Notes: Crawford on fire since break
Outfielder cites protection in lineup for improved performance
ARLINGTON -- Outfielder Carl Crawford was the only Rays player who stepped into the blast-furnace heat of Texas on Friday without feeling a thing. He was already scorching on arrival.Crawford entered the opener of this three-game weekend series against the Rays as the Major Leagues' hottest hitter since the All-Star break, batting .433 over that span to raise his season average 31 points from .285 to .316. It was the highest his average has been since May 27. "He's about as locked in as I've ever seen anybody," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's been very impressive. And he's doing it against a variety of pitchers -- right-handers, left-handers, inside, outside -- it doesn't matter. He's covering it all." Crawford said he has made no major adjustment, but that he was seeing better pitches to hit since the productive power bat of B.J. Upton was slotted behind him in the No. 3 hole in the batting order. Upton arrived in Texas batting .327 with 16 home runs. "Part of it is that B.J., behind him, is swinging the bat well," Maddon said. "But [Crawford] has been truly fun to watch." Crawford entered Friday batting .643 over his last six games (18-for-28), and riding a season-high 10-game hitting streak. His 18 hits were the most ever by a Rays hitter over a six-game span, and the most by any big league hitter over a six-game period this season. Fossum set free: Left-hander Casey Fossum was granted his unconditional release three days after the Rays designated him for assignment to remove him from the 40-man roster. Fossum, 29, was 5-8 with a 7.70 ERA in 40 games for the Rays this season. He began the season as the second highest-paid player on the Rays' roster ($2.7 million). The team will be responsible for that contract, as well as the $300,000 buyout for his 2008 contract option. Should Fossum sign with another Major League team before the season ends, the Rays would be spared the pro-rated amount remaining on the $300,000 minimum salary. Musical chairs: The Rays' starting lineup will be in flux during the weekend series in Texas, partly to give some players a break from the heat, and partly because the Rays want to assess their infield options for the rest of this season and beyond. Maddon said he will rotate each of his starting outfielders through the designated hitter role for one game this series. Delmon Young made just his second start of the year as DH on Friday, with Jonny Gomes starting in right field. B.J. Upton will be the DH on Saturday, with Carl Crawford taking the role on Sunday. On the infield, Brendan Harris started his 10th consecutive game at second base. Harris started 86 games at shortstop earlier this season, but will yield to Ben Zobrist and Josh Wilson as the Rays try to determine how to deploy the infielders next season between starting jobs and utility roles. "It's a grading situation, not necessarily a competition," Maddon said. "We've seen [Harris] at shortstop and now we want to see him at second base. I think he probably has the strongest arm of the three. We might end up having another nice problem, in that we have three guys who we like how they're playing." Zobrist started at shortstop on Friday, his seventh start at the position since being recalled from Triple-A Durham on July 29. Wilson has started 32 games since being claimed from the Washington Nationals on May 10. Time for AARP card? The Rangers this weekend are celebrating the induction of former outfielder Rusty Greer to their team's Hall of Fame. Among the festivities was an alumni softball game staged early on Friday evening before the Rays-Rangers game. The Rays' 35-year-old infielder Greg Norton, taking note of many familiar faces on the field, asked Maddon, "Is it bad that I played against all these guys in their old-timers game? I think the writing's on the wall." Among the Rangers' alumni who also visited their former Tampa Bay clubhouse were pitchers Ken Hill and Bobby Witt. "Ken Hill came in to say hi," Maddon said. "He still looks like he could pitch today." Minor matters: RHP Jae Kuk Ryu pitched six shutout innings with seven strikeouts Thursday in Durham's 9-3 victory over Toledo. RF Justin Ruggiano slugged a two-run homer in that game for the Bulls, his 16th of the season. ... LHP Jake McGee lost his debut for Double-A Montgomery, giving up four runs in two innings of a 6-4 loss to Chattanooga. ... RHP Jay Witasick is scheduled to throw one inning and a maximum 25 pitches on Saturday on his rehab assignment with Class A Vero Beach, before moving up to Durham. ... Class A Columbus RHP Lewis Rollins was named the organization's pitcher of the month for July after going 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA. Overall he is 13-4 with a 2.57 ERA. Deadline nearing: Senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker said there was no notable progress to report in contract talks with Vanderbilt LHP David Price. The Rays have until Wednesday to sign the No. 1 overall pick of this year's Draft or have his rights replaced with compensatory picks in the 2008 Draft. Price has registered to return to classes at Vanderbilt, where he is two semesters shy of a degree. Baseball America magazine has projected that Price would be slotted for a signing bonus of about $3.6 million under Major League Baseball's recommendations. Some expect Price might receive a total package worth about $6 million. Up next: RHP Edwin Jackson (2-11, 6.35) is scheduled to face Texas left-hander John Rheinecker (1-0, 7.40) in the second installment of this three-game series at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 8:35 p.m. ET.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.