tampabay.com

Alomar injury opens door for Cantu

By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 12, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Even after the Devil Rays signed potential Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, Jorge Cantu said he still planned to try to win the starting second base job.

Now he'll get the chance to further his cause.

Alomar is expected to be sidelined at least a week because of tightness and soreness in his lower back.

"I've had back problems before; hopefully it gets better," Alomar said. "We'll have to wait and see how this goes. It could take time. Hopefully I'll be back within a week or so."

Alomar, 37, had been off to a slow start, going 0-for-10 and looking slow in the field. He said that he first experienced the discomfort about a week ago and that it limits his mobility and flexibility.

"The fields are a little bit hard right now and there's a lot of standing around," he said. "I just want it to get better so when I go out there, I feel like I can play."

Back problems forced Alomar to miss the final month of last season, but he said this problem is in a different location. He will rest and receive treatment and be reevaluated next week.

"We'll give him four or five days and see how he responds," manager Lou Piniella said.

Cantu, meanwhile, has been off to a hot start, batting .389 with two doubles and a home run. Before that, he was 6-for-7 in two intrasquad games and an exhibition against Navy.

"I'm just going to keep swinging the bat and trying to elevate my game," Cantu said. "(Alomar) is a future Hall of Famer and I'm so glad to be playing with him. Whatever the team decides to do, if their answer is for Roberto to be at second, that's fine with me. I'm just going to play my role and whenever I'm out there just do the job."

With Cantu starting, the Rays will look at other reserve infield candidates such as Shane Halter and Luis Ordaz.

FOREVER YOUNG: If Danny Bautista didn't have a sore right ankle, Delmon Young wouldn't have even started Friday's game. Instead, he ended up the star as the Rays beat the Twins 3-2.

Young, the 19-year-old top prospect, knocked in the tying run with a sixth-inning double and put the Rays ahead to stay with a two-out single in the eighth. He also did a decent job in centerfield, where he hadn't played since the 2003 Arizona Fall League.

"He's been impressive here in camp," Piniella said. "He really has. He's been one of our better hitters. He's a good-looking young player."

In seven games, Young is hitting .429 with three RBIs. The Rays are firm in their plans to send Young to the minors, but Piniella was asked if there were any way he could he considered for the backup outfield job.

"Let me tell you this: If he stayed here, he wouldn't be a backup," Piniella said.

Young, as usual, wasn't impressed with his performance.

"It's just one day, and pitchers haven't got their scouting reports on you," he said. "And they'll get them."

GAME DETAILS: The Rays managed one hit, an Aubrey Huff double, in three innings against AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. ... Rays starter Dewon Brazelton allowed three straight hits in the first, then one more to his final 10 batters. "I was definitely pleased with the way things went today," he said. ... Relievers Trever Miller, Jorge Sosa, Travis Harper, Jesus Colome and Lance Carter combined for five hitless innings. ... Eduardo Perez hit a long homer to open the fifth. ... Shortstop prospect B.J. Upton made his third error of the spring.

FALL GUYS: The last time Jeff Niemann and Chris Seddon saw the Red Sox, they were watching on TV as Boston won the World Series. Today, the Rays' pitching prospects will make their exhibition game debuts against them.

"I've just got to keep my mind on what I need to do," said Seddon, 21, who pitched last season at the Class A and Double-A levels. "But it's going to be exciting."

Said Niemann: "It's going to be a blast."

MISCELLANY: Jonny Gomes, previously limited to DH and pinch-hit duties, started in the outfield for the first time in a regular exhibition. ... Former Rays Brent Abernathy and Jason Tyner are in camp with the Twin.