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Power-hitting prospect gives third base a shot

Wes Bankston said he never, ever played third base until "a couple of days ago." Why, then, have the Devil Rays moved the big-time, first base prospect to the hot corner?

"He's got the arm strength," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Tuesday. "And after watching him around the bag at first, he's got the hands."

Besides, a good third baseman is hard to find. And considering Tampa Bay's lack of depth there, the experiment could fill a need.

"It certainly improves his prospect status to do so," Friedman said. "That said, if it doesn't work, we still like Wes Bankston here a lot as a first base prospect. There is no downside to this experiment."

"Wherever they feel they need me to help out the team, I'll do it," Bankston, 22, said.

The fourth-round pick in 2002 was converted from rightfield two years ago. His 68 home runs, including seven grand slams, are fifth most by a Rays minor-leaguer, and he averages 72 RBIs.

Bankston, who homered in Tuesday's intrasquad game, said his main concern is rebuilding arm strength for throws from third.

"I'll get there," he said. "Wherever you get to play doesn't matter as long as you get there."

MORI'S STORY: Japanese reliever Shinji Mori's next step toward pitching in his first major-league game was a good one as he breezed through a 1-2-3 second.

Mori struck out Jonny Gomeslooking, got Sean Burroughs to swing at a third strike in the dirt and retired Bankston on a popup to first.

"It was exciting," Mori said through an interpreter. "My conditioning was real good. I was happy."

Gomes said the most challenging part about seeing Mori for the first time was his delivery.

"It's unorthodox," Gomes said. "He's got some things going on there."

Mori is scheduled to work his first exhibition Friday against Toronto at Progress Energy Park.

"I just want to show my teammates and my coaches and my manager how I do," Mori said. "So I want to do my best like I did (Tuesday)."

MISSING IN ACTION: Shortstop Julio Lugo missed the workout and might not be back until Thursday at the earliest for what team officials said was a "family matter" in the Dominican Republic.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS: Damon Hollins had two hits, a home run, three RBIs and scored twice.

"Just the first day," he said. "I wasn't trying to do (anything) special but have a little balance in my swing and try to hit a line drive up the middle."

"I love this man's heart," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's an impressive man, and now I've seen what a good baseball player he is."

Ty Wigginton also homered, and rightfielder Delmon Young got Maddon's attention with a heads-up backup of second.

PITCHERS: Scheduled for Thursday's exhibition opener against the Blue Jays at Dunedin are Casey Fossum, Chad Orvella, Jason Hammel, Wayne Franklin, Tim Corcoranand Travis Harper.

Scheduled for Friday's home opener against Toronto at Progress Energy Park are Scott Kazmir, Chris Seddon, Chad Harville, Bart Miadich, Mark Malaska, Mori and Jesus Colome.

Roy Halladay is expected to start Thursday for the Blue Jays, Scott Downs on Friday.

- DAMIAN CRISTODERO,

MARC TOPKIN, Times staff writers

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