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McGriff thrives in the discomfort zone

Devil Rays first baseman Fred McGriff has been saying he is not comfortable at the plate. Not yet.

His teammates are thinking: "Can I have some of that discomfort?"

McGriff, who was traded to Tampa Bay the night of the expansion draft, was the brightest spot during an otherwise gloomy five-day homestand.

As the team struggles to change its dwindling hitting percentage and halt a five-game losing streak, McGriff continues to lash the ball to all sides of the park.

His home run Tuesday in the fourth inning off Oakland starter Dave Telgheder was McGriff's third in two games and sixth of the season. After going 2-for-3 with one walk against the A's, the Tampa native is hitting .371 with 24 RBI. His 36 hits rank among the AL leaders, and he notched his 12th multihit game of the season. McGriff is hitting .480 at Tropicana Field, where he has hit safely in all 13 games.

Discomfort never looked this good.

"Yeah, I wish I had some of that discomfort," said slugger Paul Sorrento, who has three hits in his past 26 at-bats. "He's doing pretty good."

"I'm taking some good swings and concentrating real well, and I am starting to get some walks," McGriff said. "I'm never going to be comfortable yet because now we're back on the road and seeing a whole set of new pitchers again. You're comfortable when you see all the pitchers and you know what they have to offer."

So far, they appear to be offering gimmie pitches. In his past three games, McGriff has been on base in 8 of 10 appearances and reached base six straight times before striking out in the fifth inning. Naturally, he singled to lead off the eighth.

"It would be nice if we could have a conversation to talk about how well other guys are doing and not just Freddy," manager Larry Rothschild said. "But he's capable of those things. He's a true professional hitter."

Considering his 345 career homers, his 11 consecutive 20-home run seasons and his 964 RBI the past 10 years, a strong start is not surprising.

During his 11-year career, the lefty has hit .295 in April and averaged four home runs and more than 12 RBI. His best start came in 1996 with the Atlanta Braves. That April, McGriff hit .337 with 6 homers and 28 RBI. With two games left in April, both in a Minnesota dome where he has six homers, McGriff has a chance for a new career best.

"I'm not a stats man, so I'm not really sure (about my April numbers), but every year you come into a season wanting to get off to a good start," McGriff said. "That's everyone's goal. You don't want to look at the scoreboard and see you're hitting .170, so I felt it was important to get off to a good start."

Hitting coach Steve Henderson said McGriff is showing patience at the plate.

"He's a great hitter; that's it," Henderson said. "He's not missing his pitches, and whenever they make a mistake he's taking advantage of it. That's the sign of a good hitter. It's a new league for him and once he gets to learn all these pitchers and when he does get comfortable, well "

Teammate Wade Boggs, who also was off to a strong start before he was sidelined with a calf injury, pointed out that McGriff's start should become a challenge to the rest of the team.

"It takes 25 guys to win. When we start thinking that we have to ride every game on Freddy's shoulders, then it becomes a burden for him," Boggs said.

"The slack has to be picked up in other areas. You just can't depend on one guy, your No. 4 guy, to drive in seven runs every night. You can't expect Fred to do it all."