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Puzzling Grieve put in front of sluggers

Manager Hal McRae said he'd try anything to get Ben Grieve out of his slump. Monday, he tried putting the less-than-fleet outfielder in the No. 2 slot in the lineup.

"To try and get him in the mix, that's mainly what I'm trying to do," McRae said. "Second is not an ideal spot for him in the lineup, but if it means that he gets better pitches, if it means that he's in the middle of everything, I'm willing to try anything to get him going."

McRae said Grieve swung the bat better Saturday in Montreal when he batted third, in front of Fred McGriff. With Greg Vaughn back in the No. 3 slot and McGriff hitting fourth, McRae opted to put Grieve in front of both sluggers, thinking teams will be reluctant to walk Grieve with the sluggers coming up next and will throw him more strikes.

The move seemed to work. Grieve went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer in the fifth. It was just his seventh homer of the season for Grieve, who is batting .247 with 37 RBI and is third in the league with 90 strikeouts. In his past three seasons in Oakland, Grieve averaged 23 homers and 93 RBI.

"One hit is not going to do anything," Grieve said. "You've got to have more than one good game."

The 25-year-old said that he isn't sure what the problem is, that he feels good for a day or two but can't seem to stay hot for an extended period.

Grieve had batted second three times with Oakland, last on June 23, 1999.

OUT OF HIS HANDS: The person most affected by McGriff's decision to stay with the Rays is Steve Cox, the promising first baseman who will continue to be relegated to occasional duty.

"I've just got to stay patient and hope that someday my time will come," Cox said. "Until then, I'll remain patient and see what happens."

Cox said since he had no control over the situation, he was not too wrapped up in McGriff's decision. "I never had any hopes or anything like that, so today is no different than any other day," he said.

Cox got a chance to play regularly during the three weeks McGriff was sidelined or limited to DH duties and hit .314 with 13 RBI in 17 games.

"I felt all right, but I never got hot," Cox said. "In a way, that's a positive because I didn't feel my best and still did decent."

MINOR MATTERS: Top prospect Josh Hamilton returned to action Sunday for Class-A Charleston, going 2-for-4 as DH. Hamilton had played one game (June 21) since late April because of a combination of minor injuries. Right-hander Dan Wheeler, who pitched in 13 games for the big-league team, was activated off the Triple-A disabled list and sent to Double-A Orlando to get consistent work as a starter. Right-hander Eddy Reyes, 2-3 with one save and a 5.44 ERA for the O-Rays, was released. He had 25 saves for Class-A St. Petersburg in 1999 and 14 last season at Orlando.

RAYS BITS: McRae said he has abandoned any formula of rotating catchers John Flaherty and Mike DiFelice and will use whoever is playing better. "There's no preconceived plan, and they know it," McRae said. "They know I don't know." Randy Winn's leadoff homer was the Rays' first since Gerald Williams hit one July 21 and their eighth overall. Brent Abernathy, forced to leave Sunday's game with cramps, returned to the lineup Monday.

_ MARC TOPKIN

THE PITCHERS

Tanyon Sturtze

Sturtze (4-7, 4.88) was in fine form in his last start, holding the Expos to five hits over seven shutout innings. He has gone six or more innings in his past nine starts and 10 of 13. Sturtze retired 12 of 13 Braves during a four-inning relief outing last season.

Greg Maddux

Maddux again is among the game's elite pitchers. He is third in the NL with 11 wins, second with a 2.60 ERA and seventh with 111 strikeouts and is one of two pitchers with two shutouts. He is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA against the Rays.

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