For all the inquiring minds who wanted to know _ and thought they knew better _ Lou Piniella said again Thursday that he plans to stay with the Devil Rays for the two seasons remaining on his contract.
But that doesn't mean he's totally happy with things the way they are.
Piniella, 61, is making it extremely clear he wants the Rays to accelerate plans to raise the payroll and bring in established veterans who will significantly improve the team.
"Truthfully, at my age and at my time in life managing, developing is not really what it's all about for me," he said. "I'm more interested in the winning part of it. We do play a lot of young people here, and one thing is they all play and they all pitch so we're growing with them, but there's got to come a time here over these four years that I'm here that the organization, instead of developing, comes to the conclusion, "We want to win,' and that's what I'm hoping happens. I really do."
Agent Alan Nero is scheduled to meet Monday with top team officials to "see where we're headed, what we're trying to do, what we want to accomplish as an organization." The New York media seized on that, but Piniella dismissed all queries regarding what-if scenarios if they don't like what they hear:
"You've got to remember I'm signed here for years and like what (managing general partner Vince Naimoli) said, he would like to see me honor my contract and that's what I intend on doing."
Piniella said what he wants to do most is help make baseball a success in the Tampa Bay area: "As long as the organization is happy with my situation, I'm going to do the best I can to get this thing here moving forward."
Piniella, who unsuccessfully lobbied the Rays to add offense at the trading deadline, did offer some interesting, if not curious, unsolicited praise of Mets management, in part for trading pitching prospect Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano.
"One thing I can tell you about the New York Mets that I really, really like is that at the trading deadline they went out there and did their best as an organization to improve their situation, to give themselves a chance," he said. "Things didn't work out like they anticipated, but when you're on the field, as a manager, as a coach, as a player, you like to see those things happen because they give you the impetus that you need to go forward."
PITCHING IN: Piniella wasn't kidding when he joked the other day that his method for filling out the rotation would be W.A. _ whoever's available. With Kazmir still bothered by a sore spot on his middle finger and Doug Waechter struggling, the rotation is being shuffled again.
The latest plan _ for now _ has Mark Hendrickson coming out of the bullpen to start tonight against Toronto, Kazmir moving back to Monday against Boston and Waechter going to the bullpen.
With four shutout innings Thursday, rookie John Webb pitched his way into the picture _ and likely will start one of the games in Thursday's doubleheader.
HUFF DADDY: Despite a brutal start that had him hitting .186 into May, Aubrey Huff raised his average above .300 with a four-hit game, giving him a team record seven straight hits, and logged his 100th RBI. He joins Fred McGriff as the only Rays with consecutive 100 RBI seasons. "To be able to come back and put up some good numbers is rewarding," Huff said.
MINOR MATTERS: The Rays continue talks to secure an advanced Class A affiliation before Saturday's deadline. With Sarasota leaning toward the Reds, the Brevard County team might be the only option outside of the California League.
MISCELLANY: The Rays have made at least one error in 23 of the past 27 games. The Yankees have hit a major-league-leading 232 home runs; eight shy of the 1961 franchise record. Shortstop Julio Lugo got a "mental breather" after making seven errors in his last eight games.
_ MARC TOPKIN, Times staff writer
TONIGHT: RAYS VS. BLUE JAYS
WHEN/WHERE: 7:15; Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg.
TV/RADIO: Pax; WFLA-AM 970.
PITCHERS: Jays _ RHP Josh Towers (9-9, 4.92), Rays _ LHP Mark Hendrickson (9-15, 5.05).
NOTES: Towers hasn't gotten to the sixth inning in any of his past four starts, including a loss to the Rays Friday. Overall he is 3-3, 5.74 against them. Hendrickson rejoins the rotation after a brief stay in the bullpen. He picked up a win in relief Tuesday, his first since July 28, but has lost seven straight starts. He has struggled against his ex-teammates, going 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA, allowing 19 hits and 14 runs (six earned) in two starts.
RAYS TICKETS: Available at the Tropicana Field box office, through all Ticketmaster outlets, online at devilrays.com or ticketmaster.com, and at the Devil Rays Dugout store at WestShore Plaza in Tampa.
INFORMATION: Call toll-free 1-888-326-7297 (FAN-RAYS).
Most of the Rays were happy to escape New York after going 0-10, but Aubrey Huff said he likes playing at Yankee Stadium. "I like playing where there's a lot of atmosphere and there's a good crowd," he said. "You don't get that at the Trop. You go on the road, you get some atmosphere, you play outdoors, it feels more like baseball."