Rays' run production drops

Published April 3, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Manager Lou Piniella pondered the American League-low 124 runs the Devil Rays scored this spring and the 12 of 29 games in which they scored fewer than four and found a silver lining.

"I know one thing," he said. "We play quick games."

It was a joke, kind of. Tampa Bay's inability to consistently score runs was again front and center during Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Nationals at Tropicana Field.

The Rays, who entered 13th in the 14-team league with a .263 batting average, did not get a hit until the fifth and stranded runners on third in the fifth, seventh and eighth. Josh Phelps was left hanging in the seventh and Chris Singleton struck out and Alex Gonzalez flew to right.

"We have to take advantage of all situations," Piniella said. "We have to get people in when they are in scoring position, especially when they're on third base with less than two outs."

The Rays scored 12 runs against the Orioles on March22 but managed just 33 in their last 11 games. Not exactly the way you want to enter the regular season that starts Monday against the Blue Jays.

"We're just going to have to pick it up offensively," Piniella said. "Hopefully, we have a day off (today) and a little light batting practice, we'll come out swinging the bats."

There is an advantage for those who do.

"You can hit your way into the lineup," Piniella said. "And you can stay in the lineup."

SANCHEZ MENDING: Alex Sanchez, who batted .414 (12-for-29) in 11 games, did not play because of a pulled left hamstring sustained Friday. But the centerfielder said it was more of a precaution, and general manager Chuck LaMar said Sanchez is scheduled to play Monday.

"It's okay," Sanchez said. "I'll be ready for the opener."

GAME DETAILS: The Rays had eight hits, seven singles. ... Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson, a left-handed hitter whom the Rays were believed to be interested in, went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and homered for the second straight game against Tampa Bay. ... Rays shortstop Julio Lugo sparked a terrific double play in the ninth when he fielded Gary Bennett's grounder in stride, stepped on second and leapt over the sliding Ryan Church as he threw to first. ... Starter Rob Bell allowed two hits through five innings, but allowed four runs on eight hits by the time he left with none out in the seventh. "It's not like the balls were flying into the gaps," said the right-hander, who gave up six singles. "In an outing like that, you let the hitters' swings tell how you are. Some of the swings they took there, I took the sting out of the bat in the right situation." ... The game ended when Gonzalez tried to score from second on Carl Crawford's run-scoring single but was thrown out by Church from centerfield. ... Esteban Loaiza, scheduled to start for the Nationals Thursday at Philadelphia, pitched seven strong innings. Loaiza, who is 18-3 in April regular-season games during his career, allowed just one walk in 27 innings.

FIRST TO WORST?: The way Nick Green sees it, going from a playoff contender (the Braves) to a team that isn't (the Rays) has its perks.

"Definitely, considering in Atlanta I wasn't going to get a ton of at-bats," he said. "I don't know how much I was going to play with those guys. I think I have a better chance of playing here and doing positive things."

Green, nursing a slight groin pull, has looked smooth and confident in the field in his two workouts at the Trop. Expect the Pensacola native to get playing time at second, shortstop and third base as Piniella uses a rotation he hopes will help keep his infielders fresh.

"Wherever he wants to put me is fine with me," Green said.

MISCELLANY: Attendance was 8,910. ... The Rays finished the spring 13-16 and losers of nine of their last 11 games. ... Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla, who spent an unproductive 109 games with the Rays in 2000-01, was booed and heckled during his four at-bats.