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Smith baffled by latest slump

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002


NEW YORK -- Bobby Smith needs something.

Anything.

And fast.

Moved into the starting lineup when third baseman Russ Johnson was injured the final week of spring training, Smith has struggled immensely.

After going 0-for-3 Saturday, he is hitting .053 through five games: 1-for-19 with nine strikeouts.

"I don't know what I need," Smith said. "If I knew, I'd definitely go out and get it. No matter what it costs, no matter what I had to do."

Smith's performance is hauntingly familiar to last year, when he won the starting second-base job with a strong spring, then went 2-for-19 with 10 strikeouts to start the season. He was designated for assignment after six games, cleared waivers and sent to Triple A for the rest of the season.

He made the team as a utilityman with a strong performance this spring, but now is struggling even worse. A move from seventh to eighth in the order Saturday didn't help.

"I think he's just struggling right now," manager Hal McRae said. "I don't think it has anything to do with him playing every day. He's just having a rough time.

"But some good may come from this. I'll have a better idea possibly of how to use him and where to use him. He might be a guy to use against left-handed pitchers, maybe first base against left-handed pitchers, he could play rightfield against left-handed pitchers."

Until Johnson gets back, which will be Friday at the earliest, McRae said Smith will stay at third base. Johnson, who sprained a ligament in his right foot, was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Saturday with Double-A Orlando.

YANKEE KILLER: Tanyon Sturtze has no reason to be intimidated facing the Yankees today and matching up with Roger Clemens. Sturtze beat the Yankees three times last season, including a combined 4-0 shutout against Clemens on Sept. 25.

But that doesn't mean he thinks it's going to be easy.

"Last year's lineup to this year's lineup is two different lineups," Sturtze said. "Last year's lineup didn't have near the firepower this year's does. ... They have probably the best lineup in our division."

STEPPING UP: Veteran catcher John Flaherty is scheduled for his first start of the season today. Rookie Jason Smith is scheduled to make his first major-league start at shortstop, with Chris Gomez off.

COLD RECEPTION: It wasn't bad enough that the Rays spent three hours playing in near-freezing temperatures. They really got cold when they found out there was no hot water in the showers. Some braved the icy water, others waited until they got back to the hotel. More than one wondered if the Yankees somehow had hot water in their clubhouse. "I would probably lean towards the affirmative on that one," Brent Abernathy said. "I don't like this place very much right now."

MISCELLANY: The Mets' acquisition of Scott Strickland from Montreal ends their pursuit of reliever Esteban Yan, at least for now. ... Friday's victory was Andy Pettitte's eighth against the Rays, the most of anyone. ... Toby Hall is the only Ray to hit in all five games. ... Game-time temperature was again 41 degrees, matching Friday's as the lowest in team history. ... The Rays haven't scored against the Yankees in 28 innings, a team record for futility. ... Wilson Alvarez's start came 916 days since his last one.

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