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Rays' Floyd now producing with bat

Cliff Floyd hits a fourth-inning solo homer as the Rays beat the AL Central leaders for the second time.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Cliff Floyd hits a fourth-inning solo homer as the Rays beat the AL Central leaders for the second time.

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon has always talked about DH Cliff Floyd being a "difference-maker."

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For the first six weeks of the season, Floyd did so primarily by providing leadership in the clubhouse. From spring training through his four weeks on the disabled list, the 35-year-old veteran would take time for private conversations with younger players, having, as Maddon said, "tremendous impact."

Now, Floyd is letting his bat do most of the talking.

Floyd's home run Saturday — which gave the Rays a much-needed insurance run in the fourth — was his third homer in his past three starts. And the blast came on the heels of his heroics Friday night, when he hit a walkoff homer in the ninth.

"Another big at-bat for us," Maddon said. "He's going to do that often this year — I really have a lot of faith in him. He's a force within our lineup."

Floyd quipped that he feels like he's 25 again, giggling and laughing in a clubhouse corner that includes younger stars LF Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton. But while he is always open to giving advice and tips, he feels his on-field contributions are most important.

"I like to be a leader by example," Floyd said. "Some people like to talk, which is great. But these guys are seasoned; they don't need much advice."

PATIENCE WITH PENA: There have been a few times this season, specifically last weekend's series against the Orioles, where 1B Carlos Pena showed signs of coming out of his slump.

But Pena, who hasn't hit the .250 mark yet this season after a career year in 2007 (46 homers, 121 RBI), has hit a slide the past five games, going 1-for-19 with 12 strikeouts and 18 left on base.

However, Maddon said he isn't overly concerned to the point he would sit Pena down a couple of days, pointing out that the left-handed slugger is continuing to tinker with his mechanics.

"He's getting caught in between different stances right now," Maddon said. "We're just trying to get him to find that one comfortable spot he had last year."

CLUTCH TIME: The pitching and defense have been, at times, spectacular throughout the Rays' remarkable run. But one thing they are still struggling with is hitting with runners in scoring position.

The Rays were 0-for-5 Saturday, stranding five runners, making them 3-for-27 in the first three games of this series. Entering Saturday, the Rays were hitting .265 with runners in scoring position, and .244 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

"It's a mental thing," Floyd said. "Take a step back, and as a whole, say, 'Let's relax here, see the ball and hit it,' instead of going, 'I've got to get it done cause we haven't got it done.' We've got to do it. It's a necessity. If we don't, we're making it extremely hard on ourselves."

MEDICAL MATTERS: OF Rocco Baldelli said he felt fine after playing in an extended spring game, going 0-for-5. Baldelli, who has been on the disabled list since spring training with a rare condition that causes muscle fatigue in his legs, is slated to play another game next week.

Closer Troy Percival said his rehab of a left hamstring strain is going well. He is spending about three hours a day in treatment. Percival, who is making the team's nine-game road trip, has been playing catch but said he likely won't throw off a mound until next Thursday.

MISCELLANY: Today's afternoon game will have a slightly shuffled lineup, with Crawford getting the day off and Jonny Gomes taking his place in left, Gabe Gross playing rightfield and Shawn Riggans at catcher. … Crawford's 15th steal on Saturday gave him 302 for his career, which ties him with Sherry Magee for eighth before age 27 (since 1900).

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Rays' Floyd now producing with bat 05/31/08 [Last modified: Saturday, May 31, 2008 11:18pm]

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