tampabay.com

Grind approach will test hitters' patience

If they are going to beat the Yankees, as well as the Red Sox and Blue Jays, manager Joe Maddon wants his Devil Rays to join them.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 10, 2007


TAMPA - If they are going to beat the Yankees, as well as the Red Sox and Blue Jays, manager Joe Maddon wants his Devil Rays to join them.

Maddon and hitting coach Steve Henderson are trying to get the Rays hitters to adopt the patient hitting approach that their American League East foes use - grinding out at-bats by seeing a lot of pitches and wearing out pitching staffs.

"The more you extend a starter in the first game of a series, you have a better chance of getting in the bullpen, and obviously over the three-four games you can wear out an entire staff," Maddon said. "That's what Boston has done for years; that's what these guys do so well. I think Toronto is on the verge of doing that. ... It's a great concept, but it's not easy to put together if guys have not been nurtured that way in college or pro ball. It's hard to just put it in place here; it's going to take some time."

Though the Rays 1-7 aren't scoring much - a major-league-low 18 runs after Friday's 5-1 loss to the Yankees - Maddon is pleased with the intensity of their work at the plate, especially what he calls "the mental at-bats," as they try the new approach. Friday, for example, they saw 152 pitches, though they also struck out 15 times.

"We'll have games where we totally get away from that, and I expect that, and we have to get back into it," he said. "We have to keep talking about it until we get to the point we're able to work quality at-bats one through nine for nine hard innings."

NAVARRO UPDATE: C Dioner Navarro is expected to be sidelined seven to 10 days due to the mild left hamstring strain he sustained Thursday, but he should be ready for opening day.

"I'm anticipating that he will be well and ready to go," Maddon said. "Hamstrings are never fun. You just don't know. They hurt a lot, and they take time to heal. But he kind of pulled up in time where he didn't really snap it or anything like that, so that was a good thing." ... Navarro's memory, however, was off. He said Thursday that it was one year to the day after he pulled his right hamstring; that injury occurred March 15.

NO WORRIES: Japanese 3B Akinori Iwamura extended his spring hitless streak to 0-for-9 with a ground out and a lineout to third, but he said - in English - he was not concerned. "I am a slow starter," he said. "Every year, March and April, phew."

NO MUNCHING ZONE: Maddon said Friday's nutrition session with dietician Cynthia Sass was informative, beneficial and likely to be expanded as another method of performance enhancement. "I think even the most staunch Twinkies-eaters that you may have had to see that she may have something for them," Maddon said.

MISCELLANY: Maddon was impressed with the work of pitchers J.P. Howell, Gary Glover and Al Reyes. ... LHP Jon Switzer, hit on the right wrist Wednesday, is scheduled to return to the mound today in Fort Myers. ... LHP Casey Fossum felt good the day after throwing batting practice and is on track to make his exhibition debut Monday. ... LF Carl Crawford, INF Ty Wigginton, 2B Jorge Cantu and Iwamura are playing against the Phillies in St. Petersburg today; RF Delmon Young, SS Ben Zobrist and OF Jonny Gomes are on split-squad duty in Fort Myers against the Twins. Maddon is going to Fort Myers.