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Crawford still trying to stretch himself
While he works on his centerfield technique, the Rays All-Star is taking steps to boost his offense.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 23, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Carl Crawford insisted he was joking. But the way things have gone for the Devil Rays outfielder, maybe someone, or some thing, is trying to tell him something.
Crawford is one of the best leftfielders in the majors and last season was an All-Star. But he wondered if it was merely coincidence that in each of his six pro seasons since the Rays picked him in the second round of the 1999 draft, he has spent time in centerfield because of injuries to teammates.
It will happen again this season while Rocco Baldelli heals from knee surgery that could keep him sidelined until after the All-Star break.
"It's crazy," Crawford said Tuesday before his first workout at the Naimoli Complex. "I'm like the cop-out plan. Every time something goes wrong, it's like, "Put him in centerfield.' These guys are messin' with fate. It's overpowering everything."
Crawford's smile made clear he was just messin' around.
He said he is much more comfortable in leftfield and admitted of his time in center, "You might see a period of me just misjudging balls."
Still, he said of his assignment, "I'm going to embrace it with open arms."
And with a few changes that took place in the offseason.
Crawford, 23, shaved his head because he said it makes grooming easier, and he joked it makes him more aerodynamic. He had the name of his 1-year-old son, Justin, tattooed to his left pectoral muscle, and he added some serious video study to a routine that includes workouts at the Athlete Performance Institute in Phoenix, where he built his new home.
Crawford was looking for clues to help him add more pop to his bat. There was talk last season the Houston native has the potential to hit 20 home runs.
Without getting into specific goals other than he wants to play all this season's 162 games, Crawford said his quest is to be a more well-rounded player.
"I just want to see how good I can get," he said. "I know I can be a good leadoff hitter who can get on base and steal bases and score runs. Now I want to elevate my game to the next level. I'm going to try to do that without hurting what I did in the past."
Crawford batted .296 in 152 games last season with career highs of 11 home runs and 55 RBIs. He had an American League-high 59 steals, and his 19 triples led the majors.
He was just the 11th AL player to steal 50 bases, score 100 runs and get 50 extra-base hits.
But Crawford really blew up as an outfielder. He made diving catches, leaping catches. He made one error in 279 chances in left and one in 76 chances in center, where he played while Baldelli recuperated from a thigh injury.
Considering those numbers, it's no wonder there are high expectations.
"There should be," first-base coach Billy Hatcher said. "He's one of the best ballplayers in the major leagues, so, yes, there are more expectations, and I'm pretty sure he welcomes that challenge because he works hard. When you have someone who works as hard as him, nothing seems to bother him."
Crawford shagged flies from centerfield during Tuesday's batting practice.
"You'll see me there every day trying to get good jumps and good reads on balls," he said. "I'm going to work hard to try and get better at it."
Crawford said the problem is not the extra territory he must cover (his speed makes that academic), it is tracking down balls to his left and right. He said most balls hit to leftfield forced him to break to his left.
"You don't get too many balls down the line," he said. "It's either right at you or to the left side. In centerfield I'm going to be going both ways at any time and backward, so there's different footwork. It's just a matter of being ready to go back and get those balls."