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Release clears up lineup questions

By TOM JONES
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- With the release of Greg Vaughn on Saturday, the Devil Rays are closing in on an everyday lineup.

With Vaughn gone, Ben Grieve likely will move to designated hitter. That means Aubrey Huff will start at third and Damian Rolls becomes the leading contender to play right. At least for now.

Manager Lou Piniella said Saturday "it's a possibility" the Rays will add another player before the start of the season. He said he met with general manager Chuck LaMar for a half-hour Saturday.

"He's working," Piniella said. "I think he told me he has talked to about 15 major-league clubs over the past few days."

LaMar, though, said adding payroll is not an option.

"It's either going to have to be a veteran at the minimum of $300,000, or it's going to have to be a young player we can grow with," LaMar said.

Piniella said he wants to use the last week of spring training to go with his regular expected lineup, and Saturday's lineup in an 8-2 victory against the Pirates looked like one that might start the season.

That had Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and Rolls in the outfield. The infield included Huff at third, Rey Ordonez at short and Travis Lee at first. Marlon Anderson started at second, but Brent Abernathy remains in the mix.

The Rays, however, might be faced with choosing Abernathy and either outfielders Jason Tyner or Jason Conti for a spot. The Rays also might have to keep Hector Luna because they have no one who can back up Ordonez.

The other big decision is who will be Toby Hall's backup at catcher, Jorge Fabregas or Hector Ortiz.

Piniella said Saturday the Rays will keep 13 position players and 12 pitchers.

ON A ROLLS: Guess who was leading the Rays in batting average and slugging percentage entering Saturday.

Huff? Lee? Grieve?

Nope, try Rolls. With a .433 batting average (13-for-30) and a .633 slugging percentage, Rolls has been the Rays' most productive hitter of the spring.

"He has had a real nice spring with the bat," Piniella said. "He has had a few key hits and some very professional at-bats."

Best of all, Rolls can be plugged into plenty of places, including second and third base. Saturday, he started in right.

"He gives us a very usable bat, and at the same time, he's a very versatile player who can play the outfield positions, a few infield positions," Piniella said. "He gives us a little speed on the bases. He's a nice player to have on your roster."

Piniella said the same about Anderson, who has started in the outfield and second.

"That's one of the things we talked about coming into camp, to see where our versatility was," Piniella said. "And those two guys really help out a lot in that regard."

RUDE HOMECOMING: The Rays roughed up former Northeast High pitcher Jeff D'Amico on Saturday. D'Amico, who was named Pittsburgh's fifth starter Friday, gave up six runs on 11 hits in five innings.

D'Amico, selected 23rd overall by Milwaukee in 1993, spent parts of six seasons with the Brewers before moving on to the Mets last season, when he went 6-10.

The Pirates signed D'Amico to a minor-league contract before the spring. He earned a spot in the rotation by going 1-1 with a 4.41 ERA in his first five starts.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays equalled their spring high in runs with eight. Every Rays starter had a hit except Anderson. ... Huff went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs. ... Rays starter Victor Zambrano allowed only one run on four hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked one.

MISCELLANY: The Rays might make another roster move or two this morning. ... Pitcher Dewon Brazelton, out for the past four days with a slight groin strain, hopes to throw on the side today and Monday. ... Berm tickets for Wednesday night's game against the Yankees go on sale at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

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