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McRae ready for righty-lefty games

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 24, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- One beauty of spring training is that you're allowed to change your mind.

Right now, manager Hal McRae has a pretty good idea of how the middle of the lineup will look.

McRae's plan is to bat either Ben Grieve or Steve Cox third, double up right-handers Greg Vaughn and Toby Hall fourth and fifth, and use either Cox or Grieve sixth.

"We're trying to protect as many hitters as we can protect," McRae said.

His thinking is that by separating his top left-handed hitters he will make life difficult for an opposing manager trying to manipulate his bullpen to get lefty-righty matchups.

"As long as we split the lefts to get two rights in between, a left-handed pitcher can't come in and pick him off and the manager has the luxury to leave him in the game," McRae said. "He has too much to go through. So if a left-hander came in to get Ben, and then I have Greg and Toby, he can't leave him in. So then he has to make a change and then come back with (another) lefty for Cox if he wants to play that game."

The top and bottom of the lineup will be determined by the makeup of the team. Most likely Jason Tyner and Brent Abernathy will hit first and second, with the last three spots going to the DH or third outfielder (Aubrey Huff, Troy O'Leary, or Randy Winn), the third baseman (Jared Sandberg, Russ Johnson or Huff) and shortstop Chris Gomez.

PITCHING IN: McRae has similar thoughts about the rotation. Right-handers Tanyon Sturtze and Paul Wilson probably are the top starters, but McRae is determined to split young left-handers Joe Kennedy and Nick Bierbrodt.

That's relatively easy to do if righty Ryan Rupe wins the remaining job. If lefty Wilson Alvarez is the fifth starter, McRae might have to put either Kennedy or Bierbrodt between Sturtze and Wilson. The same move could be made early in the season when they are using four starters.

OWNERSHIP ISSUES: Alabama businessman Donald Watkins, disappointed the Twins are willing to consider other offers than the one he made, said in today's New York Times that the Rays "reached out" to him last month. "Absolutely untrue," Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli said Saturday. "We've never had contact with Mr. Watkins."

STANDING TALL: Vaughn has been gone from Cincinnati for more than two seasons, but his absence is still felt.

A byproduct of former Red Pokey Reese's complaints about Ken Griffey's lack of leadership was an endorsement of how effective Vaughn was in that role.

"We had a leader in Greg Vaughn," Reese said. "He didn't put up with no crap. He told everybody how it should be. We didn't have that the last couple of years."

Several Reds agreed with Reese's assessment.

"There's not many leaders like Greg Vaughn," Sean Casey said. "Comparing him with Junior is comparing apples and oranges. But there are other types of leaders."

Added Barry Larkin: "Vaughnie was a rah-rah type. He would get in your face. We're missing that type of leader."

Vaughn said it was "nice to know" he was appreciated and took the comments as compliments.

McRae said he'd like Vaughn to have the same effect on the Rays. "I heard him (the other day) telling some of the guys how to play the game, and I encourage him to do that," McRae said.

HOO-RAYS: Players who don't agree to terms by midnight Friday will have their contracts renewed and lose the standard $20,000 incentive package. ... Josh Hamilton is sporting new tattoos on his stomach, left arm and back. ... A silent auction at last weekend's FanFest raised $3,500 for the Rays of Hope Foundation. ... The exhibition season starts Friday with a game against the University of Tampa.

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