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Un-four-seen power outage

The Devil Rays' slugger foursome has yet to put it together as a unit and it's causing some tension at the plate.

The Devil Rays assembled a lineup this season that, failing all else, could at least be counted on to go deep.

Instead, at a quarter past the season, the best the Rays can muster is a deep mess.

The muscle-enriched lineup featuring Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, Fred McGriff and Greg Vaughn has done little to boost Tampa Bay's place in the standings or in the bully department.

The Rays were 13th in the American League in home runs last season. Now they are 12th.

"We stink," Canseco said. "The only one who is pulling his load is Vaughnie. The rest of us stink. For myself, seven home runs at this point is ridiculous."

Vaughn is on pace for a 40-homer season and many of his shots have come at critical moments. McGriff has been hot this week with four homers, albeit in five losses. Canseco, with seven, and Castilla, with five, have had little or no impact.

A $60-million payroll just doesn't buy what it used to anymore.

With 30 home runs between them, the Rays sluggers would rank in the bottom half of foursomes in the majors. They are nowhere near, say, the Toronto pack of Carlos Delgado, Raul Mondesi, Jose Cruz and Tony Batista, who have combined for 46 homers.

But the Rays match favorably with that fabled Kansas City quartet of Jermaine Dye, Mike Sweeney, Mark Quinn and Gregg Zaun, who have 31.

"I wish four guys could make the entire difference in the team, but it takes 25 guys," McGriff said. "A good example was last week when we played the Yankees. (Tino) Martinez and (Paul) O'Neill had three or four home runs, 18-19 RBI. They had one guy, Bernie Williams, who was having a great year.

"But they were 22-11 when we played them. You see these examples all around. It's a team game. I wish four guys could win you a championship."

It's true four sluggers aren't going to carry a team to a pennant without solid pitching _ and Tampa Bay's has been atrocious at times. But the expectation of excitement was far more than the reality. Canseco predicted the group could average 40 home runs each.

Explanations for the struggles are varied and inconclusive.

Canseco's leg injury may or may not be affecting his swing. Castilla is putting too much pressure on himself to perform for a new team outside of Coors Field and there are whispers about diminishing bat speed. Teams have been able to pitch around the foursome because no one is getting on base in front of them.

You can take your pick, but the bottom line does not change.

"It's a little misleading so far because they haven't been on a roll yet," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "When a club like this starts to swing the bats, with the way pitching is in baseball, they're going to get into the middle relief earlier.

"You look around the league, whether you're talking about Cleveland or whoever, the big offense comes from getting into that middle relief. You're not going to put up numbers against David Wells or Pedro (Martinez). You run into numbers when you get into middle relief."

Of the four players, Castilla's struggles are the most concerning. At 32, he is the youngest of the bunch, has the best career batting average and has hit more home runs the past three seasons than the other three. Yet he has shown little power and even less consistency. Missing the last two weeks of spring training with an abdominal pull got him off to a slow start and he has not recovered.

"I'm taking pitches I've never taken before," Castilla said. "I'm a free swinger. I'm an aggressive swinger and I'm taking pitches that I should be hitting. I need to be more aggressive, be me again. Play the game and don't worry."

Castilla admits the pressure has affected him. And it has become a vicious cycle. The worse he does, the more he presses.

"They brought me here to help. So far, I haven't done that," Castilla said. "Just relaxing, that's the key. I'm thinking too much at the plate. I have to get out of this soon."

The Rays caution that power hitters go through streaks. They are cold for extended periods, and then get hot for a spell. While the season is far enough along that these statistics are no fluke, there still is plenty of time to get the situation straightened out.

"I don't know that you will see all of them (hot) in too many cases," manager Larry Rothschild said. "But I think there should be a lot of times when you see two or three of them swinging the bat well at the same time."

Sluggish sluggers

Of the four sluggers in Tampa Bay's lineup, only Fred McGriff is on pace to match his past two seasons:

Player 1998 1999 2000+

Jose Canseco 46 34 29

Vinny Castilla 46 33 21

Fred McGriff 19 32 33

Greg Vaughn 50 45 41

+ projected