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Upton to hone D on side, not in games

Published August 21, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Lou Piniella said it wasn't one play that prompted his decision. Truth be told, it was about five ... errors, that is.

Whatever the impetus, the Devil Rays manager said B.J. Upton won't play much shortstop the rest of the season. Julio Lugo, whom Upton pushed to second base when he was called up from Triple-A Durham, will be back at his natural position.

"B.J. is a very talented young man, that's very obvious," Piniella said Friday. "He's just not quite ready defensively."

Upton, who turns 20 today, has five errors in 11 games. Piniella said Upton will play short when Lugo is given a day off. Otherwise he will DH and work with fielding coach Tom Foley.

"He has a very good infielder (Lugo) who can help him and a good infield instructor who can help him," Piniella said. "He's going to get better. He wants to get better. Remember, we're talking about a 19-year-old kid. We're not talking about a 23- or 24-year-old college player. We'll just continue to work with him."

Said Upton of the plan: "It's cool."

Upton has been hot at the plate. After going 1-for-5 with a home run in Friday's 9-5 loss to the A's, he is batting .309 with two home runs and five RBIs.

"We're going to continue to work with the young man," Piniella said. "He's going to get better and better, but at this point in time he's just not quite ready for it defensively."

Still, he said, "I'd like to have his career in front of me at 20."

PLAYING THE FIELD: Moving Lugo to shortstop should tighten up the defense. But with centerfielder Rocco Baldelli on the disabled list with a strained right thigh, positioning is still makeshift.

The Rays had Aubrey Huff, who had not played the outfield all season, in leftfield, and Geoff Blum, normally a second baseman, at third. Rookie Jorge Cantu was at second.

Add Upton and centerfielder Joey Gathright, optioned Friday to Triple-A Durham, and Tampa Bay had been starting three rookies.

"What team would have three rookies playing on the field at one time?" Piniella said. "To accommodate the young players we had to do this. But we'd like to win a few ballgames the rest of the way and at the same time continue to develop."

KAZMIR DEBUT MONDAY: Scott Kazmir, the left-hander acquired from the Mets in the Victor Zambrano trade, almost certainly will make his major-league debut Monday in Seattle.

"It's been discussed," Piniella said. "It's in the pipeline."

Kazmir, who has a high 90s fastball, is 1-2 with a 1.44 ERA for Double-A Montgomery with 24 strikeouts in 25 innings. Piniella said if he pitches well, he could get a second start Aug. 29 in Oakland.

PITCHING CHANGE: Right-hander Jorge Sosa started Friday instead of left-hander John Halama. The change apparently was made so Sosa can start Wednesday against the Mariners, whom he shut out last season.

CONTRACT TALK: Baldelli said his contract negotiations are on hold while the Rays contemplate several options Baldelli's side presented.

"We heard back from them," he said. "They said they're not ready to make a counteroffer."

Baldelli and outfielder Carl Crawford were offered contracts believed to be for six years and about $23-million. Crawford said he has not spoken to agent Brian Peters in three days and instructed him not to call unless there is movement.

ODDS AND ENDS: Seven home runs was one shy of a Rays record for a game by both teams. ... Newly signed first baseman Randall Simon will wear No. 35. Upton, who had worn that number, will switch to 9. ... Piniella said left-hander Mark Hendrickson, who will sit out his next start, will likely return to the rotation Friday at Oakland. ... Gathright was optioned to the minors for the third time this season.

[Last modified August 21, 2004, 01:01:16]

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