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Lineup juggle drops slumping Huff to sixth
By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 16, 2005
TORONTO - Among the things Lou Piniella said he wants to see improve in the second half is the managing of the team, and he is willing to make some lineup changes to try to do better.
Piniella on Friday decided to drop struggling Aubrey Huff from his usual No. 3 or 4 spot in the order, and today he plans to move Carl Crawford into the No. 2 hole with Joey Gathright taking over the leadoff slot.
Huff, hitting .252 with eight homers and 45 RBIs through Thursday, batted sixth against a left-handed starter Friday and today is scheduled to hit fifth as part of the revamped lineup against right-handers.
"Huff's not swinging the bat well anyway," Piniella said. "He hasn't gotten hot. He's shown signs of coming around, but he just hasn't been able to sustain it. Maybe putting him in the six hole will relax him a little bit."
Huff batted sixth for only the fourth time in 403 games since the start of his breakout 2003 season. He hit third 241 times (60 percent), fourth 153 times (38 percent) and fifth five times during that span, but he didn't take issue with the demotion.
"It's no surprise," he said. "I'm s------ right now."
Crawford enjoys batting leadoff, but Piniella hopes to give him additional opportunities for hits by batting him second with the idea that Gathright will get on ahead of him and open a hole on the right side when the first baseman holds him on.
Crawford was used in the No. 3 spot for 12 games earlier this season and didn't like it, struggling with a .220 average and driving in only one run.
Crawford is hitting .295 in the leadoff spot, and Piniella doesn't expect any dropoff with the move to second. "I don't think it will hurt him," he said.
Piniella also likes the idea of having Gathright, Crawford and Julio Lugo bunched at the top of the order, followed by leading home run and RBI man Jorge Cantu, Huff, Damon Hollins or Jonny Gomes, Travis Lee, Toby Hall (or backup Kevin Cash ) and Nick Green. He also thinks the separation of right-handers and left-handers will benefit the Rays as opposing managers consider pitching changes.
"We'll have the three quickest guys we've got 1-2-3," Piniella said. "We're going to try it and see how it looks."
INJURY REPORT: Infielder Alex Gonzalez's strained neck continues to get better, and he could be activated by Monday. ... Pitcher Doug Waechter will test the sore tendon in his right index finger in a throwing session today. If it goes well, he is likely to make one minor-league rehabilitation appearance before rejoining the team and going back in the rotation. ... Reliever Jesus Colome, out since mid June with a sore shoulder, will start a three-appearance rehab outing today with Double-A Montgomery and could rejoin the bullpen when the Rays return home Friday. ... Eric Munson, out with bruised ribs, is also expected to be ready then.
OFF THE MARK: Piniella said he expected better from Mark Hendrickson, who led the Rays with 10 wins last season but takes a 3-6 record, 6.33 ERA and .330 opponents batting average to the mound today.
"He hasn't been good," Piniella said. "He's better than what he's pitched. I was expecting Mark to get into double figures (in wins) this year. He's got to hurry now."
Hendrickson is considering adding a split-finger fastball.
BIG ZERO: The 125 games between shutouts from Aug. 23 at Seattle until Thursday was the longest such streak in Rays history. In the interim, they were shut out six times. ... The Rockies last month ended a 149-game streak without pitching a shutout. ... The Rays hadn't shut out the Jays in Toronto since Sept. 23, 2001.
MISCELLANY: Delmon Young struck out in his first two Triple-A at-bats for Durham, then delivered a run-scoring single in the fifth and finished 1-for-4. ... Toby Hall played first base for the first time since his college days at UNLV. ... Boston's David Wells is expected to make his scheduled start against the Rays on Wednesday after appealing a six-game suspension.