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Baldelli, Crawford moving up

The Devil Rays planned to give young outfielders Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli ample opportunity this spring to make the team.

Now it appears the children may lead them.

Encouraged by what he has seen from the dynamic duo, and discouraged by what he has seen from Marlon Anderson and Rey Ordonez in their chances at the top of the order, manager Lou Piniella said before Saturday's 6-2 loss to Toronto that he will look at batting Crawford in the leadoff slot and Baldelli second.

"I was thinking coming into camp that we'd give our young kids a little bit of breather, but we might not be able to as far as where they hit in the lineup," Piniella said.

"Crawford's going to hit somewhere in the first-second area. And the way Baldelli's swinging the bat we're not going to keep him in the ninth hole, I can tell you that. He's been hitting the ball hard. He hits the ball as hard as anyone we have in camp. He and (Aubrey) Huff have been the two best hitters in camp."

Obviously, their chances to make the team are strong. "It looks very good for (Baldelli) and it looks very good for Crawford," Piniella said.

He has been considering myriad lineup possibilities, with the possibility of some surprises, and hopes to settle on one in the next week or two.

He desperately wants speed at the top of the order, and if Crawford and Baldelli are there, he said he could envision a lineup with Huff third, Greg Vaughn fourth, a left-handed hitter (likely either Travis Lee or Ben Grieve) fifth, Toby Hall sixth, and another left-hander (likely either Lee or Grieve) seventh. That leaves the final spots for Ordonez and the second baseman, likely either Anderson or Brent Abernathy.

RAYS LOSE, AGAIN: Aside from Crawford, Jared Sandberg (who had two hits) and a good-but-not-great start by Joe Kennedy (four hits in three innings), Piniella didn't have much to be pleased about as the Rays dropped to a major-league-worst 1-7.

He was visibly perturbed when the game turned in the fourth inning. Delvin James hit No. 9 hitter Mike Colangelo to load the bases, then gave up a three-run double to Shannon Stewart.

"You take away one pitch," Piniella said. "James has got the ninth hitter two strikes and no balls and he hits him to face a guy that's got a (.302) lifetime average in the big leagues. Was he trying to hit him? Absolutely not. But it cost him three runs."

The Rays scored on a wild pitch and an infield out. It was the fourth time in eight games they had two runs or fewer.

VAUGHN REPORT: Vaughn has yet to do much to convince the Rays to keep him on the team, striking out four times Saturday. In five games he is 2-for-14, including six strikeouts.

YOUNG GUNS: John Frascatore is one of the veterans throwing well, but Piniella made clear their preference is to give the young pitchers ample opportunity. "We're going to keep as many young pitchers as we can," Piniella said.

FAMILIAR FOE: Tanyon Sturtze, who allowed just one hit in three innings, said it was more business than pleasure facing the Rays for the first time after 2{ seasons with them. "I didn't really think about it," he said. In an earlier interview on the Blue Jays TV network, he noted how much easier it is to pitch with Toronto's better defense behind him: "It's a complete relief coming over here."

CUTS (STILL) COMING: Because the Rays have a B game scheduled for this morning at Pirate City in Bradenton, Piniella said the first cut won't be made until Monday. It is expected to be large, perhaps more than 20.

C.C. RIDER: Piniella and hitting coach Lee Elia are working with Crawford to be more aggressive, and it seemed to work as he had three of the Rays' six hits. "I just wanted to let the bat fly and take some more aggressive swings today," Crawford said. He was too aggressive on the bases, getting caught off second in the eighth.

MISCELLANY: Reserved seats for today's game are sold out, but several hundred berm tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. at the stadium box office. Piniella, general manager Chuck LaMar and players attended the Clearwater for Youth charity dinner Saturday. Mel Rojas still can't throw due to stiffness in his shoulder. Luis De Los Santos will start the B game, with Jeremi Gonzalez, Hans Smith, Leslie Brea, Carlos Reyes and Brando Backe also scheduled.

_ MARC TOPKIN

QUOTABLE

"I wish we had as many base hits as balls I've signed."

_ LOU PINIELLA

manager, after another poor offensive showing

SO YOU KNOW LOU?

A daily quiz to see how much you really know about Rays manager Lou Piniella. Answer below.

Of the 2,454 games he has managed, how many times has he been ejected?

A) 35

B) 50

C) 75

D) 100

Keep an eye on . . .

Nick Bierbrodt, impressive Wednesday in his return from a season lost to wildness and gunshot injuries, makes his second appearance of the spring. Also scheduled to pitch are Dan Reichert, Matt Perisho, Lance Carter, Bob Wells and Seth McClung.

ANSWER: B

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