Lou Piniella (left, with Danys Baez) feels the recent success has given his team a boost. (Scott Martin/AP)
ST. PETERSBURG -- After winning a team-record 12 straight games, and eight of their last nine on the road, the Devil Rays returned home to a bit of a heroes' welcome.
The City of St. Petersburg had a welcome reception at Baywalk, in the center of the city, on Friday afternoon. A few hundred fans came out to hear Mayor Rick Baker salute the team, and players Rocco Baldelli and Julio Lugo talk about their much-improved squad.
The excitement can be felt all around the Tampa Bay area as talk shows are buzzing, signs are going up and folks have been proudly displaying their Rays wear.
"I've probably been on more radio shows and answered more questions from the media about our team than ever before, including the first week of our existence," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "And I've heard more positive things from the people of Tampa Bay in the last week than ever before, also. People believe in our young players and in the organization."
LaMar said things are hopping at the team's offices at Tropicana Field as well.
"The passion to get the job done here has never left," LaMar said. "But there is a different air in the entire organization. You can just see the smiles when you are walking down the hall. It's what I remember from [winning] days with the Pirates, Reds and Braves."
Manager Lou Piniella, while reminding everyone that the team is "not out of the woods yet," also has enjoyed the Rays' recent run of success.
"It's been fun," Piniella said. "These kids have played good baseball. They've been aggressive, taken it to the opposition and some good things have happened for us. This should be a good confidence booster. Are we as good as 24-7 [since May 20]? No, but we're building confidence. The players deserve the credit."
Piniella said that the Rays would no longer be able to sneak up on other teams.
"We've played well enough for long enough that teams are going to enjoy kicking our butts a little more," Piniella said.
He also said the team needs to not rest on its recent laurels.
"We had a bad start and then a really nice month," Piniella said. "What's really going to define our season is the last three months of the season."
Gathright debuts: The Rays called up speedy outfielder Joey Gathright from Triple-A Durham and designated outfielder Jose Bautista for assignment.
Gathright, 23, was hitting .335 with 25 steals in 85 games so far this season.
"I wasn't thinking about [being called up now], I was thinking September," Gathright said.
Upon hearing the news, Gathright called his parents and friends back home.
"Half of Mississippi knows," Gathright said.
Doug Waechter / P
Weight: 210 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Waechter still out: Doug Waechter, on the DL with a strained tendon in the middle finger of his right hand, will be out until at least after the All-Star Game.
Waechter has been trying to throw, but the finger is not getting any better.
"I was told to stop throwing for a week to let it heal completely," Waechter said. "It's frustrating because at first I didn't think I would miss a start. But this is the right thing to do."
The Rays want to be conservative with Waechter.
"This is not a 10-day or two-week thing," Piniella said. "When he puts pressure on that [finger], it's not good. If we can get him back within a month, we'll be doing well."
Down on the farm: Damian Rolls went 1-for-5 with a double with the Bulls on Thursday night. He is rehabbing after suffering chest bruises and going on the 15-day DL on May 25.
Starter Todd Ritchie, who had arm surgery during the winter, had a rough outing for the Bulls, giving up nine runs in four innings.
Quick hits: Closer Danys Baez returned to the team after missing four games when he returned to Miami for the birth of his first child. His baby daughter is well now, but there were complications after his wife Mireya underwent a C-section. "We had to wait a few days to make sure everything was OK," Baez said. "But everything is fine." Daniela Lucia was born on Father's Day evening, weighed 7 pounds and 10 ounces and was 21 inches long. ... Tino Martinez (left hamstring) was not in the starting lineup for the fifth straight game, but said he feels close to returning. "I think I will play this weekend," Martinez said. ... Going into Friday night's game against the Marlins, the Rays had won a team-record 11 straight Interleague games. ... The first 5,000 fans on Saturday night will receive a Toby Hall mini-bobblehead.
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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