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Gomes hitting way back into running for roster

OF Jonny Gomes might be feeling the heat. Regardless, he has picked the perfect time to start hitting.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published March 26, 2007


BRADENTON - OF Jonny Gomes might be feeling the heat. Regardless, he has picked the perfect time to start hitting.

Gomes - who led the AL in homers through the first month of 2006 before a bum right shoulder regressed so much that he had season-ending surgery - finds himself fighting for a roster spot. As the Rays put together an opening day roster, Gomes' early spring struggles had placed him on the bubble. But with the help of a slight hitting adjustment, he is making a late push.

Gomes was 2-for-3 with three runs, a double and a fifth-inning two-run homer in the Rays' 12-4 win over the Pirates on Sunday. He is hitting .583 7-for-12 in his past four games. He was hitting .167 (6-for-36) before that.

"It's good to be hitting well with these quote-unquote tryouts going on," Gomes said.

"If you were going to break my spring down to 50 at-bats, there would be a lot of success and a lot of buffoonery."

Getting consecutive at-bats more often in the spring has helped, Gomes said. Manager Joe Maddon said Gomes recently made an adjustment that has helped him, keeping his hands still in his batting stance, which Maddon said has shortened his swing.

"It looks good," Maddon said. "I'm seeing better at-bats and deep-in-the-count better at-bats, too. He's done a nice job.

"There's not as much movement," he said. "He is a lot quieter in his setup."

TESTING THE TURF: Because the Rays moved camp from Progress Energy Park to Tropicana Field to make way for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the team got its first taste of the new FieldTurf before Sunday's trip.

"I loved it," Maddon said. "I think the guys liked it, too. It's much slower, which I think is good. Anything that can benefit our pitchers is good, and our defense. Even though we do have speed on our team, we can take advantage of it in the bunting sense. You can actually bunt on this stuff. It actually plays like a real field."

The Rays were slated to take batting practice on the new field, but the warning track had just been put down and alterations were still needed in rightfield, Maddon said. He hopes to hold pregame workouts and batting practice at the Trop Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday before games in Dunedin, Clearwater and Sarasota, respectively. The Rays close their exhibition schedule Saturday with a game against the Mets at Tropicana Field.

"I really want us to hit in there," Maddon said. "It's nothing big. I just want our guys to get used to it. It's going to be our homefield advantage. I want them to get used to it."

NOT CLOSING TIME: With the closer spot unsettled, Maddon said he would go back to last year's system of having no set closer to open the season.

"I'm going to do what we did last year pretty much, kinda like mix and match in the beginning," he said. "And if someone wants that job, it's theirs to be had. Go out and take it. It's there. But nobody is going to be named that prior to going into the season. I haven't seen that animal yet."

MISCELLANY: LF Carl Crawford (left groin tightness) should be in the lineup today and CF Rocco Baldelli (right hamstring tightness) is likely to return Tuesday. ... C Dioner Navarro will play his third game since a left hamstring strain and will be under a pitch count of about 100, Maddon said. Navarro might not play back-to-back days until late in the week, Maddon said. ... RH relievers Al Reyes and Dan Miceli each worked an inning in a minor-league game Sunday and will work back-to-back days for the first time when they pitch in the major-league game today. ... Hitting coach Steve Henderson was the first-base coach Sunday, replacing George Hendrick, who had knee surgery Friday.