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Lou disheartened by Hamilton's decline

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published May 26, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said Josh Hamilton's athleticism and stature on the field made him a one-of-a-kind player.

"I'll tell you what," Piniella said before Wednesday's game with the A's, "if you were to put Josh Hamilton on a field with 100 talented athletes, you would notice him. Yeah, you would notice him."

Piniella said that is what makes so difficult the situation in which the Rays' former top prospect finds himself.

"It's a shame," Piniella said. "We've been getting encouraging reports that things were on the improve, and there was a possibility he would be reinstated sometime this summer. Now this throws a question mark over all this. It's a little discouraging."

Hamilton was arrested Saturday night in Cary, N.C., on a misdemeanor charge of damage to property. Police said Hamilton admitted drinking at a party for his 24th birthday.

The Rays' top draft pick in 1999, once ranked by Baseball America as the game's top prospect, has not played a pro game since July 2002. He has been suspended for positive drug tests since February 2004. He hoped to be reinstated this summer, but the incident likely put that in jeopardy.

"To see what's happened is really disheartening," Piniella said. "But again, he's still young. I know I've asked about him many times, and I've really been hoping Josh would get his life together and get back in baseball and give himself another good, legitimate chance."

Piniella worried about the layoff.

"It doesn't make it easier, but he still has some time," he said. "But the clock is ticking."

HUFF OUT AGAIN: Slugger Aubrey Huff missed his second straight game because of a stomach virus, third straight including Sunday when he was out with a stiff neck.

"Rather than have everyone exposed to it, send him home for the evening," Piniella said. "He wasn't going to be able to do much of anything. We're hoping he'll be better (today)."

SANCHEZ HURT: Alex Sanchez left the game after fouling a ball off his right shin in the fourth inning. The team said X-rays were negative and listed the outfielder as day to day with a bruise. Piniella said Sanchez might play today.

NOMO IS SAFE, FOR NOW: Rays starter Hideo Nomo will make his seventh attempt today to win his 199th game combined for his careers in the United States and Japan. The right-hander is 0-2 in his past six starts with a 6.82 ERA and 17 walks in 33 innings and is second on the team with 27 walks in 462/3 innings.

"That's a lot of bases on balls," Piniella said. "That makes it tough."

But the manager said he has no plans, right now, to rework the rotation. That could change after Casey Fossum, with two starts after his promotion from the bullpen, conditions his arm so to comfortably throw more than 100 pitches an outing.

Piniella said that should happen after two more starts. Until then, he said the rotation is status quo.

"I'm stretching out one pitcher already," Piniella said. "You can't stretch out two pitchers in one rotation. Once we get Fossum totally stretched out, then we can look to see if we want to do anything different."

UP TO SPEED: Since Jesus Colome (sore shoulder) came off the disabled list, the reliever has not consistently thrown his signature high 90s fastball.

Piniella said he and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez advised Colome to throw harder during bullpen warmups.

"We don't want to see 89 (mph) when he comes into the ballgame," Piniella said. "You've got to cut it loose so when you get into a ballgame, you don't have to step on the accelerator."

MISCELLANY: The Tropicana Field locker that used to belong to pitcher Dewon Brazelton has been turned into a lost-and-found. ... Since the beginning of last season and entering Wednesday, Delmon Young, outfielder for Double-A Montgomery, had 220 hits, third-most among minor-leaguers.

[Last modified May 26, 2005, 01:18:13]

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