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Impatience has Lou antsy
By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 16, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Watching two weeks of exhibition games hasn't done anything to alleviate manager Lou Piniella's concerns about the Devil Rays' potential lack of offense.
Tuesday, he criticized the performance and the approach of his frontline hitters and said he expects to see improvements sooner than later.
"I'm disappointed in how our regulars are swinging the bat," Piniella said. "It's got to get better. Our regulars are not hitting the ball the way they are capable of, and they're not selective. Our on-base percentage for the team is not good. Maybe we need to play them more, and we will. We're not being selective at home plate and we're swinging at a lot of first pitches that are really not pitches you can drive. I'm not pleased. If we need some extra BP or whatever it is, we'll get it. ... We've got to swing the bats better than this to compete in this division, I can tell you that."
Piniella cited two key statistics to illustrate his concern: a team on-base percentage of .297, second lowest of all teams going into play Tuesday; and a major league-low 16 walks, half as many as the next lowest team.
"It shows me there is a lack of concentration, it shows me that we're not being selective, we're not using our heads," Piniella said. "And with the lack of power we have, that's not going to work. We need to get on base so we can run, so we can hit-and-run and do those sort of things and win baseball games.
"You don't turn it on the last week of the (spring) and say, "Okay, now we'll get it going.' It takes time, it takes work, it takes some thinking."
Piniella shared his frustration with hitting coach Lee Elia, who didn't disagree.
"I know you run through periods like this in spring training, but probably right about now is when you need to get a little more aware of what we're going to do and be a little more selective," Elia said. "I'm not anywhere near down on it, but it's something that has to be recognized, and we have to start kind of honing in on it a little bit better."
Another option, which Piniella has already mentioned, is adding a productive left-handed hitter to the lineup. Among names that could come up in trade talks are Dan Johnson of the A's, Eric Valent of the Mets and Michael Tucker of the Giants.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays lost 6-5 to the Red Sox, rallying to tie with two runs in the bottom of the eighth but falling behind when Jesus Colome allowed a one-out homer in the ninth to minor-leaguer Justin Sherrod. ... The Rays had the tying and winning runs on with no outs in the ninth, but Delmon Young struck out and Shane Halter grounded into a double play. ... Scott Kazmir had an okay start but left with the bases loaded in the fourth when he reached his 60-pitch limit. ... Second baseman Jorge Cantu and first baseman Travis Lee both made dazzling defensive plays. ... Eduardo Perez made a somewhat rare appearance at third. ... Ex-Ray Jeremi Gonzalez, in the running for a job with the Sox, retired all four of his hitters.
FIRST AT SECOND: Veteran second baseman Roberto Alomar, out since Thursday with a sore back, took infield practice but isn't ready to play in a game. "It's feeling a little better," Alomar said. "I probably need a few more days."
With Cantu playing well in his place, Alomar may need to produce quickly. "We've only got two weeks left," Piniella said. "As we speak, he's only had, what, 10 at-bats? Let's see if he'll be ready to go by this weekend and we can see how he's doing."
PITCHING IN: Veteran left-hander Denny Neagle said Monday he probably needs to open the season in the minors, but Piniella said no decisions have been made. "We'll get him in there this weekend and then we'll make a determination," he said.
MISCELLANY: About 10 players are expected to be cut this morning, reducing the roster to the high 30s. ... Tuesday's crowd of 6,545 was the largest for the Rays in eight springs at Progress Energy Park; the previous high was 6,464 for a March 3, 2001, game against the Braves. ... Outfielders Danny Bautista (sore right heel) and Chris Singleton (sore groin) returned to action.