By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001
TORONTO -- It is no mere slump. It has lasted too long, the signs are too many. The question is whether Gerald Williams can do anything to correct it.
The Rays MVP last season, Williams has been a non-factor in 2001. He began Wednesday with a .222 average, which is about where he has been most of the season. His average has been above .250 for only two days, and one of those was opening day.
Manager Hal McRae has moved Williams up and down the order seeking a solution. Williams began at leadoff, moved to No. 2 and, most recently, has alternated between Nos. 6 and 7.
For the first two games of the Toronto series, McRae moved him back to No. 2 in the hopes of "maximizing his ability."
The idea is that Williams might see more fastballs if Randy Winn continues to get on base in the leadoff spot.
"His chances are better at the top of the order than at the bottom," McRae said. "It's up to him to be patient enough to get a fastball to hit."
One theory is that American League clubs have adjusted their scouting reports now that Williams has been back in the league for a full season. A free swinger, Williams rarely sees fastballs early in the count and often chases pitches out of the strike zone.
If Williams, 34, does not adjust, he could find himself with less playing time. Winn has established himself as a valuable leadoff hitter the past two weeks and Jose Guillen soon could come off the disabled list.
LEFTY LINEUP: Ever since Russ Johnson came off the disabled list, McRae has been looking for ways to get him and Damian Rolls enough playing time. One way could be to sit Aubrey Huff against left-handers and play Johnson at third base, as the Rays did Wednesday night.
"I plan to play everyone and that's a way to play Johnson," McRae said. "Huff has sort of struggled, although he's swinging better now. It might help him not to face some lefties.
"I'm just trying to find something that works."
The new-look lineup included Johnson hitting No. 5 for the first time in his career. Since coming to the Rays from Houston last season, Johnson has hit second, sixth, seventh and eighth.
"I don't care where they put me," Johnson said. "As long as I'm somewhere between one and nine."
UP IS DOWN: It went largely unnoticed in the 13-1 beating the Rays took Tuesday night, but catcher John Flaherty made several nice plays blocking pitches in the dirt.
Along with Mike DiFelice, Flaherty has contributed to Tampa Bay's league-leading wild pitch total by not getting his body in front of pitches. The veteran said he realized he had been setting up too low in his stance, and it slowed him in putting his body over the ball.
FRIENDS AND RIVALS: Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez, a teammate of McRae's in Kansas City in the mid-1970s, called his old friend before the series began. Martinez said McRae has worked hard to keep his cool during Tampa Bay's skid.
"He's dying inside because he's such a competitor," Martinez said. "But Hal is a very bright man. He understands this is a process."
WHERE: SkyDome, Toronto.
RADIO: WFLA-AM 970, WLCC-AM 760 (Spanish).
BY THE NUMBERS Rays record when:
Ahead after six innings: 11-5
Ahead after seven: 13-3
Ahead after eight: 15-1
Behind after six innings: 0-32
Behind after seven: 0-37
Behind after eight: 0-39
Tied after six innings: 4-4
Tied after seven: 2-1
Tied after eight: 1-1
BRYAN REKAR: Rekar (0-7, 5.08) owns the American League's longest current losing streak at seven. But he has been Tampa Bay's most consistent pitcher with six quality starts. He is 1-1 with a 1.96 ERA in five starts against the Blue Jays, his lowest ERA against any AL team.
STEVE PARRIS: Parris (3-4, 5.76) started against the Rays on opening day and took the loss. He gave up four runs in four innings and seven hits to the first 12 batters he faced. Opponents are batting .333 against Parris, and his 5.76 ERA is the highest among Toronto starters.
With Joe Kennedy making his major-league debut Wednesday, manager Hal McRae was asked whether he had any mementos from his first game in the majors with the Reds in 1968. McRae said he could recall facing future Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry in his first two games, but he had no tokens to commemorate the occasion. He said pitchers were not inclined to hand the ball over even after a player got his first major-league hit. "We didn't keep balls back then," McRae said. "If you wanted it, they'd plant it right in your ribs for you. There's your ball."