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With Aybar hot, Rays keep Floyd on bench

ANAHEIM, Calif. — DH Cliff Floyd hasn't been swinging well and isn't feeling 100 percent healthy. But it's what the Rays have done without him, specifically hot-hitting Willy Aybar, that led manager Joe Maddon to keep Floyd out of the lineup for a fourth straight game Tuesday, and likely a fifth today.

"There's all different reasons but the primary reason is just to keep this group together," Maddon said. "We're just staying with the hot lineup. … Things are going pretty nicely right now and we're just going to stick with it."

Maddon liked what Aybar has done, hitting .320 in his first seven games since coming off the DL. And with Aybar at first, Maddon can play defensively strong Gabe Gross in rightfield and use Eric Hinske at DH.

Floyd said he understood the decision and had no problem with it: "They're going with the hot bat, and I don't blame them — we're winning."

Floyd has been working on his swing (he was 1-for-12 in his past four games) and, having had April right knee surgery, "getting healthy, too," saying he could play but, "as always, there's little things" he's dealing with physically.

Plus, with a short bench due to Jonny Gomes' suspension, Maddon has more flexibility with the switch-hitting Aybar than with Floyd, who usually only faces right-handed pitchers.

"I don't want to shorthand them," Floyd said. "I'm feeling good enough, but Willy is a switch-hitter, so you don't have to do so much with the lineup all the time. And right now everything is just okay, everything is going smooth. I see myself getting back in there, because I'm supposed to be the DH here and I'm supposed to help this team win, and I look forward to doing it."

GREAT SCOTT: It's not a secret, certainly not to the hitters he has faced, but LHP Scott Kazmir said a big reason for his success — a dazzling 6-0, 0.88 ERA mark in his past six starts — is increased, and improved, use of his changeup.

"That changeup has just been huge for me," he said. "It's completely just got hitters so off-balance."

The improved changeup has offset his inability, thus far, to make effective use of his slider. Both, in a way, are a result of the spring training elbow strain that delayed his season debut until May 4. "When I kinda got hurt, I was throwing nothing but changeups," he said. "They said don't throw any sliders, they didn't want that turn (of the arm) action. They just wanted me to throw changeups, and I just started getting more and more comfortable with it."

PERCY READY: Closer Troy Percival passed the final test of his sore left hamstring, throwing about 30 pitches to Gomes in a simulated game, and is ready to be activated when eligible Friday. "Went fine," Percival said.

The decision on who goes is likely between RHPs Grant Balfour and Gary Glover. Both are out of options, so the Rays would have to risk losing either on waivers in order to send him to the minors.

SIGNING UP: Six draft pick signings were announced: No. 12 OF Brian Bryles, No. 13 RHP Jason McEachern, No. 22 OF Jason Appel, No. 24 RHP Marquis Fleming, No. 26 LHP Michael Jarman and No. 35 James Bagley.

MISCELLANY: After playing on natural grass for a week, LF Carl Crawford said his right knee feels about "75 percent better." … The Rays on Monday became the third team this season to hit back-to-back-to-back homers, joining the Braves (April 17 vs. Marlins) and Astros (May 2 vs. Brewers) according to home run guru David Vincent. … Maddon said he has been talking on the phone with executive VP Andrew Friedman "about a bunch of stuff." … 3B Evan Longoria is the only rookie in the majors with at least two multi-homer games.

With Aybar hot, Rays keep Floyd on bench 06/10/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 11, 2008 6:32pm]
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