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Graffanino runs with 2nd chance

Ex-Brave infielder has played so well since call-up, Rays may find a way to keep him around.

After being let go by the Braves at the end of spring training, Tony Graffanino had some reasonable goals.

The first was to sign with a Triple-A team and prove he could play second on an everyday basis. Next was to get to the majors. And third, of course, was to stay.

So far, he's hitting 2-for-3.

The Devil Rays were very pleased with the four months he spent in Durham, and they have been very impressed with what they've seen since calling him up last week.

They like the athleticism, savvy and smoothness he has shown around the base, and they're not going to complain about the offense he has added either (7-for-20, including a homer). The next step apparently will be to explore his versatility, with the possibility that he may play some at shortstop once regular second baseman Miguel Cairo returns from the disabled list next week.

"One of the reasons I wanted to go back to Triple A was so I could show people, whoever was watching, that I could play every day at second base," Graffanino said. "If that leads to me having a job playing every day at second base (in the majors), that's obviously what I was looking for. If it leads to me being in big leagues and them needing me in a utility role, that's fine, too.

"The big leagues are the big leagues. I can't really knock it when I'm here. If it takes me playing short and second, then that's what I'm going to do."

Coming up with the omnipotent Braves would seem like a blessing, but for a young player without the superstar-in-waiting status of a Chipper Jones, it also could be a curse.

"It was definitely tough, especially when I first got called up in '96," Graffanino, 27, said. '"I felt big-time pressure. It was just intense. I can't really describe that kind of feeling, going into the kind of situation where a team has to win every game."

Though Graffanino got the chance to participate in the playoffs twice, he didn't get an opportunity to play as much as he'd have liked.

When Graffanino was playing very well in 1997, manager Bobby Cox preferred to stick with veteran Mark Lemke. And when Graffanino got off to a slow start last season, he found himself on the short side of a platoon with Keith Lockhart.

"I struggled early and the need to win over there every single day is just too much, and (Cox) basically stopped playing me," Graffanino said. "I guess he couldn't afford to let me go out there and work through the things I needed to work through to be a better player.

"It kind of bothered me then. I kind of understand that they have to win every day, but I felt like we were going to win regardless. I didn't feel like I was going to keep us from winning. But the pressure was on him to put out a lineup to win every day, and when he found one that was hot he basically stuck with it. Maybe things would have been different if I broke in with a different club."

Maybe. But he has another chance anyway.

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