tampabay.com

Maddon blames youth for frequent slow starts

Manager Joe Maddon said he expects the Devil Rays to outgrow their early game struggles and doesn't see the need to change the pregame routine or his style of handling the situation.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 30, 2007


OAKLAND, Calif. - Manager Joe Maddon said he expects the Devil Rays to outgrow their early game struggles and doesn't see the need to change the pregame routine or his style of handling the situation.

After questioning his players' readiness twice in three days, Maddon said Sunday that he considered the problem more a product of inexperience and an "incredibly difficult" travel schedule than an actual lack of preparation.

"It's a day-after-night kind of thing, " Maddon said. "I just find youthful players, lacking experience, sometimes you just have to push yourself mentally in the first inning, that's all. It's not a group situation, it's just in a couple spots I want them to be aware of the fact they have to be ready from the first pitch all the time."

The Rays typically don't take batting practice on the field or have any organized group warmup for day games, with the players free to hit in the batting cages and prepare how they want, and Maddon said he didn't see the need to change. The Rays are 1-5 in day games after night games, 2-6 in day games overall and have been outscored 57-35.

"I don't want to be knee-jerk about anything, I don't want to overreact to anything; it's not worthy of that, I don't believe, " he said. "I've already talked to different people about it and I anticipate it's going to go away."

Maddon didn't name names and said he spoke privately, as he often does, to the players in question. On Saturday, Carl Crawford said if Maddon felt certain players weren't prepared, he should tell them. Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said he was comfortable with the way Maddon is handling the situation.

"Joe and the coaches do a very good job of letting specific players know when they need to do something differently and/or attack a situation in a different manner, " he said. "I think the fact that they choose to do it outside of the media is a good thing."

FIRST AT FIRST: Jorge Cantu made his first big-league appearance at first base, having played seven games there at Triple A, and didn't seem to have any problems, handling a popup, a ground ball and five throws. "I liked it, " Maddon said. "I thought he looked good." He was 0-for-4 at the plate and is batting .143.

NUMBERS GAME: Ty Wigginton's fourth-inning single snapped an 0-for-25 road skid, including the first four games of this trip. ... Scott Kazmir gave up back-to-back homers for the third time in his career. ... The Rays are 10-35 in Oakland, having won four of the past nine and two of the past three series.

MISCELLANY: Rocco Baldelli said his bruised right knee didn't exactly feel good "but good enough to get out there." ... The Rays won their first road series since June 16-18 at Philadelphia. ... With Baldelli back, Maddon couldn't find room for Jonny Gomes, who had about 900 friends, relatives and fans on hand from his nearby hometown of Petaluma. ... Elijah Dukes homered for the first time since April 5.

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