NEW YORK - Devil Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg on Friday stopped just short of saying Joe Maddon would be back as the team's manager next year. And it really was just short.
While Sternberg continued to assert that there was 'no need' to make a definitive statement on Maddon's status before the deadline to do so, which is believed to fall within the next two weeks, it didn't take much reading between the lines to determine where the owner stands.
As evidence, take his answer when asked if Maddon had any reason to sweat the decision:
'I don't think so, no,' Sternberg said. 'Given where we are on the scale, it's not a day-to-day thing with us. We feel pretty good about the way things are headed, and most importantly the way the players have responded. You can see the enthusiasm they've still got, even given their place in the standings, and that speaks volumes to Joe and the staff and the players themselves.'
The Rays' recent hot streak has pulled the team off pace to finish with 100 losses for a second consecutive year, and that late surge won't hurt Maddon's case. More important, though, is the recognition that Maddon was hired to help oversee a complete retooling of the organization. Those plans are just now taking hold, particularly the idea of teaching the same techniques from rookie ball all the way through the majors, and the general consensus is it would make little sense to pull the plug at this stage and start over again.
'Depending on where we are in the timeline, wins and losses are still the ultimate barometer,' Sternberg said, 'but it wasn't the ultimate barometer when Joe started this, and while it's still paramount in what we're trying to do, it's about the preparation for the success that we expect to have happen in the near future.'
THE CAVALRY: As expected, RHP Jay Witasick will be the extent of the reinforcements arriving on the first day rosters can expand past 25 players.
Maddon confirmed Witasick would join the Rays for today's game after serving a lengthy rehab assignment that stemmed from a strained elbow the pitcher suffered last month. Witasick has been lights-out at Durham, to the point that Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo asked that the veteran be allowed to stick around in Triple-A through the playoffs.
That wasn't going to happen, but the Rays will take whatever Witasick can bring from the 7 1/3 scoreless innings he threw for the Bulls. Maddon said he wasn't sure what role Witasick might assume in a bullpen that is vastly improved since he went on the DL.
'We'll just plug him in,' Maddon said. 'He's been pitching well, and the biggest thing we wanted him to do was work on his delivery and become more of a strike-thrower, and he's been doing a nice job.'
HOMETOWN LOVE: SS Josh Wilson's cell phone was loaded with text messages and voicemails Friday after he hit his first big-league home run the previous night in Baltimore.
Most of the congratulations came from his hometown of Pittsburgh, thanks in part to a nice gesture by the Pirates' television crew. Pittsburgh's announcers made sure to mention Wilson's accomplishment on the air during the Pirates-Reds game Thursday night, prompting a number of calls to Wilson and his father Mike, the longtime baseball coach at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University.
Wilson also got the keepsake ball he hit over the center-field fence at Camden Yards after a bit of clubhouse hi-jinks. Reliever Grant Balfour ended up with the ball after it came to rest, and he continued a longstanding baseball tradition by presenting Wilson some baseballs that had been defaced. Wilson got the real ball from Balfour as the team boarded the plane for New York.
'No big ceremony,' Wilson said. 'Balfour just said, 'Hey, we had to mess with you.''
NOTEWORTHY: The Rays now say they don't expect full results from the tests injured OF Rocco Baldelli has been undergoing until perhaps the middle of next week. ... Montgomery beat Jacksonville 6-3 Friday to clinch a playoff spot. Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman was in attendance.