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Devil Rays' bats take holiday off

Offensive drought makes Cleveland look great in 5-1 loss.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 5, 2000


CLEVELAND -- For the first two months, the problem was the pitching. At times, it has been the defense. Lately, it has been the hitting, more specifically, a startling lack thereof.

The Devil Rays went down meekly again Monday, losing 5-1 to the resurgent Indians in a wet and nasty Labor Day matinee.

Starter Albie Lopez had to leave after three innings due to recurring calf problems and the Rays committed several more defensive miscues, but manager Larry Rothschild said the problem is clearly the lack of production from the hitters.

Certainly, the evidence supports him. The Rays have scored three runs or fewer in 15 of their last 21 games (losing 13) and hit an abysmal .233 during that stretch. Overall, they rank last or next-to-last in the league in nine offensive categories, including batting average (.261), on-base percentage (.334) and runs scored (4.7 per game).

Greg Vaughn is in a 12-for-75 slump. Fred McGriff is 6-for-29. Bobby Smith is 2-for-38. Felix Martinez is 11-for-78.

"We've had a couple games where we didn't play good defense, but I'm more concerned about the hitting," Rothschild said. "Somehow, we've got to produce some runs. It's easy to sit back and say, "Well, it will come,' and all this. It's time for it to come if that's going to be the case.

"I've mixed it up about as much as I can. It's just time for guys to step up and swing the bat the way they should."

Vaughn, though, said the Rays' problems are of greater magnitude than a few players being in a hitting slump.

"The main thing is we've got to stay positive around here," Vaughn said. "The negatives -- that's just not going to do anything. We've got to stay positive, we've got to pull for one another, we've got to keep pushing, got to keep grinding. At some point in here we've got to come together as one.'

September seems a bit late to be establishing team unity, but Vaughn, who has been on winning teams three of the past four years, said that's exactly the problem.

"That's why we're in the position we're in right now," Vaughn said.

"We need everybody, everybody from the coaching staff to the clubhouse kids, to be on the same page, pulling for one another and keeping the negative attitude out. You've got to keep the negative attitude out.

"I beat myself up every night, whether I get three hits or go 0-for-3, trying to figure out what it will take for all of us to get on the same page. It's not a lack of effort; guys are trying. I don't know what it is. It's unbelievable. The one thing you can't do is make excuses. You have to be accountable. We have to be accountable.

"Until we can do that and quit pointing the fingers and saying it's this or that, we'll continue to be where we're at."

Monday, against an Indians team battling for post-season life, it was a little bit of everything.

Lopez, who has become the Rays' ace, labored through his three innings, allowing eight hits and two runs. He pitched with soreness in his left calf Wednesday and said it felt about the same Monday, though it did tighten when he twice sprinted to cover first.

Rothschild decided on a wet field not to take any chances, either of Lopez making the calf problem worse or hurting his arm. "I wanted to stay out there, but he was looking out for me and my best interests and the interests of the club," Lopez said.

Doug Creek did a sturdy job of relief over 31/3 innings, but the Indians tacked on three more in the seventh. They loaded the bases on two walks, one of Tampa Bay's four wild pitches, and an intentional walk, then got back-to-back run-scoring hits from Jim Thome and David Segui.

The Rays made two more errors -- and had another taken away in a late scoring change -- running their total to nine in four games.

Cleveland starter Dave Burba, meanwhile, did an excellent job keeping the Rays down, allowing just seven hits. Three of those hits went to Steve Cox, who raised his average to .295 with two doubles and a home run.

Was Burba, Rothschild was asked, that dominant?

"I don't know; it's hard to tell anymore because we just haven't been scoring for quite a while now," he said. "I give credit to the pitchers, but it can't be every night.

"He's going to change speeds and hit spots and mix his fastball in accordingly and he did that today so I'll give him credit. But at some point, you just break out and score runs."

Some point soon, the Rays are hoping.

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