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Notes: Piniella praises Junior
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06/23/2004  7:22 PM ET
Notes: Piniella praises Junior
Manager reflects on Griffey's accomplishments
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Piniella managed Ken Griffey Jr. near the beginning of the slugger's career. (Chris O'Meara/AP Photo)
TORONTO -- During his 10-year tenure with the Seattle Mariners, Lou Piniella had the fortunate experience of managing Ken Griffey Jr. for the majority of that time. With Griffey hitting his 500th career home run over the weekend in St. Louis, Piniella had some time to reflect on his times with Junior.

"It was great to see," Piniella said. "He's a great kid and a great story. He's fought some injuries over the past few years so it was nice to see."

Though Griffey has been fighting injuries over the last couple of seasons, Piniella knew in Spring Training that Griffey was poised to have an impressive year if he stayed out of the trainer's room.

"I'll tell you what, we saw him in the spring and he was in a great frame of mind and in good shape," Piniella said. "He was swinging the bat pretty well and you could tell he was going to put up some pretty good numbers this year if he could stay healthy."

Piniella wasn't in Seattle when Griffey began his career, but during the skipper's first year with the Mariners in 1993 he knew he had something in Griffey.

"He was special already in his third season," Piniella said.

With 500 out of the way, Piniella said that Griffey will continue sending balls into the seats plenty more before his time as a big leaguer is over.

"That's a milestone but he's going to hit a lot more than 500," he said. "I congratulate him."

Still no closer: The Devil Rays played their third straight game on Wednesday without closer Danys Baez, who is still back in Florida with his wife following the birth of the couple's first child, a daughter, Sunday evening.

Baez, who leads the team with 13 saves, left the team Sunday morning to be with his wife, Mireya, and continued to stay with her after she had minor complications following the birth.

Though happy that the Baez family is healthy, Piniella expressed his team's need to get its bullpen ace back as soon as possible.

"We really need to get our closer back," he said. "It's been awhile since he's thrown."

Baez last pitched on June 17 against San Diego, where he notched his 13th save.

The Devil Rays are hoping he will rejoin the team when they get back to Tampa Bay on Friday to begin a three-game set with Florida.

Miller returns to Toronto: Pitcher Trever Miller made his first trip back to Toronto on Tuesday, the city in which he enjoyed his best season of his young four-year major league career.

Miller, who was signed as a free agent by the Devil Rays in January 2004, set a Blue Jays team record for left-handed pitchers with a career-high 79 appearances last year, the most in the American League. Miller also set career-highs in saves (3), innings (52 2/3), and strikeouts (44).

"I'm excited about seeing some of the guys and being friends again," Miller said. "It's a little bit different look for me here but it's still baseball. It's tough to pitch here because the balls get through the infield a lot quicker and balls fly out of the ballpark. You just have to pitch your game here and get guys out."

Miller faced one batter on Tuesday, striking out Eric Hinske to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning.

Starter Mark Hendrickson also spent time with the Blue Jays last year and in 2002, going 12-9 over 46 appearances.

"He's done a nice job for us and has pitched very respectable baseball for us," Piniella said about Hendrickson, who is 5-5 with a 4.07 ERA.

Hendrickson will start Saturday's game against Florida.

Down on the farm: The Triple-A Durham Bulls scored eight runs over the last two innings Tuesday, but had dug themselves too big of a hole to overcome, eventually losing to Ottawa, 9-8. The Bulls were off on Wednesday.

Coming up: The Devil Rays conclude their three-game series with the Blue Jays in an afternoon game on Thursday. Tampa Bay will send John Halama to the mound for his second-straight start since moving into the starting rotation last week after spending the first 2 1/2 months in the bullpen.

Bob Matuszak is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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