Sunday, March 21, 2004

Benevolent Devil Rays want McGriff to be seen

Major-league insider

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - When no other team presented a legitimate offer, Fred McGriff went home again.

The Devil Rays, whom McGriff played for from 1998-2001, extended the unusual courtesy of inviting the 40-year-old Tampa native to spring training this year.

There is no spot on the Devil Rays' 25-man roster for McGriff, who is nine homers shy of 500 for his career, with Tino Martinez at first base and Aubrey Huff at designated hitter.

But the hope was McGriff could use the spring to show other teams he is past the groin, hip and knee injuries that limited him to 86 games with the Dodgers last season.

"For me, this spring is just trying to show that I'm healthy, and to get my confidence," said McGriff, who entered Saturday's game against the Reds hitting .294 with one double and two RBI. "I feel good now. For me it's just trying to come back from injuries."

Only McGriff and Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. have a legitimate shot of hitting their 500th home runs this season. Griffey has 481.

They would become the 21st and 22nd players to hit 500 career home runs.

"I think more from a history standpoint, the history of the game, 500 sounds better than 491," McGriff said. "But I want to get more than 500."

SECRET WEAPON: At 37 years old, Curt Schilling is not finished learning.

The Red Sox starting pitcher is quietly working on a sixth pitch, a cut fastball designed to cut down on home runs by utilizing the roomy right field at Fenway Park.

"Fenway is a park that allows you to make mistakes to center and right center," said Schilling, who also throws a fastball, curveball, split-finger, changeup and slider.

THE CHOSEN ONE: After letting homegrown talents Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada leave Oakland, the Athletics decided to spend and keep one of their own.

The team signed third baseman Eric Chavez to a six-year, $66-million contract on Thursday. Chavez has hit 26 or more homers the past four seasons and driven in 101 or more RBI the past three seasons.

"In my opinion, with all due respect to Mr. Rolen in St. Louis, this is the best third baseman in baseball who is only going to get better," Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. "If you're going to invest in a baseball player, you want to make sure you are investing in the finest human being, too. We feel like we've done that."

STILL STEAMED: He shed pinstripes for a job as a senior baseball adviser to Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella.

Don Zimmer, however, has no regrets about leaving the Yankees for a last-place team. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner made the decision easy.

"The winter before spring training he started treating me like a dog," Zimmer, 73, told reporters Tuesday. "It was in his own way, never face to face, and I got tired of it.

"So this was a decision I made with my heart."

ODDS AND ENDS: Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Tuesday it was still too soon to tell whether pitcher Mark Prior (Achilles tendonitis) will make his scheduled start against the Reds April 8. ... The two-game series between the Astros and Marlins in Mexico City last weekend drew 26,338 fans, 11,420 fewer fans than the Mets-Dodgers two-game series drew last season. ... The Rockies plan to remove last names from their jerseys starting in 2005. ... Rick Reed, Sean Burnett and Ryan Vogelsong are in the running for the fifth spot in the Pirates rotation.

THE LAST WORDS: "You know the story about the blind squirrel? Well, meet Mr. Blind Squirrel." - Yankees pitcher Kevin Brown after hitting a first-pitch home run off Phillies closer Billy Wagner on Monday.

This report was compiled using information submitted by other MLB writers.

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