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McRae gives Escalona rest

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sensing that second baseman Felix Escalona was beginning to struggle after seven consecutive starts, manager Hal McRae took the rookie out of the lineup Saturday and could leave him on the bench.

Brent Abernathy, the everyday second baseman until Aug. 3, replaced Escalona and also will play today.

"We'll see how he handles it," McRae said of Escalona. "I wanted to pull him back and not let him bury himself, give him some time to relax and then put him back out there."

Escalona, a Rule 5 draft pick who played for Class A Lexington last season, was hitless in his past 12 at-bats and batted .178, including a double, RBI and seven strikeouts.

"I wanted to play Felix a stretch of games to see how he did, and if he struggled enough, pull him back and at some point play him again for another stretch of games," McRae said.

"He's played good defense, came out of the chute swinging well. I thought it was time to get him out of there so the confidence that he had isn't lost. But he's doing well for a guy who played A ball last season."

* * *

GETTING IN: While Abernathy and rightfielder Ben Grieve found their way into the starting lineup for the first time in a week, shortstop Chris Gomez will get his first start in eight games today.

"When you sit it's difficult in the sense that you've got to go out there and perform every day," said Gomez, who batted .529 in his last series against the Orioles. "I just like coming to the field knowing I'm going to play."

Gomez is batting .241 with five doubles and 10 RBIs in the second half.

* * *

UP FOR GRABS: McRae reiterated that any one of the three -- Abernathy, Grieve, Gomez -- could get their starting spots in the lineup back if they get hot.

"I'm looking for a winning combination," McRae said. "I know no names and no numbers. It doesn't matter to me if Joe Blow plays or Sam Jones plays. It doesn't matter."

* * *

GLOVE WORK: Because of Joe Kennedy's fielding woes this season, the Rays pitcher will start taking fielding practice when the team returns home Tuesday.

Kennedy, who didn't make an error in 22 chances last season, made his major-league-leading seventh error of the season Friday.

"This is the first year that I've had a problem," he said. "I've always been a very good fielder, but for some reason, I don't know what it is. This is just something I've got to work on to keep sharp."

* * *

SCHEDULE NEWS: Early schedules for the 2003 season are being distributed to all 30 teams. Tampa Bay will play the National League Central in interleague play if the tentative schedule holds.

* * *

LIKE OLD TIMES: Had any Royals fans been at Kauffman Stadium about 2:30 p.m., they would've been treated to the sight of McRae shagging fly balls in the outfield during optional batting practice.

"My legs were working today," said McRae, one of 18 former Royals enshrined in the club's Hall of Fame. "They haven't been working too well. I've been running at the ball, but I actually caught the ball today. It's like a dog chasing a car.

"I did much better today. I was proud of myself. I actually ran some balls down."

* * *

MINOR MATTERS: Triple-A Durham outfielder Rocco Baldelli went 1-for-5 with a stolen base and a run in his debut with the Bulls. Pitcher Delvin James, who was promoted with Baldelli from Double-A Orlando on Friday, pitched 4 1/3 innings and allowed six runs on seven hits while striking out three.

Former Rays outfielder Jason Tyner has five hits in his past seven at-bats at Durham and improved his average to .276, the best it has been since May 30.

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