Rios' tinkering awakens outfielder's inner slugger

AL notebook

June 11, 2006|By COMPILED FROM INTERVIEWS AND OTHER NEWSPAPERS' REPORTS.

So many times a prospect has heard the criticism: If you don't hit for power, you won't stay in the big leagues.

So many times a prospect has tried to heed the warning only to ruin his swing and hamper, if not destroy, his career.

That's why the story of the Toronto Blue Jays' Alex Rios is worth mentioning.

The Blue Jays' first-round pick in 1999 (19th overall), Rios was one of those famed five-tool players. Yet the tool everyone expects a right fielder to have is power. And Rios' homer stroke was lagging.

He had 426 at-bats as a rookie in 2004, but homered only once. Last season, he had 481 at-bats and 10 homers. And when the Blue Jays revamped their roster this offseason, Rios found himself in a platoon with Eric Hinske, even though Rios is, by all accounts, outstanding defensively.

"We didn't know how he was going to come back from last year," said manager John Gibbons. "He took some heat after his first year about not being able to hit home runs. ... When he went home in the offseason, he worked hard, made a couple of adjustments and now he is starting to come into his own."

On Tuesday, Rios hit his 11th homer - a career high. He's among the league leaders in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging). The Hinske platoon is a distant memory.

Rios, 6 feet 5 but only 195 pounds, said he was aware of the criticism but couldn't do anything about it.

"I didn't think much about [hitting homers]," Rios, 25, said. "It's just nothing you can work on. If [power] is going to come, it is going to come and I'm doing a little better than last year."

The main difference, he said, is "confidence, I guess." He's seeing more pitches, and consequently, better pitches to hit. Now he's back to being the five-tool player that scouts had predicted, without messing up his swing or his career.

Guillen's take

Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen doesn't sidestep any issue, so he didn't shy away from the Jason Grimsley steroid scandal.

"Only thing I can say is that a former player should shut up and go," Guillen said. "Shut up and move on. We don't need these guys here. Baseball is better without him."

When reminded that Grimsley, then with the Cleveland Indians, climbed through a crawl space at old Comiskey Park in 1994 to retrieve Albert Belle's corked bat from the umpire's room during a game against Guillen's White Sox, Guillen said: "That was him? That man is a criminal."

Shocking death

Michelle Mielecki, a 21-year-old University of Toledo student and one of five women who started the Web site www.gradysladies.com to honor Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore, was shot and killed June 3 by her boyfriend, who then killed himself.

Sizemore, who never met Mielecki, called the news "unbelievable." Both he and the Indians sent flowers to the woman's family. Mielecki, a marketing major, dreamt of working for the Indians' marketing department.

Quick hits

The Minnesota Twins might deal within their division; that's good news for White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, who covets center fielder Torii Hunter. ... More knee troubles could push the Boston Red Sox's David Wells, 43, into retirement. But who'll know? He isn't speaking to the media.

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