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BP helps new coach get in swing of things

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 1999


ST. PETERSBURG -- No one is happier to see the early arrival of position players than new batting coach Leon Roberts.

With players such as Paul Sorrento, Randy Winn, Rich Butler and Bubba Trammell in camp ahead of Tuesday's reporting date, Roberts is able to observe them take batting practice in the cage while Tampa Bay's pitchers and catchers do drills on the field.

Roberts said the added time will help him become better acquainted with the hitters and their strokes before offering suggestions or guidance.

"It's better to get in a little observation time rather than trying to jump in feet first," Roberts said. "It's giving me a chance to exchange some ideas with them and analyze and watch their swings and their approach."

BACK TO WORK: The last Tampa Bay fans saw of Jason Johnson was just before the All-Star break during a rough start in Toronto. Johnson ended up on the disabled list with a bad back a couple days later.

It ended his season, but not his year.

After months of rehabilitation, Johnson went on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League where he won a league-high seven games and was named Pitcher of the Year.

"I was real eager to go by the time I got to Arizona because I'd spent all that time rehabilitating," Johnson said. "I was able to get some innings in and I showed I was healthy. It also gave me a chance to polish up my mechanics."

Johnson, 2-5 in his rookie season, is one of a half-dozen pitchers vying for the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation.

JOSE CAN YOU SEE?: Part of the fun of having Jose Canseco is guessing when the slugger will show up for spring training. Canseco was legendary for arriving at the last possible moment during his days in Oakland. The Rays have asked position players to report Tuesday, although major-league rules do not require them to arrive until March 2.

Speculation around the complex Saturday was that Canseco may not report until the 26th or 27th. GM Chuck LaMar said he spoke recently to Canseco's agent and had not heard anything about a possible late arrival.

GOING OVERTIME: With more than 70 players expected in camp by next week, the Rays will do everything possible to give each a fair chance. And that means putting in a lot of extra work.

The Rays will have their first intrasquad game Feb. 28 at the spring training complex and probably will schedule two more. When the exhibition schedule begins on March 3, the Rays will play 39 games in 33 days, including B games and split squads.

The B games usually are played in the morning at the spring complex instead of at a stadium.

"We need to get in as much pitching as we can," manager Larry Rothschild said. "The B games will take on more importance for guys than they have in the past or in some other camps because of the innings we need. It can give a guy an opportunity to pitch his way into an A game or it can get work for somebody we wouldn't normally have work for."

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