tampabay.com

Rays seeking ways to steal an edge

Devil Rays want to steal more bases and stop opponents from doing the same.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 26, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The weekend focus was on pitching and hitting, but the Devil Rays have spent a lot of time the past few days on the running game, specifically stealing more bases and stopping opponents from doing the same.

Two people doing a lot of the talking are roving pitching instructor Dick Bosman, who offers what manager Joe Maddon said are unique advanced strategies in holding on runners, and LF Carl Crawford, who has won three AL stolen-base crowns.

Bosman stresses awareness of the situation and information on the potential thief. "It's being aware of who's over there, what kind of a lead is he taking and what does it mean, and then reacting to it," said Bosman, who has worked extensively with RHP James Shields, who had 14 pickoffs last season, and on teams with stars Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling and Pete Harnisch. "It's knowing what you're looking at."

Crawford has been sharing secrets on reading pitchers and taking leads. "He's done a great job with his explanation on stealing, and why not," Maddon said. "I want to get him more involved."

Even veterans who aren't likely to use the information, such as Greg Norton, have listened. "It's very helpful," said Norton, who has seven steals in his past six big-league seasons, "but it would be more of a benefit to somebody who could actually run."

HOT DOG: World hot-dog eating champ Takeru Kobayashi attended the workout, then got to meet and film some video spots with 3B Akinori Iwamura. Kobayashi said he was excited and honored to meet Iwamura, a longtime star in their native Japan, and took a few swings in the batting cage.

So who would be better at the other's specialty?

"I'd like to play baseball, but just for fun," Kobayashi said through his interpreter. "I think Aki could eat a lot. I'd like to challenge him."

But Iwamura, though surprised at how small the 5-7, 132-pound Kobayashi is, said it would be no contest.

"Even if you had no time limit, 54 hot dogs would be impossible. Ten at the most," he said through his interpreter. "It would probably be easier for him to become a baseball player than for me to eat that much."

PITCHING IN: Maddon was pleased with just about all the pitchers, mentioning RHPs Shawn Camp, Edwin Jackson, Scott Dohmann "I liked a lot of the things he did" and prospect Mitch Talbot ("He has a big list of strengths and I saw them all"). He also noted that LHP Chris Seddon has followed instructions to pitch more inside since he hit SS Reid Brignac on the elbow and was impressed with RHPs Tony Peguero and Juan Salas, who faced hitters for the first time after reporting late.

ON THE MOVE: After spending much of his time at second base, B.J. Upton will get some extra work today in the outfield as the Rays explore making him a super utilityman. INF Brendan Harris will, too.

MISCELLANY: Countdown to Opening Day radio show broadcasts at 7 tonight on 620-AM from Boston's pizza restaurant in Tampa, with Wigginton and senior VP Gerry Hunsicker joining hosts Andy Freed and Dave Wills. ... Principal owner Stuart Sternberg will attend Tuesday's workout then speak at a Community Leader Forum in Tampa. ... Wednesday's Charity Golf Classic is sold out.

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