Rays go on offensive against O's

Rays go on offensive against O's

ST. PETERSBURG -- Lou Piniella shook things up on Thursday night, trying to do anything to get the Devil Rays' offense in gear, so he "bunched" his speed at the top of the order.

He got quick results.

The Rays' offense that stranded 14 base runners the previous night awakened like an angry bear, pounding 14 hits in a 12-7 victory over the Orioles in front of an announced crowd of 9,797 at Tropicana Field.

By winning, the Devil Rays dodged a sweep in their three-game series with the Orioles before taking off for a five-game road trip against the Red Sox and Yankees.

"Nobody wants to get swept, three in a row," said Carl Crawford. "Hopefully, we'll gain some momentum going into Boston."

Crawford, Julio Lugo and Alex Sanchez -- fresh off his 10-day suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy -- batted 1-2-3 in the lineup, scored six runs, drove in another three and even showed a little power in the form of Crawford's three-run homer off O's starter Sidney Ponson.

"Lou likes to shake things up," said Crawford about his manager's strategy. "Anybody who has been around here knows that any lineup can be up at any time. So it was a little bit of a surprise, but then again, it wasn't a surprise, because we all know he likes to shake things up. He was trying to utilize our speed, I guess."

Sanchez had never hit in the third spot prior to Thursday night.

"I sort of like [the third spot]," Sanchez said. "I try to act like I'm still hitting in the leadoff spot -- get on base, score some runs, get on base for Aubrey Huff and the guys behind him.

"Lou told me he was going to put the fast runners on the team at the beginning of the lineup because he wanted all three guys to get on base for the guys who've got some pop."

Piniella also took some time before the game to try to relax his team.

"He came up to us one by one and told us just to try and relax," said Crawford. "If we get a man in scoring position, it's not a big deal. I'm pretty sure a lot of guys took that in stride today. I know myself, I just tried to relax."

Piniella told the hitters to just swing the bat.

"If you don't get it done this time, you'll get it done the next time," he said. "And they swung the bats."

"Bunching" the speed served up a cold one to a thirsty offense, but the Devil Rays' batting order could not be accused of being top-heavy. Every starter had at least one hit, and the 4-5-6 hitters -- Huff, Josh Phelps and Travis Lee -- did their part by driving in seven runs combined.

Sanchez wasn't the only newcomer to the starting lineup. Charles Johnson made his first start at catcher as a Devil Ray, and he seemed to settle down starter Rob Bell when necessary.

"Any time it's the first time through with a new catcher, it's like a first date," said Bell. "You're trying to get on the same page and see what he's thinking in certain situations. He's faced a lot of those guys in places and different uniforms he's worn."

Johnson's leadoff double in the fourth inning ignited a seven-run rally in which the Devil Rays batted around. He added an RBI single in the inning for good measure.

Crawford pointed at that fourth frame as an instance of contagious hitting.

"Those are the kinds of innings you like to have," he said. "You see one guy get a hit, and you want to just keep the train moving. Today, in that one inning, we were able to do that. Hopefully, we're going to be able to continue to have some big innings like that."

Bell pitched well enough to pick up his first win of the season. Making his second start, the right-hander went six innings, allowing four earned runs on nine hits.

"Being in the good slot [in the rotation when the team scores a lot of runs] was fine with me," he said. "It's fun to watch. It's fun to watch runs go up like that and know that you're out there with a chance to win."

The victory provided just the right tonic to prompt a smile from Piniella.

"We got them on tonight, and we got them in, too," he said. "That's what you like to see. We're going on the road for the first time, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. I think it will feel good to go on the road. I hope I say that when I come back off this road trip, that we enjoyed it. But it will be good to get away from here for a while. We've been doing the same routine for about 60 days."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.