It was a minor flaw, but one Ben Grieve might not have known about Friday had he not walked to Field 3 at the Expos' spring training complex the day before and taken a few extra swings.
Coming off a disappointing season in which he hit .264 with 159 strikeouts and sometimes looked uncomfortable in the outfield, Grieve wants to improve all facets of his game.
During his impromptu workout with manager Hal McRae and batting coach Milt May after Thursday's game against the Expos, Grieve learned his head was dropping when swinging at a pitch.
"I haven't really been driving the ball in games," he said after going 2-for-5 with an RBI against the Orioles on Friday. "It's not like it's something where I'm worried about something, so I had to go fix it. I was just taking some extra swings."
And when two fly balls to rightfield came his way during the Rays' 4-3 loss to the Orioles at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, a more aggressive Grieve emerged.
Instead of fielding Mike Bordick's line drive on a hop, Grieve slid and tried to catch the ball. He missed, and Bordick got a triple.
"I'm trying to get more and more comfortable out there," he said. "Hal is the type of manager where he'd like to see you make a mistake playing hard instead of maybe waiting back.
"Like the ball today; if I waited back, it would've bounced. I think he'd rather see me get to as many balls as I can."
"Although he didn't catch the ball, that's the way he needs to play," McRae said. "He needs to get dirty and not play safe. If he plays like that, he'll get better. You learn from those types of plays. You lay back, you don't learn a thing."
LOOKING FOR HITTING: Jared Sandberg joined Grieve, McRae and May at the batting practice session Thursday.
Sandberg should win the starting job at third base if he can prove worthy at the plate. After batting .206 in 39 games with the Rays last season, Sandberg is hitting .184 with a team-leading 11 strikeouts.
What did he learn Thursday?
"I was taking my stride, and my hands and body were going forward," Sandberg said. "You can't see the ball. You can barely make contact."
Against the Orioles, he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and one walk and made a spectacular leaping catch to rob Bordick of a hit in the first inning.
"His strength is defense, and we need defense. But he needs to hit better," McRae said. "He's not doing enough."
SOSA'S DEBUT: Two days after arriving in camp, Jorge Sosa made his first appearance of the spring for his new team.
The Rule 5 pick, claimed off waivers from Milwaukee on Monday, allowed one run on two hits and struck out two on sliders in the fifth inning. Radar guns clocked Sosa's fastball in the mid 90s.
"He's got good arm strength," McRae said. "We need to see more of him.
"We have him scheduled to pitch twice more, hopefully stretching him out to three innings."
ODDS AND ENDS: Pitcher Nick Bierbrodt threw in the bullpen Thursday in his continued attempt to overcome severe control problems. The Rays loaned four minor-league pitchers to the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League _ Miguel Gomez, Santos Hernandez, Miguel Lopez and Pedro Martinez _ and signed 32-year-old pitcher Gavin Osteen to a contract with Double-A Orlando. Entering Friday's game, the Rays ranked last among AL teams in batting average (.244), on-base percentage (.296) and walks (40). The Rays have lost eight consecutive games. Five have been by one run. Reliever Jesus Colome retired nine of the 10 batters he faced in three innings. Troy O'Leary's six putouts in leftfield are the most of any Rays outfielder this spring.
_ KEVIN KELLY
KEEP AN EYE ON
Pitcher Tanyon Sturtze enters today's game against the defending NL East champions with a 14-inning scoreless streak.
"Who are they? Tampa Bay Stingrays?" _ one Fort Lauderdale Stadium groundskeeper to another as the Rays entered the clubhouse Friday morning.
DIKY: Don't i know you
The Rays acquired a Rule V pitcher named Jorge Sosa from the Brewers on Monday. He made his first appearance with the Rays on Friday. Another is an aspiring boxer who trains at the Rosales Gym in Los Lunas, N.M. He had a 24-3 record as a kickboxer before making the transition into pro boxing, where he has fought a couple of times.