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Leading off, Greg Vaughn?

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 25, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Manager Lou Piniella is a big believer in using spring training to experiment. Monday he mentioned a couple of ideas that would have to be considered new and unusual: batting Rey Ordonez second and -- "You're going to laugh at this one," Piniella even admitted -- Greg Vaughn in leadoff spot.

Ordonez usually hit eighth for the Mets and attributed some of his offensive problems -- career .245 average -- to batting in front of the pitcher. Piniella sees him as a key piece of the Tampa Bay offense in the second slot.

"We'll try it out in spring training and see what it looks like," Piniella said. "It seems to me he can handle the bat. Put some speed in front of him and a good hitter behind him and he'll get a lot better selection than he did when he was with the Mets.

"He should be able to bunt, we should be able to hit and run with him, hit the ball behind the runner. And what that will do is allow us to keep some left-handed hitting stacked up a little deeper into the lineup. I like balance throughout the lineup. To me, balance is the most important thing."

The idea of moving the 37-year-old Vaughn, who hasn't batted leadoff since 1995, from the middle of the order to the top is more in the thinking-about-it stage.

"The reason being he has a good on-base percentage, he can steal a base, he's going to get good fastballs to hit in the leadoff spot," Piniella said. "It's just something that runs through my mind, nothing more, nothing less."

MAKING IMPRESSIONS: Left-handed reliever candidate Bobby Seay drew rave reviews Monday after responding to a challenge from pitching coach Chris Bosio to step up his performance throwing batting practice.

"He answered the call," Bosio said. "It was a good test for him today and he really showed me what he's capable of. ... It was probably the best he's thrown all spring."

Other players rating a mention were reliever Jesus Colome, infielders Jared Sandberg and Felix Escalona, and outfielder Josh Hamilton. "If (Hamilton) wants to get into this mix, let him show us," Piniella said.

SUNDAY SHOWCASE: The outfield of the future will be on the field together Sunday as Piniella plans to start the trio of talented 21-year-olds -- Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Hamilton -- against the Yankees in Tampa. Mike Mussina will start for the Yankees. ... Piniella said that because of Baldelli's inexperience "the biggest question mark position-player wise to me is the centerfield spot."

PREPARED: In an attempt to ensure all fundamentals are covered, the Rays this week will practice catching pop flys -- while wearing sunglasses. "We don't want any excuses Saturday, "Well, I didn't have my glasses on,' " Piniella said. " "Well, yes you have.' You eliminate that if you can."

MISCELLANY: Infielder Antonio Perez agreed to a one-year contract, leaving 12 rostered players unsigned. ... Projected ace Joe Kennedy will make his exhibition debut March 4 against Detroit. ... Nick Bierbrodt, impressive so far in his return him gunshot injuries and control problems, will make his first start March 5 in Bradenton.

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