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Lost at the plate

He's carrying a .140 average, but Rays DH Greg Vaughn insists that he's healthy and will snap out of his funk.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The foul ball shot roofward, landing on a catwalk before rolling off and dropping in front of the Toronto dugout Sunday at Tropicana Field.

Tie score in the 10th inning, the winning run on second base, Greg Vaughn paused before settling into the batter's box for another pitch.

"Let it happen," he reminded himself, "instead of trying to make it happen."

The Rays designated hitter subsequently drew a walk, and the fans' praise.

Bottle the moment.

Though only 11 games into the season, Vaughn doesn't think the criticism he has received from the paying public for a slow start is unwarranted, unnecessary or unmanageable.

"They have a right to voice their opinion," Vaughn said. "We're getting paid lots of money and they're coming to the game and they want you to help their team win.

"This isn't the first time I've heard it. ... I'm not going to go home and lose sleep because they yell. They have a right."

While Ben Grieve and Randy Winn have perked up at the plate in recent games -- Grieve hit a single to win Sunday's game and Winn was 7-for-13 in the three-game series against Toronto -- the Rays patiently are waiting for Vaughn.

Tampa Bay's cleanup hitter, who will make $8.75-million this season, has the lowest batting average (.140) of any starter, hasn't hit a home run and has three RBIs through 43 at-bats heading into a three-game series against the winless Tigers.

"I don't want to make a bigger deal out of it than it is," said Vaughn, who is hitless in his past 12 at-bats. "It's 40 at-bats. I'm not going to go jump off the (Sunshine) Skyway bridge. I'm nowhere near that point.

"Come July or August, if this keeps up, I might have to take that drive. But right now, I'm not anywhere near the bridge."

It is his poorest start through 43 at-bats since he was with the Padres in 1997.

Vaughn began that season hitting .150 with three homers, three RBIs and six strikeouts and finished with a .216 average, 18 homers and 57 RBIs in 120 games.

"It would help if he were to get going," manager Hal McRae said. "But he will. He didn't have much of a spring so it might take him 100 at-bats to get going."

Vaughn, 36, missed all but the final two weeks of spring training because of a nagging leg injury, but he insists he's healthy, feels fine and has no excuses.

"I'm just not getting it done right now," Vaughn said. "That's the bottom line. ... You just go through these things.

"The bottom line is to keep smiling, keep playing hard and eventually good things will start to happen."

This also marks the first time in Vaughn's career he has started a season strictly as a DH. And it's a role that has taken some getting used to because of the amount of down time between at-bats.

Vaughn hit .216 with nine homers and 37 RBIs in 70 games as the team's DH last season compared with a .260 average with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in the 53 games he played leftfield.

"I don't want to get caught up on blaming it on being the DH," he said. "I struggled when I played the field before, too."

Said McRae: "He's fouling the fastball off. If he gets on the fastball, he'll be fine."

It's likely Vaughn's role will not change soon as Jason Tyner (leftfield), Winn (centerfield) and Grieve (rightfield) will continue getting the bulk of the field time.

Vaughn, who's 36 homers shy of 400, would welcome any opportunity to play in the outfield.

"I don't go in and ask about that," he said. "I come in here and I do whatever they ask me to do. Not once have I came in and said, "Throw me out there.' "

Meanwhile, he will continue to try to end this early season slump, watching hitting videos and trying to not be overanxious at the plate.

"If I do what I'm capable of doing, it eliminates a lot," Vaughn said. "I'm coming up there in pressure situations, key situations, and that's usually when I've strived during my career. But right now I'm battling. It will change. It will come.

"I'm trying to make it happen instead of letting it happen."

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