Tampa Bay places Crawford on 15-day DL, activates Baldelli

SEATTLE -- The surprising run of the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays took a hit Sunday when the club placed outfielder Carl Crawford on the 15-day disabled list with a hand injury.

Crawford was in the clubhouse before Sunday's series finale in Seattle, but was headed to the airport for a flight back to Tampa, where he'll be examined by team doctors on Monday.

Crawford injured a tendon in his right middle finger making a check swing in Saturday night's 11-inning win over the Mariners. Crawford said he felt a pop and his hand was sore.

"I was starting to swing the bat a little better. The team is playing good," Crawford said. The Rays were trying for their franchise-record 71st victory on Sunday. "It was just a big disappointment for something like this to happen."

When asked if this injury could take more than two weeks to recover, Crawford said, "Yeah, probably could be. That's why I'm going back to Tampa."

Crawford's injury left the Rays without three regular starters for their series finale. Third baseman Evan Longoria and shortstop Jason Bartlett were both out of the lineup again on Sunday, but manager Joe Maddon believes each should be ready for Tuesday's game in Oakland.

Crawford was hitting .273 with eight homers, 57 RBIs and 25 stolen bases as the Rays entered Sunday with a 3½-game lead over Boston in the AL East. Crawford had hit in his last 11 games, batting .349 during his hitting streak with five triples.

"There have been a lot of big hits he's had hitting in the three hole for us," Maddon said. "One thing about Carl, he has a propensity to come through in those moments. That's what I've seen these last couple of years. This guy gets big hits."

The Rays' short-term solution for Crawford's absence is activating outfielder Rocco Baldelli from the 60-day disabled list. Baldelli started in right field and hit fourth on Sunday, his first appearance in more than a year. But Maddon said the Rays' off day Monday in Oakland is coming at the perfect time and gives the team a chance to look at all its options.

"We have the mechanics within what we have right now. If we choose to do something else, we can do that also," Maddon said. "The off-day tomorrow is kind of nice."

Baldelli's return caps a recovery that started on May 15, 2007. Baldelli missed the final 124 games of last season with a hamstring injury then missed all of this year with mitochondrial disorder, a condition that slows muscle recovery and causes fatigue.

He's had a pair of rehab assignments with Class-A Vero Beach and Double-A Montgomery, hitting a combined .257 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 24 games. Maddon knows he won't be able to play Baldelli in the outfield on consecutive days and was unsure just how long he'd last on Sunday.

Baldelli is a career .282 hitter in his sixth season with Tampa Bay.