Blalock excited to return to big leagues

Blalock excited to return to big leagues

ST. PETERSBURG -- Hank Blalock is back in the big leagues, and he's not taking anything for granted after being called up by the Rays on Saturday morning.

Blalock, 29, was promoted to Tampa Bay from Triple-A Durham when Pat Burrell was designated for assignment. The left-handed slugger will likely platoon at designated hitter with switch-hitter Willy Aybar, but he also provides the defensive flexibility to play either first or third base if necessary. Blalock hit .349 in 109 at-bats with Durham, racking up five doubles, four home runs and 24 RBIs with a .405 on-base percentage and .505 slugging percentage.

But just being back in the Majors isn't enough to make Blalock happy. He said he had become a one-dimensional power hitter and needs to become a more complete player to contribute for Tampa Bay this season.

"With anything in life, you constantly have to prove yourself every day. You don't deserve anything. You've got to earn everything you get," Blalock said after the Rays' 3-2 win over the Mariners on Saturday. "I was in Triple-A for a reason and had to work my way back to the big leagues.

"I was just going up there and competing. I was trying to remind myself to get back to the player that got me to the big leagues in the first place."

Manager Joe Maddon said Blalock's improved defense has been one of the most encouraging signs of his development, and it made the decision to promote him that much easier. With Blalock capable of playing at designated hitter, first base or third, Maddon can use Aybar, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria in different roles.

"On a nightly basis, the DH can be moved around a little bit more. More of a fluid DH," Maddon said. "Willy against lefties, Hank against righties, and furthermore if you want to get Carlos a day off his feet and have him still DH, you've got Hank over there also.

"He gives us all of that. He gives us a little more flexibility in the lineup positionally and in regards to the left-right-handed DH stuff. Also, I believe he's going to fit into our culture well. He's going to fit into the clubhouse well. I got to know him during Spring Training and I like him."

And Blalock already likes what he sees from the Rays. The nine-year veteran, who played with Texas before signing a Minor League deal with Tampa Bay on March 8, knows this could be his first chance to make a deep playoff run, and he is eager to get on the field and help push the Rays toward that goal.

"There's so much talent on this team. If you look through their lineup and through their pitching staff, it's a great situation for me to be in," he said. "It's really exciting for me to play with these guys. You can see the energy that they play with and the winning attitude every day. I could tell right away, the first day I'm here. It's great. I'm excited to be a part of it."