ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -Tampa Bay Devil Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg defended the team's decision to place Elijah Dukes on the temporary inactive list rather than release the troubled rookie outfielder.
Dukes, whose wife obtained a restraining order after she said the ballplayer threatened her, was optioned to the minor leagues Friday and will be given time away from the game to try to straighten out his personal life.
Sternberg said the embattled 22-year-old asked for help, and that the Devil Rays will support his effort to get back on track through counseling from ``professional people who know how to deal with these sorts of things.''
``Quite simply I do everything I can, and I make sure this organization does everything it can, not to turn its backs on people. We will do that now, and we always have done that,'' Sternberg said before Saturday night's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
``Elijah's a person who is looking for some assistance, and we're going to make sure that he gets it. What the future holds, none of us ever knows. But I can look in the mirror, and I would expect and hope that everybody in this organization - fans and any bystanders who are interested in this story - can look themselves in the mirror and know and feel that we've done the right thing here. I will not look back at this with any regret.''
Dukes was suspended for the final month of last season at Triple-A Durham because of a string of on- and off-the-field incidents. He was arrested in January and charged with marijuana possession, but reported to spring training determined to leave his troubles behind.
He not only won a spot on the roster, but with Rocco Baldelli slowed by a hamstring injury, was the opening day center fielder. He homered in his first major league game and was hitting .190 with 10 homers and 21 RBI's in 52 games before being placed on the inactive list.
Dukes' playing time had decreased since late last month, when his estranged wife revealed she sought court protection for herself and the couple's children.
Last week, he was given a personal day off after published reports detailed a pregnant 18-year-old girl's claim that Dukes is the father of her unborn child.
Sternberg said some people would have liked to have seen Dukes apologize and ``begging forgiveness.''
``But sometimes it's not as simple as all that. This is certainly one of those instances,'' Sternberg said. ``But I can assure you we will have very little, if zero tolerance towards anything that will become a distraction for this organization and what it is trying to accomplish going forward.''
Dukes, who earns $380,000, will be paid while he's on the inactive list. One consideration in the decision to continue paying his major league salary is the player has several young children.
``We're going to put the proper mechanisms in place, hopefully, that will allow him to change himself,'' Sternberg said, adding that he's not concerned about the team's image being affected by its handling of Dukes.
``This will pass, hopefully, with a very positive outcome for him,'' the owner said. ``If it doesn't, our reputation will remain intact as an organization that's trying to help somebody or did what they think they could to help somebody.''

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