Lou wants more punch than Lee is providing

Published July 21, 2005

BOSTON - Travis Lee has played mostly stellar defense at first base for the Devil Rays. But if he doesn't start producing more offense, he may no longer have a job.

Lee is hitting .233 with only two homers and 19 RBIs, and he has been even worse lately, with a .148 average since June 25 and only two extra-base hits and two RBIs in his past 20 games.

"He's struggling," manager Lou Piniella said. "We've got to get more production out of first base. I don't know how much longer we can continue."

The Rays signed Lee with some of the money they saved in trading Jose Cruz to Arizona and expected him to replace what Cruz (.242, 21 homers, 78 RBIs) or Tino Martinez (.262, 23, 76) contributed. Or they thought Lee could at least match what he did his first time with the Rays in 2003, hitting .275 with 19 homers and 70 RBIs.

"It's been a struggle," Piniella said. "Sometimes the best thing instead of fighting it is getting away from it."

If Aubrey Huff isn't traded by the July 31 deadline for nonwaiver deals, he is likely to take over at first, opening a spot in the outfield. Another option Rays officials have discussed is moving Jorge Cantu to first.

PITCHING IN: Doug Waechter pitched 32/3 innings for Triple-A Durham on Wednesday, allowing seven runs on seven hits with three walks and a strikeout as he tested the tendon in his right index finger that landed him on the disabled list last month. Despite the performance, he's expected to rejoin the Rays and start Monday against the Red Sox.

Right-hander Jesus Colome, who has been rehabbing a sore shoulder, pitched two perfect innings with two strikeouts for Double-A Montgomery and could be activated Friday.

The Rays are likely to demote extra infielder Fernando Cortez to make room for one, but the other move will be trickier.

Two relievers who have options and would appear to be candidates for demotion are Dewon Brazelton, who, after a decent 52/3 inning outing Wednesday, still has a 6.75 relief ERA, and Lance Carter, who has struggled with a 7.13 ERA over the past month, allowing 14 runs and 22 hits (including four homers) in 172/3 innings.

If the Rays drop Carter, they could have another problem because Brazelton may end up suspended by the end of next week if the long-delayed appeal of his five-game suspension is heard as rumored.

RUMOR MILL: Interest in All-Star closer Danys Baez continues to build, and the Rays should soon start serious discussions over specific names. ESPN's Peter Gammons said in a Web chat Wednesday: "The Devil Rays, who don't know how to trade, asked for Hanley Ramirez for Danys Baez, which is silly. Boston won't trade good prospects for average middle relievers."

STREAK-BUSTER: Julio Lugo's season-high 10-game hitting streak came to an end when he went 0-for-3 and Cortez pinch-hit for him in the eighth. "I didn't know I had the streak," Lugo said.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: Carl Crawford wasn't the only one who didn't expect to get picked off second in a key eighth-inning situation Tuesday by Boston's Mike Timlin. "It was an "open daylight' play, just reaction," Timlin said. "You try it and 90 percent of the time it doesn't work."

MINOR MATTERS: Delmon Young has hit in each of his first six games at Durham. ... Visalia's Joey Gomes extended his on-base streak to 39 games and his hitting streak to 16.

MISCELLANY: Crawford was not in the lineup for the second time this season and had the whole day off for the first time. ... Opponents have batted around against the Rays 22 times in 96 games. ... Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, who logged his 400th career double, took himself out after three innings with what manager Terry Francona said were "tight hamstrings." ... Wednesday's sellout was Boston's 190th straight. ... Former supermodel Christie Brinkley was in the stands, a guest of Sox pitcher David Wells. Lightning coach John Tortorella was also expected.