tampabay.com

Pitchers' new friend: a kinder rug

Quick look at the new FieldTurf installed at Tropicana Field shows that it will slow down the game.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 21, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The fast review of the new FieldTurf installed at Tropicana Field is that it will slow down the game.

That could be good news for Devil Rays infielders and pitchers, who have watched balls whiz by after taking fast and tricky hops going from the turf to the dirt basepaths. But it might be less appealing to speedy Rays who hit balls into the outfield gaps that usually skipped to the wall. It could also make bunting more feasible.

"I think the big thing you'll see is that it plays slower," said infield coach Tom Foley, who tested the turf at Birmingham, Alabama's Legion Field with manager Joe Maddon and head groundskeeper Dan Moeller. "That probably will help and hurt."

Maddon said he thinks the slower surface will be good. "I think it helps from the pitching perspective, and I'm for anything that helps our pitchers," he said. "Speedwise, I don't know yet."

The new turf, which will be in place for Saturday's FanFest, should play and look more like real grass, the result of new technology that combines different strength fibers so the blades stand up more, and be a darker shade of green. The Trop is the first baseball stadium with the new duofilament system; it is in several football stadiums. The replacement cost around $750,000.

The warning track is also being replaced with a similar artificial surface. The Rays also are reducing the height of the Trop's leftfield corner wall to about 5 feet.

CHECKING IN: OF/DH Jonny Gomes reported to camp in tremendous shape, excited that his surgically repaired right shoulder felt better than it has in years and excited to get back on the field. Gomes said he weighs the same 235 he did last season, but looks much better. "I didn't even recognize him," Maddon said. SS Ben Zobrist also reported Tuesday.

SIGNING ON: The Rays began signing their players who don't have arbitration rights to one-year deals, using a complicated salary structure that ranges from the $380,000 major-league minimum to $430,000, based on performance and service time. RHPs Tim Corcoran, Edwin Jackson, Brian Stokes and Mitch Talbot; LHPs Jeff Ridgway, Chris Seddon and Jon Switzer; C Dioner Navarro; and OF Elijah Dukes signed. LHP Scott Kazmir is expected to get the most, around $425,000.

MISCELLANY: B.J. Upton started taking ground balls at second base Tuesday, a step in his possible conversion from shortstop/third baseman to super utilityman. ... Reliever Seth McClung missed Tuesday's workout to serve jury duty. ... IF/OF Joel Guzman, 2B Elliot Johnson and non-roster 1B Hee-Seop Choi and IF Jorge Velandia are the only position players who didn't report early; the first full-squad workout is Thursday. RHPs Tony Peguero and Juan Salas are delayed in the Dominican Republic due to visa issues. ... The intrasquad schedule was adjusted, with games now Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. and Feb. 28 at 9:30 a.m.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or 727 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.

Fast Facts:

Today's schedule

The Rays work out from 9:30 to 12:30 at the Naimoli Complex, 7901 30th Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Pitchers fielding practice and bullpen sessions start around 10:25.

Quote of the day

"It's like advanced Twister - your body goes in all different directions."

Reliever Shawn Camp, describing the team yoga class, which resumes today.

Number of the day

1,300,000 weight, in pounds, of the old FieldTurf removed from the Trop.