By MARC TOPKIN, JAMAL THALJI
Published May 28, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Fred McGriff will be back in the Devil Rays lineup tonight.
The Rays targeted next week to bring back the 40-year-old first baseman/DH but are accelerating those plans and promoting McGriff from Triple-A Durham today.
McGriff, who is nine home runs short of 500, is expected to go into the lineup at DH, with Robert Fick moving back to a reserve role.
"We're not going to bring him up here to sit," manager Lou Piniella said. "We're going to give him some at-bats. It depends on how well he's doing obviously, but we want to give him an opportunity. I would think we'll just put him in the lineup and let him play."
McGriff, a Tampa native, has been at Triple-A Durham, going 5-for-20 with one home runs and five walks in six games. He came to spring training with the Rays on a minor-league contract to showcase himself for other teams, but none showed interest. He had been working out on his own until last week, when the Rays told him they would call him up by the end of the month and sent him to Durham for conditioning.
McGriff was with the Rays from their 1998 start until he was traded in July 2001. He was limited to 86 games last season with Los Angeles because of injuries that landed him on the disabled list for the first time in his 17-year career.
HE'S BACK: Rocco Baldelli's stint at designated hitter, where he was resting a tight right quadriceps, is almost over. A return to centerfield is imminent after his three-run home run Thursday in the fourth put the Rays over the top. Twins leftfielder Lew Ford looked lost chasing it; it hit a support pole above the C-ring catwalk.
"I knew it hit something," Baldelli said.
HOBBLED: Piniella made a rare move, taking Fick out of leftfield in the seventh with two outs and two on and putting Charles Gipson in. Fick fouled a ball off his right knee in the fifth, and two innings later Piniella saw how much it affected him when Henry Blanco flied out. "When that ball was hit to centerfield, you could see (Fick) was really stiff going after it," Piniella said.
YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY: ... : Piniella's one-word description of Jason Standridge's first start this season: "Mediocre." Standridge allowed five hits and four earned runs in three innings as Tampa Bay fell behind 4-2. As for lifting Standridge so soon, "We did what we thought best to win a ballgame." Standridge, who had shoulder surgery in September, has no argument with that. But he doesn't share Piniella's assessment of his outing.
"Of course he's our manager, of course he's got his opinion," the right-hander said. "But I thought I made two bad pitches, and other than that I threw the ball great."
FINALLY: Second baseman Rey Sanchez's single in the second, hitting an up-and-away fastball to right to tie it at 1, was his first RBI of the season. "It's huge," Sanchez said. "It's the first one all year, so it helps. That's what I'm doing here, trying to help the team as much as I can."
MISCELLANY: Tampa Bay's Fick, Gipson and Paul Abbott will visit patients at nearby All Children's Hospital at 12:30 p.m. today. ... The official mortgage company of major-league baseball, Ameriquest, is now a corporate sponsor of the Rays. ... Baldelli's homer was the third fair ball to hit a catwalk this season at the Trop. ... Gipson got his first hit with the Rays in the eighth, singling to deep right and then stealing second.
GOT ANY LEFT?: By Baldelli's guesstimate, eight Rays got tickets for Thursday night's Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. Really good tickets. XO Club tickets, which cost the players $301.75 each.
"Oh, yeah," Baldelli said. "They don't give away Stanley Cup tickets."