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Slumping Rays eagerly await Boggs' return

There are plenty of reasons for the Rays' skid. A lack of timely hitting, inconsistent starting pitching and, as you may have heard, ineffective late-inning relief work.

But don't discount the absence of Wade Boggs, the veteran third baseman sidelined by a strained right calf.

In the eight games Boggs started, the Rays were 5-3. In the 15 games since he went on the disabled list, they were 4-11. Overall, they are 7-14 without him in the starting lineup.

Boggs, who could be activated this weekend, adds to a lineup in many ways, manager Larry Rothschild said.

"Bobby Smith's done a heck of a job and played well," Rothschild said. "But the experience Wade brings and the quality at-bats against whomever might be pitching "It just takes a quality hitter out of the lineup, a guy who's got a heck of a chance to be in the Hall of Fame. He makes pitchers work every at-bat, and he'll take them deep into the count no matter what, which helps everybody."

Boggs has recovered to the point the next test is to run sprints. If he passes that, he could be back in the lineup soon.

"Having Wade in doesn't mean Bobby's out, either," Rothschild said. "I can find places to play him."

Expect Smith to make occasional starts at shortstop and second base as well as third.

K.C. COOLING: The Devil Rays took Monday off, and they could use the rest. Once they get home from Kansas City, and that's likely to be at about 3 o'clock Thursday morning, they don't get many more breaks. Starting with Friday's home game against Baltimore, the Rays are scheduled for 33 games in 34 days, and 50 in 52.

"The way we're banged up, we need to take it easy," Rothschild said. "It will be good for guys to get some rest. We've got a long stretch coming up."

Q-BALL: Quinton McCracken had walked only three times in 28 games in the leadoff spot, but Rothschild said the move to the No. 2 spot was to better use McCracken's productivity. McCracken is the team's third-leading hitter (.333) and RBI producer (13).

Rothschild was pleased with the offense of the new-look lineup Sunday and likely will stick with Dave Martinez leading off and McCracken hitting second.

"I was real encouraged by the way we played the game. We scrapped and scraped for everything," he said.

McCracken said he didn't mind the change. "As long as I'm in the lineup, I (couldn't) care less," he said. "(No. 2) hitter, 9 hitter, whatever's in the best interest of the team."

WELCOME TO THE SHOW: Baseball is a game of continual adjustments, even within a game, and that is something the rookie pitchers have to deal with. On Sunday, Jason Johnson allowed just two hits the first time through the lineup, but eight overall before he got knocked out in the fifth. "Early on they took him into some deep counts and just got a chance to get where they could have an idea a little bit later on," Rothschild said.

TAKING MEASURE: Three losses are three losses, but the Rays acquitted themselves well against defending AL champion Cleveland over the weekend, especially without pitching their top starters, Wilson Alvarez and Rolando Arrojo. "We played these guys three games and could have won any of them," Rothschild said. "It's almost like a consolation prize; it doesn't mean anything. We fought our way through these games pretty good. We just came up short."

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