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Health primary focus for Tatis

By TOM JONES
Published February 22, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Fernando Tatis wants only one thing this spring. If he gets it, he figures everything else will fall into place.

"My hope is to be healthy this year," Tatis said. "If I'm healthy, everything else will come."

Tatis, invited to Rays camp as a nonroster player, isn't used to sniffing around for a job. Twice in the past three years, he opened the season as the Expos starting third baseman.

But Tatis, who turned 29 last month, hasn't had much go right since an eye-popping 1999 season when he hit 34 homers with 107 RBIs for the Cardinals.

He was leading the National League in RBIs (28) on April 28 of 2000 when his three-year string of injuries began. He missed 54 games that season with a strained groin.

The problems continued. Tatis missed 121 games in 2001 with shoulder and knee injuries. He had more knee problems in 2002, missing 25 games, and then missed the last 31/2 months of last season with an inflammation of his chest wall.

"I'd like to get back to where I was before the last couple of years," Tatis said. "What happened in the past is the past. It's a new year and I'm looking forward to it. I'm here and I'm ready to play. Physically, I'm fine."

The question is whether Tatis can play well enough to compete for a precious spot. The Rays already have two third baseman in Damian Rolls and Geoff Blum. Plus, Eduardo Perez, pretty much a lock to make the team, can play third.

As it has been the past few years, Tatis' status might not depend on his ability.

"He needs to have a healthy spring to give himself a chance," manager Lou Piniella said.

* * *

ALL ACCOUNTED FOR: Tatis and infielder Deivi Cruz reported Saturday meaning all 62 are in camp. Tatis and Cruz took their physicals Saturday and should be able to work out today.

Cruz, who played 152 games with 14 homers for Baltimore last season, is hoping to land a utility role backing up Julio Lugo and Rey Sanchez at shortstop and second base.

"Cruz is a good player," Piniella said. "He has good hands, a good accurate throwing arm. He hit the ball for some reasonable power last year. And we're going to let him compete for the job here. I see him as a utility guy, but that could change."

SO FAR, SO GOOD: The big man is happy. As the Rays reach the end of the first week of spring workouts today, Piniella could not be in a better mood because his team could not be in better shape.

"I've been pleased with everything, I really have been," Piniella said. "I haven't had a trainer complain to me about any sore elbows or sore shoulders, sore knees, pulled hamstrings, any of those things. We're pleased with that."

SCHEDULE: Tuesday will be a big day at camp. The team will take live batting practice (batter facing Rays pitchers) and get down to serious business. "We'll start putting in our bunt plays and our cutoffs and relays, our infield defenses," Piniella said.

The Rays have scheduled intrasquad games March 1-2 at the Naimoli complex.

[Last modified February 22, 2004, 01:45:26]

Today's lineup
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MARC TOPKINTrue Gem
TOM JONESHealth primary focus for Tatis
MARC TOPKINCanseco waits for elusive call



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