tampabay.com

Guzman grabs hold of opportunity

Sent to the outfield by the Dodgers, the ex-infielder's inspired by shot at third base.

By EDUARDO ENCINA
Published March 8, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The best news that Rays prospect Joel Guzman heard when he was traded from the Dodgers late last season was that his new team wanted him to return to the infield.

As Guzman - a former shortstop - sprouted to 6 feet 6, the Dodgers moved him to the outfield a month before Tampa Bay acquired him in exchange for shortstop Julio Lugo July 31.

Even though most of the attention was on Guzman's bat, he is now showing he has the range to play third after dropping 15 pounds in the offseason while honing his discipline at the plate.

Starting at third base Wednesday in the Rays' 10-2 loss to Cleveland, Guzman hit his first spring home run. He battled back from an 0-and-2 hole to run the count to 2 and 2, then fought off another pitch. He ended the six-pitch at-bat by taking starter Jeremy Sowers' up-and-in cutter over the left-centerfield fence.

"I fell behind, so I stayed in my at-bat and waited for the pitcher to make a mistake," he said. "I just tried to protect the zone and use my hands."

"I'm on board with this guy," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's capable of a killer year. If he goes killer in the minor leagues, heads up, because with him it's going to be all about confidence. If his confidence soars, he could be very special."

Guzman, 22, concentrated on his fielding while playing in the Dominican Winter League, especially his agility at third. His weight dropped to 230 pounds, some 20 less than his playing weight last spring.

"I liked that they gave me another opportunity to stay in the infield," he said. "That's what I kept thinking about in the winter, keeping my body in shape and emphasizing that - fielding, fielding, fielding. I'm still learning. At third base, it's all about reaction, so that's why I need to keep my body in shape so I can go either way quickly."

STAYING PATIENT: The Rays managed just two runs despite a spring training-high 10 hits, but Maddon was happy with his team's at-bats. On his scorecard, Maddon detailed how his hitters were working their at-bats patiently. After five innings, he said his batters saw 122 pitches. For the game, the Rays saw two 10-pitch at-bats, three eight-pitch at-bats and fouled off several two-strike pitches.

"Offense requires that if you get all nine guys in the batting order with the same kind of thought process, the potential is there to wear out a pitcher, to get that starting pitcher out after five," Maddon said.

"If you can do that in the first game of the series and get to the bullpen early, that can have a negative impact on a team for a three- or four-game series. That thought gets lost sometimes."

SWITZER HURT: Left-handed reliever Jon Switzer left after just one pitch in the fourth inning.

His delivery to third baseman Andy Marte was hit back to the mound and hit Switzer just below his glove hand. Precautionary X-rays were negative.

"I think he was coming out regardless," Maddon said.

"I think the baseball logo was on his hand pretty much. It was not good. He got hit pretty hard. He was hurting. We'll see."

MISCELLANY: LHP Casey Fossum is scheduled to throw a second live batting practice before today's game and, if all goes well, he could pitch in his first game this weekend. ... Reliever Dan Miceli started and allowed two runs on four hits in one inning. ... RHP Shawn Camp pitched a perfect ninth, striking out one. ... RHP Tony Peguero was perfect in the sixth inning. ... The Rays announced a partnership with AlphaTrade.com this season. As part of the deal, fans can send text messages to appear on the new scoreboard at Tropicana Field.

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes.com.