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Fehr's message: Be prepared

A Monday morning update from players union chief Don Fehr on the status of negotiations for a new labor agreement was an informative experience for the Rays.

And an eye-opening one.

Fehr's message apparently was not much different than it has been during his weeks-long tour of camps: It still is early in the negotiations, there is a lot of work to do and the union doesn't want a work stoppage.

But because the Rays have so many young players who weren't around for previous negotiations, player rep John Flaherty said it was important for them to hear for themselves what was going on and to prepare for the worst-case scenario, which would be a work stoppage.

"I think our young guys got a good sense of what the tone is in those meetings, where we are and, hopefully, where we're going to get to," Flaherty said.

Said Joe Kennedy: "I listened. It's something that affects me."

The union has been withholding some of the players' licensing money, and there has been some talk that players are being cautioned to not make unnecessary expenditures.

Flaherty said Monday's talk didn't get that specific but the message was clear. "The message was, "Be smart,' " he said. "I think if you prepare for the worst, your common sense will tell you what good decisions are and bad decisions are."

Fehr declined to categorize the state of the negotiations, which are expected to resume next month, or speculate what might happen.

"The players have not considered setting any deadlines at the All-Star Game or at any other time, and we won't do that unless we have to," Fehr said.

But he also said there can be a point, as there was in 1994, when the union has no choice but to strike. "Hopefully we won't get there this year, and we don't want to," he said.

GOOD MOVE: Fehr said he interpreted John McHale's move to the commissioner's office to be a good sign for the Rays. "It's an indication," Fehr said, "that at least some people don't feel his presence here is as necessary as it was last spring." Fehr also said "no one has suggested to me lately that the Devil Rays are a short-term contraction candidate. Beyond that I can't say."

DEAD ARM PERIOD: Kennedy made his fifth spring start Monday and said he's experiencing a "dead arm" period for the first time in his career.

"My arm feels fine, but my control isn't right there where it needs to be," he said. "Hopefully I can work through it before the start of the season and get out there and be 100 percent."

Kennedy allowed three runs on three hits, walking two and striking out three, in six innings in a 4-2 loss to the Rangers before 3,129 at Florida Power Park. The Rays have lost nine of 10.

KIND WORDS: At some point after Jared Sandberg was recalled from the minors for a 39-game stint with the Rays last season, Russ Johnson offered the rookie some advice.

"There's nothing wrong with struggling at the highest level," Sandberg recalled. "There's so many things you can learn from that. Every day is a learning experience for me."

Because he's batting .184 with a team-high 11 strikeouts this spring, Sandberg learned Monday he will start the season at Triple-A Durham while Johnson gets the chance to prove he can be an everyday infielder as the starting third baseman.

"I knew Jared had the best shot and it was totally up to him whether he made it or not," Johnson said. "That's a lot of pressure for a guy like him. It's something that I had to deal with.

"He will (be fine) because he's strong-minded and he's got the great tools. He's got above-average pop and he's great defensively. I think the main thing for him is to get his confidence and do his thing. In the meantime, I'll hold down the fort."

_ MARC TOPKIN, KEVIN KELLY

Keep an eye on . . .

In what is expected to be his final start before the Rays assign him to Triple-A Durham, Jared Sandberg will play third base against the Blue Jays.

QUOTABLE

It's like Walter Cronkite. You leave the air, that's the way it is.

HAL MCRAE

manager describing his reluctance to elaborate on what his club's roster might look like.

DIKY: Don't I know you?

The Rays have a starting second baseman whose full name is Michael Brent Abernathy. Another Michael Abernathy is a fictional journalist in a book titled Tatted Angels. He discovers "tatted angels of different colors with special Bible verses attached mysteriously begin to appear in the homes of residents who need encouragement, praise or support."

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