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Club MVP not satisfied

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 8, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Sitting on a counter (but not a couch) in the Rays clubhouse Friday afternoon, Greg Vaughn said he felt he hadn't done enough during the first half.

He talked about how he'd like to improve his batting average, how he'd like to succeed more in clutch situations, how if he were doing better the team would have more wins.

But, really, what more can he do?

Vaughn heads, appropriately, to the All-Star Game tonight, having been the Rays' best player during the first half.

It has been the kind of season in which the rays of good, such as Vaughn, Fred McGriff, Randy Winn and youngsters Joe Kennedy, Jason Tyner and Brent Abernathy, are obscured by the bad Rays.

But Vaughn has been a success story among the ruins. He leads the team with 21 home runs, with 60 RBI, with 24 game-tying/go-ahead RBI. He is hitting .244 overall, .281 with runners in scoring position.

"We thought when we signed Greg he would hit somewhere in the .250-.260 area with 30-40 home runs and 100 RBI, and that's exactly the type of first half that he's had," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "He's an outstanding competitor, and he probably hasn't had the impact on our club he'd have on a winning team. That's why we brought him aboard, to help us get over the hump.

"He's done everything we thought he would do."

Because Vaughn is Vaughn, however, that's not enough.

Not for him, anyway.

Ask him to appraise his first half, and Vaughn, after some thought, says, "So-so."

Good?

"Not good," he said. "So-so."

"I can do a lot more. Basically, I think if I did more we might have won more. I set high standards for myself. ...

"Being in last place, you can't give yourself too much credit. It's a team game, and if you're in last place, I don't think anyone can say you're playing too good."

BIGGEST (PLEASANT) SURPRISE: Winn, who at times didn't seem to fit on the roster, has been one of the most consistent everyday players. Travis Phelps is one of several prospects who made the leap to the majors and contributes effectively. McGriff, to the surprise of some, is on his way to another 30-homer, 100-RBI season, and threatening to post a career-high batting average.

But the biggest surprise has to be Kennedy, as much for getting here as the success he is having. He pitched at low-Class A last season, and a solid 2001 season at Double A would have been considered a success.

Instead, the 22-year-old tore through Double A and Triple A and has three wins (and one loss) in six big-league starts, the only pitcher on the staff with a winning record.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Where does the line start, right?

There's Vinny Castilla and Gerald Williams, who since have been released. There's Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman, who still are recovering from shoulder surgery. There's Albie Lopez and Bryan Rekar, who are a combined 5-21. There's Paul Wilson, who went from being what some team officials thought was their top starter to a long reliever.

And then there is outfielder Ben Grieve.

The Rays knew Grieve wasn't a smooth defensive player, but they expected him to pile up the offensive numbers, especially playing at the Trop. Instead, he is headed for the worst season of his career, on a pace for 11 homers and 63 RBI.

That's disappointing.

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