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Less bulk on Baldelli helps beef up bat

MARC TOPKIN, ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published May 30, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Rocco Baldelli's batting average has gone up as his weight has gone down.

Baldelli bulked up a bit over the winter, thinking that adding 12-15 pounds of muscle would make him stronger and allow him to hit for more power. Instead, the extra muscle seemed to cramp his style, limiting his swing and stride.

Baldelli is back down to around 200 pounds, and as the weight has come off he has gotten closer to the form he showed as a rookie last season, swinging freely and blazing around the bases. He has a 10-game hitting streak and a .354 average over his past 17 games.

"It's not that big of a deal," Baldelli said. "I thought getting bigger and stronger in the offseason would benefit me, and it didn't. It didn't do what I thought it would. I think it made me a lot tighter in everything: swinging, throwing, running."

Baldelli - who has an ample appetite - dropped the weight by cutting back his workouts.

"He's gotten back down and now the quickness is starting to come back," manager Lou Piniella said. "He's taking better swings at the ball and the ball's jumping off his bat better. It looks much better."

CATCHING ON: After alternating catchers for about two weeks, Piniella has re-settled on Toby Hall as the starter, at least four days out of five. Veteran Brook Fordyce will be behind the plate when Victor Zambrano pitches.

"About the only thing I can say is that I want to win baseball games," Piniella said. "I'd like to see Toby take a little more charge back there. I think I've said that before. Outside of that I'm letting him catch the other four (pitchers) - for now."

The Rays are 8-23 when Hall starts and 8-8 with Fordyce.

PITCHING IN: Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez started work with Doug Waechter on some slight mechanical changes designed to help the rookie right-hander keep the ball down and cut down on the home runs (he has allowed an AL-high 14).

"I had a nice talk today with Doug," Piniella said. "I told him, "You've given up 22 runs this year and 20 are via the home run ball. It doesn't take a genius to know if you cut down on that and locate better, if you make better pitches, you're one of the top young pitchers in all of baseball.' "

Piniella confirmed that Paul Abbott will return to the rotation and start Tuesday in Minnesota, with Jason Standridge going to the bullpen in a long- to middle-relief role.

HOLIDAY GUEST: New general partner Stu Sternberg brought his extended family down from New York for the weekend and spent time touring the stadium. "Just learning," Sternberg said.

YANKEES DOODLES: Alex Rodriguez reached base for the 37th straight game, matching his career high. ... Jason Giambi's sprained right ankle is improving, but the date for his return from the disabled list is uncertain. Giambi took some soft-toss swings Saturday and could join the team for pregame practice today. ... Manager Joe Torre said he slowly has adjusted to life without Don Zimmer at his side. "I talked to him (Friday) and he looks like he feels good," Torre said. "It's a good situation for him. He picks and chooses what road games he goes on and he doesn't have to deal with a lot of stuff. That gets draining after a while." Zimmer left the Yankees after eight years as bench coach and joined the Rays as a senior adviser.

MISCELLANY: Carl Crawford stole his major-league-leading 24th base. ... Four-star Gen. Doug Brown and retired Gen. Tommy Franks were guests of managing general partner Vince Naimoli. ... Tino Martinez hadn't seen the mini-bobblehead doll that will be given out today but expects plenty of attention: About 70 people from his son's Tampa youth league program are coming. ... Fred McGriff made his first start at DH and likely will be in the lineup on an every-other-day basis. He was 0-for-4. ... Right-hander Scott Autrey was demoted from Double-A Montgomery to Class A Bakersfield after starting 3-5 with an 8.08 ERA.

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