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Piniella helps Bell regain cool, groove

By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 1, 2004

MINNEAPOLIS - The work that led to Rob Bell's first victory of the season Monday started Thursday, the day after his last loss.

That was when manager Lou Piniella had a little chat with Bell, telling him he was going to stay in the rotation and that he needed to relax when he took the mound. And that, Bell said, was what allowed him to do what he did against the Twins, allowing two runs on three hits over seven innings.

"Lou just wanted to see me pitch the way I'm capable of doing, a little bit looser, not pitching like my life was on the line," Bell said. "I was able to settle in. I'm not saying it was an ice-breaker because I pitched for him last year, but I was able to settle in and do what I had to do."

Bell was more relaxed, especially when the game didn't start well: He hit leadoff man Lew Ford with an 0-and-2 pitch and walked No. 3 hitter Doug Mientkiewicz. But he struck out Corey Koskie and Torii Hunter to get out of that inning and went on to a solid outing, retiring 13 of his last 14 batters.

"He wanted me to not think about all the consequential things I have no control over and to go out and execute the pitches I need to execute over the course of an outing and see where we stand," Bell said. "It allowed me to give myself a good look in the face and realize that was the missing piece."

Piniella, who hasn't shown much patience with some struggling pitchers, was pleased with the results.

"He had a low pitch count (83), he was in command, he gave us seven good innings of baseball," Piniella said. "He changed speeds and mixed his pitches really well."

1,400 CLUB: Piniella downplayed his 1,400th victory, which put him in 23rd place on the all-time list and made him the sixth to win 1,400 games and have 1,400 hits.

"I thank the organizations that employed me and the position players and pitchers who played for me because they made it possible," Piniella said. "For me, it's just a number. When my career is over, then I can reflect on how many wins."

HANDY WORK: Left-handed reliever Trever Miller hadn't been used in many tight situations since failing a couple of times early this season. Monday, he came in with the bases loaded and no outs and the Rays clinging to a 5-2 lead.

Miller got Mientkiewicz to ground to second, giving up one run but getting two outs as shortstop Julio Lugo came across second and jumped to make the throw to complete the double play. Miller then struck out Koskie to end the inning.

"A heck of a double play," Piniella said. "It was pretty."

"Exactly what we needed in that situation," Miller said.

CRIME PAYS: Fred McGriff got the ball from his 492nd homer in exchange for an autographed ball for the fan who caught it. He plans to save the ball and bat from each homer. ... The home run was McGriff's 954th extra-base hit, moving him past Willie Stargell and Paul Molitor and into 30th place.

HEY, ABBOTT: Paul Abbott returns to the rotation tonight confident the rediscovery of his changeup will change his luck. Abbott had not been able to use his changeup earlier in the season, and being limited to a cut fastball and a slider caught up with him during a stretch when he went 0-3 with a 9.97 ERA in five starts.

But Abbott worked on his grip during his 10 days in the bullpen and plans to use the changeup liberally tonight when he faces the Twins, who drafted him in 1985. "The changeup is a lot better and having that in my back pocket makes my whole arsenal better," Abbott said.

HISTORY MAKER: Victor Zambrano is the first pitcher to beat the Yankees three times this early in the season since Bill " Spaceman" Lee did it in 1974 - when Piniella was in pinstripes.

MISCELLANY: The Rays had never won on Memorial Day. ... Tino Martinez stole his first base since July. ... The Rays took infield practice to get used to the new, and slower, FieldTurf at the Metrodome. ... Carl Crawford was caught stealing for the ninth time in 33 attempts. ... Aubrey Huff set a team record with 20 hits on the just-completed homestand.

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 01:00:29]

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