Rays’ Rodriguez punches locker, breaks hand

You won’t find a nicer, more down-to-earth guy on the Tampa Bay Rays than Sean Rodriguez. And that’s what makes the possible season-ending incident involving him this weekend in Durham so perplexing and disappointing.

Rodriguez was all set to rejoin the Rays on Saturday from the Triple-A club, where he has been biding his time the past week until major league rosters expand on Sept. 1.

But everything changed in a fit of anger on Sunday, when he punched his locker after a game with the Bulls. The result: a hairline fracture in his right hand that could end his season, just when it was about to resume at the big-league level in a possible playoff run with the Rays.

The veteran utility infielder wouldn’t disclose to reporters what specifically prompted him to vent his emotions by slamming his fist into his locker, other than saying it was the result of a comment made by a Bulls teammate.

Oddly, everything had gone well for Rodriguez during the game. He went 2 for 4 and blasted a home run off the giant “bull” in left field, qualifying him and a Bulls fan for a free steak dinner. He declined to identify the teammate or provide any other details.

“Definitely the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” he told the Tampa Bay Times by phone.

It certainly could be a costly move for Rodriguez, who was going to be used heavily by manager Joe Maddon through September, possibly filling in for Evan Longoria at third base and seeing spot starts against lefties. He was sent down to Durham last week only as a temporary move, since he still had minor league options remaining on his contract. That allowed the Rays to activate Luke Scott on Aug. 20 on the 25-man active roster, with the intention of bringing Rodriguez back in 12 days.

“It was all set up, and everything was there,” Maddon told the media Monday night in Texas, before the Rays’ 6-5 loss to the Rangers. “It’s just unfortunate this happened. Especially against left-handed pitchers, he’s a big part of what we do here. Maybe it’s not as bad as I’m hearing, but then again it could be, and he may end up missing the rest of the season. I’m just not sure.”

Rodriguez is hopeful that the fracture isn’t as bad as it might appear. He traveled to St. Petersburg on Monday and had his hand X-rayed by a team specialist. The conclusion was that he broke the metacarpal bone above the knuckle on his pinky, Because he’s able to move his hand, he’s hopeful that he’ll be able to play in a week. But that remains to be seen.

One thing’s for sure: With the Rays battling for an American League wild-card spot and holding hopes of still challenging the Yankees for first place in the AL East, he couldn’t have picked a worse time to lose his cool.

Rodriguez is known for his all-out, fiery style of play. But in the clubhouse, he always has conveyed a soft-spoken, even-keeled manner. That’s why the incident caught everyone — including Maddon — off guard.

“He’ll get upset,” he said. “When you’ve been sent down from the major leagues to the minor leagues, even if it’s for a finite period of time, even if everything has been mapped out for you, who knows what you might be thinking and you might come out of character a little bit under those circumstances. He gets upset, like all of us do, but to hit something like that, that’s unfortunate.”