tampabay.com

Work becomes welcome respite for Piniella

By TOM JONES
Published March 3, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella figured he would be the first to arrive Wednesday morning at Progress Energy Park.

"I got here at 6 o'clock," Piniella said. "Not quite as early as Jon Gruden gets to work, but 6 o'clock is early for me."

Turns out, Piniella wasn't the first to arrive. Bill Evers, manager of the Rays' Triple-A Durham affiliate, beat him by a few minutes. But Piniella's point was made. After missing most of the past week to attend to his father, Louis Piniella Sr., who died Sunday morning, Piniella was eager to throw himself back into work.

"I needed to get myself engrossed in work again," Piniella said. "It has been a tough time, but I'm glad to be back."

Piniella thought he would get to his spring office around 6:45 but learned there is no traffic from Tampa to St. Petersburg at that time of day. That was good considering Piniella has lots to do.

"I need to get caught up," he said. "I had meetings with my pitching coach, the hitting coach, the trainers, (general manager Chuck LaMar) and got caught up on everything that's happened. Everyone, all the coaches, did a great job running things while I was away.

"But now I'm ready to go to work. Like I said, it's good to be here."

BACK IN A GROOVE: Looking at the numbers, pitcher Doug Waechter had a rough go of it in Wednesday's spring opener against the Naval Academy. But looking at how Waechter's second half of 2004 went, Wednesday was a good day.

Sidelined for much of last season with a strained tendon in his right middle finger, Waechter threw pain-free Wednesday.

"I did some good things," Waechter said, "and some things that weren't so good."

Waechter, 24, the St. Petersburg native looking for a spot in the rotation, pitched two innings. He allowed one run on four hits with a walk and three strikeouts. But Wednesday wasn't about numbers. He threw mostly fastballs, a few sliders and no changeups.

"I was just working on location," Waechter said. "My stuff is going to come later. ... Right out of the chute, it's not going to be 100 percent. So you're looking to just get adjusted on the mound and remember how it is being in a game situation."

Best of all, Waechter didn't feel any numbness in his once-injured finger.

"Feeling good, feeling healthy," Waechter said, "and ready to go back out there."

ANCHORS AWAY: The Rays beat Navy 5-2 in front of an announced crowd of 1,716.

"It was a nice crowd and they were all for the Naval Academy, which is good," Piniella said.

The Rays started with what was close to their expected opening day lineup minus second baseman Roberto Alomar, who was at the game but sat because of strep throat.

The lineup had Carl Crawford in center, Julio Lugo at second, Danny Bautista in right, Aubrey Huff in left, Josh Phelps as the DH, Travis Lee at first, Alex Gonzalez at third, Jorge Cantu at second and Toby Hall behind the plate.

Cantu went 2-for-2 with an RBI and a run, and Crawford and Lee each went 1-for-2 with an RBI.

"It was good to get out there for the first time," Piniella said. "Now we go out (today) and start the spring in earnest."

TODAY'S GAME: The Rays start the real part of their Grapefruit League season today when they play the Reds at Progress Energy Park. Game time is 1:05 p.m.

Rob Bell is expected to start for the Rays. He is scheduled to be followed by Mark Hendrickson and then four of the Rays' top relievers: Travis Harper, Trever Miller, Jesus Colome and Danys Baez.

Former Devil Ray Paul Wilson and Josh Hancock are scheduled to pitch for the Reds.

IN THE FOLD: The Rays avoided having to renew the contracts of Crawford, Rocco Baldelli and B.J. Upton. The three agreed to one-year deals, meaning all the Rays players are signed for the upcoming season.

MISCELLANY: The Rays will undergo mandatory testing for steroids today before the game against the Reds. ... Matt Lukevics, who started at second base for Navy on Wednesday, is the son of Mitch Lukevics, the Rays assistant for player development. Mitch Lukevics has been with the Rays since the first season. ... Wednesday was the seventh time the Rays have opened the spring against a college team. They are 7-0.

QUOTABLE

"It was good to get out and concentrate on baseball again. I needed this." - LOU PINIELLA, Rays manager, on returning to camp after the funeral for his father Tuesday.

DID YOU KNOW?

At Greenbriar East High in West Virginia, pitcher Seth McClung lettered in baseball, basketball, soccer, football, cross country, track and field (high jump) and wrestling.