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Returns prompt lineup questions
By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 28, 2006
BOSTON - The Devil Rays have had plenty of bad problems. Over the next two weeks or so, they expect to have a couple of "good" problems, specifically fitting Jorge Cantu and Rocco Baldelli back into their lineup.
Cantu is projected to be ready around June5 and Baldelli within a week after that. The Rays not only have to make room for them on the roster (dropping Joey Gathright ? Russell Branyan ? A reliever?), but on the field, too.
With Cantu (broken left foot) going back to second base, manager Joe Maddon will have to find a way to keep Ty Wigginton , who through Friday ranked second on the team with 11 homers and 37 RBIs, in the lineup.
One option is to move him around, using him a day or two a week at third to rest Aubrey Huff , at second to rest Cantu, at designated hitter when Jonny Gomes plays rightfield and at first ahead of Travis Lee , at least against left-handers.
In theory, that could work because Maddon wants to keep his starters fresh. But with his frontline players finally healthy at the same time, he also would like to use something of a standard lineup.
That gets a little trickier when Baldelli comes back, especially because he wants to play rightfield to reduce stress on his strained hamstring.
With Baldelli in right and Gomes at DH (and occasionally vice versa), the Rays on some days could be left with this unfavorable scenario: Damon Hollins or Gathright starting in center and Wigginton, or one of the other starters, on the bench.
One way around that is to play Wigginton more regularly at first, reducing Lee, who is struggling to hit .200, to a $2.45-million defensive replacement.
Another issue is centerfield defense. Baldelli is better than Hollins or Gathright, and if his hamstring is healed, he and the Rays might have to revisit the idea of going back.
Another tempting option is to move Carl Crawford , their best defensive outfielder, to center, though they would risk disrupting the comfort zone he has in playing left. That way, Hollins, Gomes, Wigginton, Greg Norton and/or even Huff could be used in leftfield, where a strong arm is not as important.
Then again, it could all change when Delmon Young , B.J. Upton and/or Elijah Dukes are promoted.
DRAFT BREEZE: The Rays are spending lots of time, research and travel money focusing on five options for the third overall pick in the June6 draft, scouting and getting to know all they can about college pitchers Tim Lincecum (Washington), Brad Lincoln (Houston), Andrew Miller (North Carolina) and Brandon Morrow (Cal) plus Long Beach State infielder Evan Longoria .
"We're extremely comfortable our pick will come out of those five and that there will be a lively debate right up until the draft," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.
Their need for pitching would seem to favor Miller (on the chance he's not taken first or second) or Lincoln, though they are intrigued by Longoria's bat.
And signing right-hander Bryan Morris , their 2005 third-round pick, before Tuesday's draft-and-follow deadline could shape their decision.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: So the net result of Chuck LaMar 's last trade was that Jorge Sosa has won 14 games for the Braves and the Rays don't have to pay Nick Green 's minor-league salary. ... Toby Hall 's name has come up in the New York papers as a possibility if the Yankees decide to add a catcher. ... Durham manager John Tamargo had to know better than to go ballistic on an umpire in light of Young's bat-throwing incident. ... The Tropicana Field live ray tank is expected to be ready July21. ... Young can return from his 50-game suspension June19 even if the Bulls have games rained out. ... SI.com included the August 2000 Gerald Williams - Pedro Martinez incident among its 10 "notorious basebrawls."