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Royals notebook: Gathright uncertain how he’ll be received in Tampa Bay

BALTIMORE | Outfielder Joey Gathright isn't sure what to expect Friday when he returns to Tampa Bay for the first time since the June 20, 2006 trade brought him to the Royals in exchange for left-handed pitcher J.P. Howell.

“I was talking to (former teammate) Aubrey Huff (of the Orioles) the other night at first base,” Gathright said. “He said he got booed when he went back. Maybe they'll boo me, too. I don't know.

Gathright spent parts of three seasons with Tampa Bay but never worked himself into regular duty. He is batting .250 this season while playing in 71 of the Royals' first 85 games.

Howell has evolved into a key contributor in the Rays’ bullpen at 6-0 with a 2.96 ERA in 31 appearances.

The Royals had already made their only 2006 trip to Tampa Bay before the trade; Gathright was in the minors last season when the two teams split four games at Tropicana Field.

“It's going to be strange,” he admitted, “going there and staying at the Vinoy (Resort hotel) and not my old place. All of my old friends are still there; all of my old girlfriends are still there. We'll see.”

Feeling better

Catcher John Buck reported his condition as “sore” but “better” one day after being hit in the cup by a foul tip. Miguel Olivo started the series finale against the Orioles.

Squeamish? Stop here.

The play occurred in the fourth inning Wednesday when Jay Payton tipped a pitch from Gil Meche that slammed into Buck’s cup. Buck spent several minutes recovering on his hands and knees but remained in the game.

“After the game,” Buck said, “I could barely walk because it was so swollen. I slept with ice on it. I woke up today and I was back to normal size. I (passed) a little blood.

“I hope I never get one worse than that.”

Picollo promoted

Farm director J.J. Picollo has been promoted to assistant general manager for scouting and player development. That adds responsibility for the scouting department to his current duties of running the player-development system.

“It's a philosophical approach to baseball operations that I've always liked,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “I've just been waiting for the right opportunity to do it. I thought it was important for J.J. to transition through player development (before adding the new role).

“It's always been part of my long-range plan. It just creates greater synergy between the two departments.”

Picollo joined the Royals in August 2006 as their farm director after working since 1999 in various roles for the Atlanta Braves.

Slumping Aviles sits

Manager Trey Hillman is hoping a one-game break can revive rookie shortstop Mike Aviles, who has just five hits in his last 32 at-bats. Aviles was zero for nine Tuesday and Wednesday against the Orioles.

“He's climbing the ladder a little too much (with his swing),” Hillman said. “I don't want that confidence level, because of a lack of production, to get too low.”

Aviles had started the previous 25 games. His recent skid dropped his average from .352 to .291.

Tony Peňa started at short in place of Aviles. It was Peňa’s first appearance in eight games.

Guillen nominated

Outfielder José Guillen is one of six nominees for the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Month for June. The winner will be determined through an online vote at pepsiclutch.mlb.com.

The other nominees are Yankees first baseman/DH Jason Giambi, Diamondbacks pitcher Dan Haren, Angels pitcher John Lackey, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez and Tigers outfielder Marcus Thames.

The Web site contains video highlights for all six players.

Voting continues through 10:59 p.m. Wednesday. The winner will be announced next Friday.

On to Tampa

The Royals mark the holiday by getting their first glimpse of Tampa Bay since the Devil left town when they open a four-game wraparound series Friday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The exorcised Rays — no longer the Devil Rays — had an open date Thursday after stretching their lead in the American League East to 3½ games Wednesday night by completing a three-game sweep of second-place Boston.

The Trop’s inhabitants, whatever their name, haven't been particularly friendly in recent years. The Royals are just 2-9 there since the start of the 2005 season.

The pitching matchups (note the times):

Friday: RHP Brian Bannister, 7-7 with a 4.88 ERA, vs. Tampa Bay RHP Edwin Jackson, 4-6 and 4.33, at 4:10 p.m. Central time

Saturday: RHP Zack Greinke, 7-4 and 3.65, vs. Tampa Bay RHP Andy Sonnanstine, 9-3 and 4.60, at 6:05 p.m. Central time.

Sunday: RHP Luke Hochevar, 5-6 and 4.91, vs. Tampa Bay RHP James Shields, 6-5 and 3.70, at 12:40 p.m. Central time.

Monday: RHP Gil Meche, 6-9 and 4.74, vs. Tampa Bay RHP Matt Garza, 7-4 and 3.47, at 11:40 a.m. Central time.

Minor details

Veteran infielder Jason Smith will represent Omaha as a member of the Pacific Coast League team in the Class AAA all-star game against the International League on July 16 in Louisville, Ky.

Smith, 30, is batting .261 with 18 homers and 54 RBIs in 82 games at Omaha. He spent parts of the previous seven seasons in the big leagues with seven clubs, including 40 games last year with the Royals.

Looking back

It was 39 years ago Friday — July 4, 1969 — that Bob Oliver hit the first grand slam in franchise history. It came against future author Jim Bouton in the eighth inning of the first game of a double-header sweep against the Seattle Pilots at Municipal Stadium.

Oliver’s blast capped the scoring in a 13-2 victory. The Royals posted a 3-2 victory in the second game.

It was nine years ago Friday — July 4, 1999 — that Mike Sweeney tied an American League record by driving in a run in his 13th straight game. He actually had two RBIs in a 10-9 victory in Cleveland.

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