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Martinez's return a swinging success

MARC TOPKIN
Published June 6, 2004

BALTIMORE - Sometime soon, manager Lou Piniella will get asked by Yankees manager Joe Torre or an American League official who should represent the Devil Rays at the All-Star Game.

How does Tino Martinez sound?

Pretty good for a 36-year-old some thought was done last season when he hit .273 with 15 homers and 69 RBIs in St. Louis.

"I'm not surprised," Martinez said. "I felt like I hadn't lost bat speed and I felt I still had the ability to hit. I just think coming into the season, and into spring training, I have been very comfortable in this situation.

"Playing for Lou Piniella is something I looked forward to. He and (hitting coach Lee Elia ) worked on my swing all spring. I had a good spring training, I had a good swing going, and my confidence level from the get-go was sky-high. I just feel like I belong here, I belong in this situation. It's a great situation for me. I know what Lou expects. And I love coming to the ballpark every day."

With Martinez on pace for 31 homers and 95 RBIs, Piniella said he couldn't be more pleased. He wants to do what he can to make sure Martinez can keep it going.

"Tino's done a real nice job," Piniella said. "I've got to be careful and give him some rest. Early, I rested him a little more and now we're leaning on him more. I've got to balance it out a little bit."

Martinez is likely to DH today, with Fred McGriff making his first start at first.

B.J. OKAY: Top prospect B.J. Upton didn't play for Triple-A Durham on Saturday, but the left shoulder "instability" that forced him out of Friday's game is not considered serious, and there are no plans to put him on the disabled list.

"He's fine," Bulls spokesman Matt DeMargel said. "He's better today than he was yesterday. They're taking a cautious approach."

SOGGY DAY: It rained almost all day in Baltimore, but the decision to postpone Saturday's game wasn't made until an hour before the scheduled 3:30 start.

There was talk of playing a day-night doubleheader today, but the game will be made up when the Rays come back for three games July 5-7.

Saturday starter Rob Bell will pitch today, and Piniella said the Rays will stay in rotation, with Doug Waechter, Mark Hendrickson and Victor Zambrano starting against the Giants at the Trop.

Dewon Brazelton, who was called up Thursday and scheduled to make his first 2004 start today, instead will be available in the bullpen and probably will start Friday or Saturday against Colorado.

ABOUT FRIDAY NIGHT: The Rays on Friday were the first team in almost a year to win a game when walking 12 or more. The Cardinals walked 14 and beat the Red Sox on June 12. Zambrano, who blew a 5-0 lead and had his sixth game of five-or-more walks, said he doesn't know why he can't be more consistent. "It's hard to say," he said.

MISCELLANY: The Rays' 11-4 record after May 20 is the best stretch of 15 or more games in team history. That followed a 3-19 skid that was their worst stretch of 20 or more games. ... The Rays are guaranteed their first winning trip since July 23-Aug. 5. ... Todd Ritchie moved up to Durham to continue working his way back from shoulder surgery. ... Rocco Baldelli was scheduled to be off Saturday.
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