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Roster battle gets under way

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- There were players on every field, in every batting cage and on every pitcher's mound at the Ray Naimoli Complex.

The task of evaluating more than 70 players in a matter of weeks began Wednesday for Rays manager Lou Piniella and his coaching staff.

All but two of the 73 players invited to camp were present for the first day of full-squad workouts. Catchers Angel Pena and Pete LaForest remain absent because of visa problems.

"We've got a good bunch here," Piniella said. "The day went very well. I'm pleased with the general shape of the position players."

Piniella spoke to his team before practice and lauded the pitchers and catchers for setting "a nice tone" with their work ethic in the past week.

"Spring training sets the tone for the season," he said. "I want them to work hard, be the best player they can be, don't cheat themselves and have some fun doing it.

"They understand that everybody is going to get an opportunity. We're going to let them compete."

OWNER'S MESSAGE: With the coaching staff, players and front office personnel gathered before the workout, managing general partner Vince Naimoli briefly addressed the team and stressed the role of players as role models on and off the field.

"I've been optimistic in years past," he said afterward. "I'm optimistic this year. I think we have a good cast and some good opportunities. I've been reading the ratings and the various things about the other teams as well. I think that lends to a little optimism."

LIVE ARMS: Eighteen pitchers will throw 10 minutes each of live batting practice starting 10:30 a.m. today. Scheduled to throw are Joe Kennedy, Jim Parque, Steve Parris, Delvin James, Gerardo Garcia, Bobby Seay, Jesus Colome, Dan Reichert, Carlos Reyes, Travis Phelps, John Frascatore, Matt White, Cedric Bowers, Travis Harper, Doug Waechter, Bob Wells, Blake Stein and Jorge Sosa.

MINOR CHANGE, MAJOR RESULTS: A free agent this offseason, Hector Ortiz understood a strong performance in winter ball could prove beneficial.

The catcher, 33, who signed with the Rays in December, was MVP of the Puerto Rican winter league. He finished second to Rays infield prospect Gabby Martinez with a .336 average for Caguas.

"I hope that it carries over into spring training workouts," said Ortiz, a career .288 hitter in 93 major-league games.

The secret? A minor adjustment to his batting stride and stance.

"It makes my hips and shoulders stay squared," Ortiz said. "That way my body stays closed longer and I see the ball travel a little longer."

ODDS AND ENDS: Sosa agreed to terms on a one-year contract. ... Piniella made a brief appearance on a radio talk show, which was broadcasting live during workouts. ... To accommodate the 39 pitchers in camp and prevent marathon workouts that run into midafternoon, some pitchers will start to throw before the rest of the team stretches at 9:30 a.m. ... Piniella and Aubrey Huff will attend the Tampa Sports Club dinner Friday at Higgins Hall. Huff will be recognized as the club's 2002 Devil Rays most valuable player.

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