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Doc to try new approach

Nearly 200 victories into his big-league career, Doc Gooden continues to evolve.

The fastball is not what it once was, so location is more important than ever.

Gooden can't afford to miss his spots on too many pitches and that is a problem that has plagued him in recent starts.

Though Gooden has pitched well for long stretches, he has ultimately failed because a handful of pitches have turned into bases-clearing home runs.

Gooden had given up 11 homers in 27 innings, accounting for 16 of the 20 runs he has yielded.

"I've been feeling good, but I've been getting too many pitches up," Gooden said. "Probably 90 percent of the runs I've given up have been on home runs. So the main thing for me is getting the ball down in the zone."

Manager Larry Rothschild had been working on Gooden's mechanics from the stretch position. Rothschild wants to keep Gooden's lead shoulder _ the left shoulder _ higher so the right arm action drives downward.

"I'm not going to rebuild Doc. I'm going to let him pitch the way he is," Rothschild said. "We'll do whatever we can to help him get fundamentally sound where he can get the ball down. I wouldn't say it was a change, just a little tweaking."

With a day off Thursday, Gooden got an extra day of rest between starts. That allowed him to spend one more day trying out the new throwing motion in the bullpen before he takes it into tonight's game against the Mariners.

"It felt a little odd doing it, so that's why I threw on the side an extra time," Gooden said. "I'm looking forward to getting out there and seeing how it works. I could definitely feel a difference, I'm getting the ball down easier."

STICKING AROUND: Tony Graffanino cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Durham.

Graffanino was designated for assignment Saturday when the Rays recalled Quinton McCracken.

Once he cleared waivers, Graffanino was free to sign with any team, but agreed to the minor-league assignment. Graffanino was hitting .300 with one RBI as a utility infielder with the Rays. He played at Durham last season, hitting .313 with 58 RBI before being called to Tampa Bay.

OUT OF SORTS: Rothschild said Albie Lopez has encountered some mechanical problems that they'll try to work out.

Lopez saved 2 of 3 games as the interim closer last week and then was hit hard in a tie game with Texas on Tuesday.

"There's something delivery-wise that is not right," Rothschild said. "He said he didn't feel right."

NO ZEROS HERE: With Arizona being shut out by Montreal earlier in the week, the Rays have the second-longest streak of avoiding shutouts in the majors. The Rays have gone 70 games since they were last shut out, the longest streak in the American League. The Astros, with 77 games, have the longest streak.

The last pitcher to blank the Rays was Cleveland's Charles Nagy on Aug. 28.

REST STOP: Gerald Williams is the only Tampa Bay player to have started every game in the field this season, although he could soon be getting a break. With McCracken back, the Rays have a switch-hitter who can play centerfield and give Williams a rest.

Williams is on pace for more than 700 at-bats. He has topped 500 at-bats only once in his career.

"We've had a lot of days off and rainouts, but I will watch him," Rothschild said earlier in the week. "With Quinton here, I'll probably be able to give Gerald a break in the next few days."

_ JOHN ROMANO

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