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Rays will be getting back to basics

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- From the sound of it, two buzzwords of Lou Piniella's first Devil Rays spring training are going to be fundamentals and versatility.

The primary focus of Camp Lou will be basic training. "A lot of fundamentals," Piniella said. "We're going to stress bunting. We're going to stress handling the bat, which is hit-and-running. We're going to stress more patience from an offensive standpoint, making the opposing team throw more pitches. We'll have a well-conditioned team.

"I don't believe in getting too cute or too tricky. We're going to stay very basic, but the basic things we do we're going to do well."

Spring training in Tampa Bay
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Despite the huge spring roster -- a major-league-high 72 players invited, including 38 pitchers -- Piniella plans to keep the workouts to about three hours a day. But with his Redington Beach house just 20 minutes from the camp site, he also cautions, "If things aren't being done well, I have no place to go."

Accepting that he needs to carry 12 pitchers, and realizing the front office might want to keep Rule 5 draft pick Hector Luna as a reserve infielder, Piniella will expect a lot from the 12 other position players.

"We'd better be able to develop some versatility in spring training," he said.

That means he's going to see if Marlon Anderson can become a Mark McLemore-type super utilityman. He's going to look at Brent Abernathy at third base. He's going to suggest some things some people will think are crazy, but you can't blame him for trying.

The biggest question going into spring training is clearly the pitching staff, with only Joe Kennedy assured a job.

Piniella's primary quest is for pitchers who can throw strikes, and he said he doesn't care who they are, or where they pitched last season. "I wouldn't be surprised if you see guys out of A ball make our staff," he said. (For a Jon Switzer or a Seth McClung, what more could you want to hear?)

As for the players on the field? Piniella will take the Bucs approach and build with defense.

"To me, people that can catch the ball are going to have a decided edge," Piniella said. "I like good defense on the field."

HOO-RAYS: OF prospect Josh Hamilton, sidelined by various injuries much of the past two seasons, is expected in camp with no restrictions. He has been rehabilitating well from elbow and shoulder surgery and hasn't had any recent back problems, player personnel director Cam Bonifay said. "He should be full speed, ready to go." ... Complications from the political unrest have caused problems for some teams, but the Rays said their Venezuelan players, Victor Zambrano, Felix Escalona and Jeremi Gonzalez, have their visas and should be in camp on time. ... The Rays are retaining a small interest of the Double-A Orlando team they sold to a group that is moving it to Montgomery, Ala., next season.

HOME SWEET HOME: The chance to play at home really meant something to new Marlins catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.

According to the Miami Herald, Pudge has a palace: a nine-bedroom, 111/2-bath waterfront home on more than one acre of Miami Beach. Among the amenities: a pool, spa, gym, media room, billiards room and guest quarters. Oh, yeah, there is a 6-foot-plus, 1-ton bronzed statute of Rodriguez, the 5-foot-9 catcher, in the back yard.

Neighbors? There's Jenny from (just down) the block, Ricky Martin across the street and Enrique Iglesias around the corner. Docked out back are Rodriguez's twin-engine Cigarette speedboat and the 118-foot yacht -- which features five bedrooms, a large kitchen and a living room with a foldup flat screen TV -- that he plans to have sent up the coast to Jupiter for at least part of spring training.

"I want to be comfortable," Rodriguez said.

PHILTHY RICH: Since being accused by Scott Rolen of not being committed to winning, the Phillies have committed $265.8-million, signing or extending the contracts of 1B Jim Thome, LHP Randy Wolf, C Mike Lieberthal, 3B David Bell, IF Tomas Perez, RF Bobby Abreu and LF Pat Burrell.

FAMILY AFFAIR: A's owner Steve Schott is getting pressure to re-sign MVP shortstop Miguel Tejada, especially from his 93-year-old mother, Mary. "She's always telling me, "Do what you can to sign Miguel,' " Schott said. "She might be his biggest fan."

MISCELLANY: Remember the talk about the Yankees cutting payroll? Ha! They're up $29-million to about $164-million, nearly $45-million more than the second-place Mets and probably more than five times what the Rays will spend. ... Country star Tim McGraw will take batting practice with the Phillies in Clearwater before their March 14 exhibition. ... The White Sox have tepid interest in Kenny Rogers, who declined a two-year, $10.2-million deal from Texas.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in the report.

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