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Tampa Bay Rays World Series: Rays pitchers work on their hitting

The Rays’ Andy Sonnanstine, who fared well in his at-bats this season, takes batting practice Wednesday at the Trop. With him set to start Game 4 in Philadelphia, he will be back in the box.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

The Rays’ Andy Sonnanstine, who fared well in his at-bats this season, takes batting practice Wednesday at the Trop. With him set to start Game 4 in Philadelphia, he will be back in the box.

PHILADELPHIA — Apparently, the ball doesn't just carry out of Citizens Bank Park for everyday hitters.

It works for pitchers as well.

With the World Series switching to a National League stadium tonight for Game 3, the Rays pitchers took batting practice Friday afternoon. And near the end, it turned into a little home run derby.

Three right-handed hitting pitchers — James Shields, Edwin Jackson and Matt Garza — took on three lefties — David Price, Andy Sonnanstine and Scott Kazmir — in a game rewarding them for successful bunts and opposite-field hits.

With the southpaws trailing 11-3 going into the last inning, they put together a wild comeback. Sonnanstine, Price and Kazmir hit consecutive homers, but the righties prevailed 11-10 when Price flew out to end the friendly competition.

Said Sonnanstine: "That's the funnest (batting practice) I've ever been a part of."

But make no mistake, they take their swings seriously.

During interleague play in 2007, Rays pitchers led the American League by hitting .367. And this season, Sonnanstine helped his cause in two wins. He went 2-for-3 with a run in a 3-1 victory at St. Louis and walked and scored in a 6-4 win at Florida.

In short, every hit helps.

"It's huge. It's not all about hitting home runs in BP," said Sonnanstine, who is scheduled to start Game 4 on Sunday. "I've been working on my swinging since (the regular season's) last series in Detroit. I take pride in it, and I'm going to try to help us win and help my own cause."

Pitching coach Jim Hickey said his group started swinging again, off tees then in the cage, in late September. He pointed out the success of several of his starters, including Sonnanstine (4-for-10 for his career) and Shields (5-for-18).

But Hickey also mentioned a goal for his pitchers to work good at-bats and drive up their opponent's pitch count.

"Three at-bats, 15 pitches, take an inning off them," he said.

LINING UP: Manager Joe Maddon was still mulling his options for rightfield tonight against Phillies lefty Jamie Moyer. Least likely, it seemed, was the most obvious choice, right-handed hitting Rocco Baldelli.

That's in part because Moyer tends to be hit harder by lefties than righties and because Baldelli played a full game in the outfield Thursday.

Most likely, it seemed, was the least likely choice, Gabe Gross, who didn't play in the first two games and is just 1-for-16 (.063) for the postseason.

"You look at the breakdowns, and I know Jamie and I know Gabe's swing,'' Maddon said. "It's possible.''

DOUBLING UP: Much is made of the double-switches when AL teams play under NL rules as managers will sub a player on the field at the same time as a pitching change to revise the batting order.

But Maddon said he doesn't plan to do it much because the only position where he'd likely be comfortable with a change involves the rightfielders.

"You really just want to do it with one position on our team,'' he said. "So it's going to depend on the number of relief pitchers and the game situation.''

TOUGH CROWD: Among the Rays, longtime National Leaguer Cliff Floyd is most familiar with Philadelphia fans. And he said he didn't have to do much explaining to his teammates after they were given a rousing "welcome" as they left their hotel for Friday's workout.

"After getting on the bus in front of the fans we just saw, you don't have to tell them much,'' Floyd said.

"We got cursed out as much as you can get cursed out in one minute.''

PRICE CHECK: Price became the quickest top overall pick to play in the World Series after entering in relief in the seventh inning of Game 2. He was the No. 1 pick in 2007.

Taking their hacks

With the World Series moving to a National League park tonight, Rays pitchers will get a rare chance to hit. In a hint of what's to come, Rays relievers J.P. Howell and Edwin Jackson offer a scouting report on each of the starters:

On LHP Scott Kazmir (0-for-8 in his career)

Jackson: "He's just letting it go. He's just swinging."

On RHP James Shields (5-for-18)

Jackson: "He can go the other way."

On RHP Andy Sonnanstine (4-for-10)

Jackson: "He's the contact hitter of the group."

On RHP Matt Garza (0-for-6, four strikeouts)

Howell: "You can throw the nastiest pitch, and he might crush it. Or you might throw it down the middle and he'll miss it three times in a row."

Jackson: "(Laughter) … He's working on it."

Tampa Bay Rays World Series: Rays pitchers work on their hitting 10/24/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 25, 2008 1:57pm]
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