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Kids eased into first taste of September

MARC TOPKIN
Published August 31, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. - September can be the longest month, especially for a youngster who hasn't played that late into a season before.

Manager Lou Piniella said he will do what he can to help players through it, primarily by resting them more frequently. He plans to keep rookie Rocco Baldelli, 4-for-20 on the road trip, out of the lineup today, figuring that, combined with Monday's off day, he'll get two days of rest.

"We are in a little bit of uncharted waters not only with our young players but our young pitchers," Piniella said. "You've got to go through it once. Once you go through it it's certainly much easier. You've got to remember these kids here, at their age, usually by Labor Day they're home. That last month can get long.

"With our pitching we've been able to rest it a little bit, use a six-man rotation to give the starters extra days and freshen them up a bit for September. I recognize for young ballplayers that first September is a long one."

PITCHING IN: It certainly has too many walks on the wild side (a major league-high 549) and is 11th in team ERA (5.01), but the pitching staff has done some good things, too.

Going into Saturday, it had allowed a lower batting average (.265) and fewer hits per nine innings (9.15) than the contending Yankees and Red Sox and fewer earned runs (660) than the contending Royals.

"From an evaluation standpoint there's been improvement for some guys but we've got an awfully long way to go," pitching coach Chris Bosio said. "Am I happy with the way it's gone this year from a pitching standpoint? Absolutely not.

"Poor sport, bad loser, whatever you want to call it, I don't like to see anybody struggle because I know the effort is there. These are growing pains right now. I think these guys are learning a lot No. 1 about themselves and we're finding out a lot about them, what they're capable of doing and what they're not capable of doing. The glaring thing for this club is the walks. It is."

The bottom line, Bosio said, is the standings.

"It's been disappointing," Bosio said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's been a successful year when our record is what it is. We're here for wins and losses, not our stats right now."

COMING ATTRACTION: Piniella said he plans to play Adam Piatt more during the final month.

"Piatt's going to get more at-bats as we go forward," Piniella said. "We're going to give him a chance. It depends how he swings the bat. If he swings the bat good, he'll get more playing time. I shouldn't say that; the last time he played he hit two home runs and he's been sitting for a week."

Piatt, 1-for-4 Saturday, was cheered by the Oakland fans.

REMEMBER WHEN: Playing the contending Mariners and A's in front of large crowds, Piniella admitted he misses the excitement of being in a pennant race.

"As a manager, you do," he said. "That's what you put a uniform on for. I miss it. But I have a different kind of excitement. The excitement is watching our kids play and continuing to evaluate them and really start putting some concrete thoughts together for next year."

COMMUNITY CORNER: Baldelli will be available on a Web chat at 3 p.m. Thursday on www.devilrays.com ... The annual Dine With the Devil Rays event raised $45,600 for the Florida chapter of the ALS Association. ... Players and coaches will host a clinic Saturday for 60 children from the Clearwater American Little League Challenger Division.

MISCELLANY: Aubrey Huff has a nine-game hitting streak and a .354 August average, sixth in the AL. He is four hits shy of the team record for a month (44). ... The Rays have lost 15 consecutive series to the A's, nine straight in Oakland. ... Marlon Anderson hit his third career pinch-hit home run. ... Dewon Brazelton is 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA in two starts since moving to Double-A Orlando. ... Two fans suffered minor injuries during the postgame fireworks show. ... Triple-A Durham lost Saturday to remain one win from clinching its fifth International League Southern Division title in six years.

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