tampabay.com

Lifelong SS expects easy leftward shift

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published February 23, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Alex Gonzalez said he played third base in perhaps four or five games in 11 major-league seasons. In actuality, he played nine for the Blue Jays in 1995 as a rookie.

Four, five, nine, what's the difference?

As Gonzalez said after Tuesday's workout at the Naimoli Complex, "I've always been a shortstop."

No more. Gonzalez, 31, whom the Rays signed in January as a free agent, will play third base. Gonzalez called it a "fresh start" and "a new challenge."

He also said he is not worried about the transition.

"Moving from short to third is probably easier than moving from short to any other position just because of the angles of the balls that are coming from the batter's box," he said.

"It's just getting used to the speed and quickness of it. Once I get my feet wet and get a few grounders, I'll be able to make the adjustment. Through trial and error, I'll be able to learn the position."

Gonzalez, who spent last season with the Cubs, Expos and Padres, said he started taking grounders in the offseason.

"It's going to be what spring training is for me, learning a new position and learning new angles and throws," he said. "I should be able to adjust okay."

The Rays wouldn't mind a little adjustment at the plate, either. Gonzalez hit a combined seven home runs last season in 285 at-bats. He had not hit fewer than 15 in four previous seasons and had 20 in 2003 for the Cubs.

Still, all eyes will be on how he handles third.

"I'm really excited about it," he said. "I think it actually has created some enthusiasm for me. I love being able to start something new and accomplish something good at the end of the year and look back and say, "Look what I did.' "

NOMO IS NOTICED: Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said that he was impressed with Hideo Nomo's bullpen session and that the right-hander "turned up the volume a little bit."

Nomo, who missed more than two months last season because of finger and shoulder injuries, didn't seem to get the big deal.

"It's all the same," he said through an interpreter about how he is throwing. "All the coaches told me I looked good, so I felt good about it."

Maybe a little more than "good."

"He threw the ball real well," Hernandez said. "He had a good smile when he left, so he was real happy about it."

FULL SQUAD IN CAMP: The first full-squad workout is today, and bench coach John McLaren can't wait to get going.

"We finished phase one," he said of the pitchers and catchers camp. "Now we get our full squad in. We're excited about that. The workouts have been real crisp. The pitchers have been real conscientious, and they've done their drills extremely well and it makes our jobs easier when they do that."

"We haven't gotten them too sored up," Hernandez said. "But the next week to 10 days the work is going to increase and your body is going get a little sluggish feel, and some days you just won't throw as well. The veterans understand that."

Pitchers will throw batting practice Thursday.

"I'll try to pitch as many strikes as possible so the hitters can hit," Nomo said.

MISCELLANY: Manager Lou Piniella missed a third consecutive day of workouts while attending to his 86-year-old father, Louis Sr., who remains in the critical care unit of Tampa's St. Joseph's Hospital with a heart condition. ... The Rays expect all players to be in camp today. ... Right-hander Jimmy Haynes returned to practice after missing two days because of the flu. ... Pitcher Jeff Niemann will throw out the first pitch at the Fossil Park Little League opener at 9 a.m. Saturday. ... Don Zimmer and television play-by-play man Dewayne Staats will speak at 6:30 tonight at the B'Nai Israel Family Sports Dinner in Clearwater. Call (727) 398-1890 for information. ... Clearwater for Youth will honor Zimmer at a dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. Planning to attend: Piniella, general manager Chuck LaMar, hitting coach Lee Elia, centerfielder Rocco Baldelli and pitcher Seth McClung. Call (727) 725-4004 for information.

QUOTABLE

"I just couldn't find anyone to cut my hair." - CARL CRAWFORD, Rays outfielder, on shaving his head.

TODAY

The workout begins at 9:30 a.m. Pitchers will start throwing off practice mounds about 30 minutes later. Admission and parking at the Naimoli Complex (7901 30th Ave. N) are free.

DID YOU KNOW

Minor-league left-hander Chris Seddon allowed two earned runs or fewer in 19 of his 28 starts last season.