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Williams shows leadoff power

When discussing his philosophy as a leadoff hitter, Gerald Williams tries to be succinct.

Score, score and, lest we forget, score again.

That would be by any means necessary, even if he has to drive himself in.

The Devil Rays may not have gotten as much power from the middle of the lineup as they had hoped, but their leadoff hitter is doing what he can to pick up the slack.

With six home runs, Williams has one more than Vinny Castilla and one fewer than Jose Canseco.

He has matched the home run total produced by Tampa Bay leadoff hitters in 1999 and he has 121 games to go.

"The place I am hitting in the lineup may lend the perception that power is not part of what I do," Williams said. "People might assume power takes a back seat to the things you customarily see with leadoff hitters. For me, the only thing that matters is that I do what's expected of me. And that's score."

Williams is doing a fairly good job. He is second on the team in runs, trailing Greg Vaughn. The added bonus is that Williams is third on the team in RBI, an impressive feat for a leadoff hitter.

When they signed Williams to a two-year, $5.75-million free-agent contract in December, the Rays knew they were not getting a prototypical leadoff hitter. He is more of a free swinger than you would like in a leadoff hitter, which means his on-base percentage (currently .314) is below average.

Yet the Rays felt Williams would make up for that in other areas, like his defense in centerfield, which has been outstanding, and his ever-increasing power production.

During the early part of his career with the Brewers and Yankees, Williams flashed his power potential but never played steadily enough for it to blossom.

Given that chance in Atlanta last season, he hit a career-high 17 home runs. He's on pace to hit 24.

"He's not a power hitter. He's a guy who needs to hit line drives," manager Larry Rothschild said. "If he gets the pitch he wants, then he can hit it out. But if he looks for home runs, he's going to cause problems for himself. I think he's just learned how to look for certain pitches.

"It's having enough at-bats to know what to look for and what to do when he gets it."

NOT STRONG ENOUGH: Science teacher Jim Morris was not the only 30-something pitcher the Rays gambled on last season. They also signed Joe Strong after seeing him pitch in Korea. Strong began last season ahead of Morris in the Rays' minor-league system, but did not progress as quickly and was released.

The Marlins signed him in the off-season and the 37-year-old became the oldest rookie in 40 years when he was called up last week. Despite not reaching the majors with the Rays, as Morris did, Strong said he has no regrets.

"That's fine, I'm getting my love here," he said. "(Morris) can have that, I'm doing this. I don't have any hard feelings against the Devil Rays. Their loss is Florida's gain."

HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES: It is that time of year again when American League pitchers grab their bats, and managers hide their eyes.

With interleague play less than two weeks away, pitchers have been coming to the park early to take batting practice before the hitters show up. Last season, Rays pitchers did well for themselves, hitting .211 with two RBI in 19 at-bats. But that does not mean Rothschild is eager to watch pitchers hit again.

National League veterans like Dwight Gooden and Steve Trachsel should be fine, but someone like Esteban Yan has never been to the plate in a major-league game.

"Half of it is just having been up there and knowing what to expect," Rothschild said. "When you haven't seen live pitching in I don't know how long, and then you're seeing major-league pitching for the first time, it's a little different experience. You can't simulate that."

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