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Witt wins International League MVP award
By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 30, 2006
CHICAGO - Kevin Witt figured if he was going to spend the entire season at Triple-A Durham, he might as well make it a good one.
So about halfway through the season, he set his sights on the league MVP award, tuned out the ample distractions caused by younger Bulls teammates and kept putting up numbers - a minor-league best 36 homers, a league-high 99 RBIs and a .291 average.
The Rays rewarded him last week by calling him up for his first big-league appearance since 2003. And Tuesday, the International League did, too, selecting him the most valuable player in a poll of managers, coaches, media and club officials.
"It worked out well on both ends," Witt said. "It was a good season for me, and I'm glad to see that people took notice."
Witt is the third Rays minor-leaguer to win the award, joining Steve Cox (1999) and Toby Hall (2001). Witt also was named the first baseman on the postseason All-Star team.
"I'm really happy for him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I think it's a great achievement, and you can't overlook that. We are going to play him a little bit this month and find out if there is more to it."
Witt, 30, said his success is the result of continuing to learn about himself as a hitter and about the intricacies of the game, specifically in terms of preparation. And he also showed - given the volume of controversy surrounding Durham - an ability to stay extremely focused.
"I've got an iPod, and I've got a good set of headphones," Witt said.
GOMES SURGERY SET: Jonny Gomes will have season-ending surgery on his right shoulder Tuesday to repair an impingement and reduce fraying of the rotator cuff.
Gomes knew surgery was likely when he went to see Tim Kremchek in Cincinnati for a second opinion and said additional tests provided clarification of the specific problems.
"A whole bunch of big words," Gomes said.
The shoulder was an issue since spring training, but Gomes had hoped to postpone surgery until the end of the season.
"I went as long as I could and came up a month short," he said.
TRADEWINDS: Greg Norton's torrid August performance - a major-league best .397 (29-for-73) entering play Tuesday - should make him attractive to a contender looking to pick up a versatile veteran reserve before Thursday's deadline to set postseason rosters. There have been reports suggesting the Dodgers are interested, but there is no deal in the works.
MINOR MATTERS: Montgomery's Jeff Niemann, showing steady improvement since recovering from shoulder surgery, was named the Double-A Southern League's pitcher of the week after going 2-0 and allowing one run and six hits over 13 innings while striking out 14. Overall, Niemann, the Rays' top 2004 pick, is 5-5 with a 2.88 ERA. ... Edwin Jackson earned his fifth save in nine relief appearances for Durham. ... Right-hander Mitch Talbot, acquired from Houston with Ben Zobrist for Aubrey Huff, improved to 3-3 with a 1.94 ERA for Montgomery with 58 strikeouts and 17 walks in 601/3 innings. ... Zobrist, despite being traded July 12, was named the utility player on the Double-A Texas League All-Star team. ... Outfielder Darnell McDonald also was named to the International League All-Star team.
MISCELLANY: Right-hander Jae Seo, on the disabled list due to a groin strain, could be ready to pitch as soon as Sept. 5, Maddon said. ... Zobrist, who got to spend Monday's off day at the family home in Eureka, Ill., and visiting his younger brothers' schools, figured to have 40-50 friends and relatives at each game - some wearing their own ZOBRIST 18 jerseys - from his hometown. ... The Rays' eight walkoff losses are fourth most in the majors.