ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays didn't clarify pitching coach Jim Hickey's job status after he pleaded no contest Monday to a drunken-driving charge, but the way he has handled the incident seems to bode well for his chances of returning.
Hickey has been proactive in dealing with the fallout from his arrest the night of the Rays' season finale. By the time he walked into traffic court Monday, Hickey, 46, had attended DUI school, performed more than 50 hours of community service and paid full restitution, said his attorney, Jack Helinger.
'I hope the community ... takes notice you admitted you did something you shouldn't have,' County Judge William Overton told Hickey in court.
Hickey's license was suspended for six months, and he was sentenced to one year of probation, though he has the right to ask that the probation be terminated early. The sentence was described by his attorney as typical for a first-time driving-under-the-influence offender.
The Rays' only comment on the latest developments came in a one-line statement released by the team.
It read: 'While Jim Hickey's actions were inexcusable, we have been encouraged by the responsible manner in which he has conducted himself throughout the proceedings.'
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is a big believer in granting second chances, a point he emphasized during the controversy surrounding Elijah Dukes this season. While the team has been blunt in expressing its disapproval with Hickey's choices, the fact that they haven't already dismissed the coach is an indication of where he stands.
The Rays were pleased with the work Hickey did in his first season as pitching coach despite a 5.53 team ERA that was the worst in the majors, and before his arrest there seemed little reason to believe he would not be back in 2008.
RAYS ADD PITCHER: The Rays claimed LHP Kurt Birkins off waivers from the Orioles.
Birkins, 27, is 6-4 with a 6.61 ERA in 54 major-league appearances (all but two in relief) for Baltimore over the past two seasons but has been much more effective as a starter in the minors. In 2007, he went 8-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 20 appearances for Triple-A Norfolk, holding left-handed hitters to a .145 average.
To make room for Birkins on the 40-man roster, the Rays designated catcher Raul Casanova for assignment. Casanova hit .253 with six homers in a couple of stints with the Rays in 2007.