HEAVY DRAFT
The Rays made eight more selections Friday to round out their class through the MLB draft’s first 10 rounds.
The selections were as follows: Left-hander Brock Burke from Evergreen (Colorado) High School in the third round at No. 96 overall, right-hander Blake Bivens from George Washington (Virginia) High School in the fourth at No. 127, shortstop Michael Russell from North Carolina in the fifth at No. 157, catcher Mac James from Oklahoma in the sixth at No. 187, right-hander Mike Franco from Florida International in the seventh at No. 217, third baseman Daniel Miles in the eighth at No. 247, right-hander Chris Pike in the ninth at No. 277 and right-hander Bradley Wallace from Arkansas State in the 10th at No. 307.
So far, eight of the Rays’ 11 selections have college backgrounds. R.J. Harrison, Tampa Bay’s director of scouting, said those selections come with peace of mind.
"It helps, because you’ve seen them play, and you have something to lean on, a track record to lean on," Harrison said. "So there’s always a little bit more peace of mind with a college player. The pool of applicants dictates that every year — which way you’re going to go."
On Thursday, the Rays chose first baseman Casey Gillaspie from Wichita State in the first round at No. 20 overall, right-hander Cameron Varga from Cincinnati Hills (Ohio) Christian Academy in the second at No. 60 and right-hander Brent Honeywell from Walters State (Tennessee) Community College in the competitive balance round B at No. 72.
The draft ends with round Nos. 11-40 on Saturday.
MADDON PRAISES FERNANDO RODNEY’S INFLUENCE
The Rays greeted a familiar face Friday. Hard-throwing closer Fernando Rodney, who had 85 saves for Tampa Bay from 2012-2013, made his first trip to Tropicana Field since signing a two-year, $14-million deal with Seattle in February.
Rodney had a historic 0.60 ERA in 2012. But he faltered at times last season in blowing a career-high eight saves and allowing 36 walks (he surrendered 15 in 2012).
Rodney’s familiar "shoot the moon" motion after saves became a staple of Rays victories in recent years. Maddon remained a fan.
"That became a part of our schtick around here that was linked to a lot of entertainment, and it brought a lot of joy to the group," Maddon said.
"He was incredible — strike-throwing stuff, nailing it down and just putting them away. You knew the game was over."
— Right-hander Alex Cobb (1-3, 3.19 ERA) starts Saturday against Seattle at Tropicana Field. His frustration following a 3-1 loss to the Miami Marlins last Monday drew attention, and little appears to have changed. Despite the team’s slump, he remains motivated. "The fact that we’re in a rut — I’m not going to say it’s necessarily going to make me try any harder to get that win, because every time out there, I’m trying to get the win," he said.
— Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier has made eyes inside and outside the Rays dugout pay attention to his production. He entered Friday hitting .379 with three home runs, four RBI and one stolen base since being promoted from Triple-A Durham on May 17. "It’s one of those things where I just want to make the best of every opportunity I get," he said. "The team’s been swinging the bat well lately. So I just want to stay consistent with my approach and make things happen."
— At 23-38, the Rays began Friday holding the majors’ worst record for the second straight day. Before this year, Tampa Bay had only spent one other day owning the majors’ worst record outright since becoming the Rays in 2008. It happened when they were 1-8 after play April 10, 2011.