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New Grass Is Slower At Tropicana Field

Flecks of black rubber kicked up in the air as baseballs skipped through Tropicana Field's new FieldTurf infield Sunday morning.

They were coming off coaches' fungo bats rather than full swings of big-league hitters, but according to the men on the receiving end there was a noticeable difference in the way the balls traveled through the turf.

"The grass is slower, a little bit, and that helps a lot," 2B Jorge Cantu said. "It's slower and smoother. You actually have time to react to the ball and get a good jump."

That's one improvement the Rays are expecting after the installation of the new Duofilament turf, which has not been completed yet.

The team expected to take batting practice on the field Sunday before departing for its game with the Pirates, but work was still being done in right field and around the warning track in the outfield. The position players hit in the batting cages instead.

Once the full surface is down, the Rays hope to use the park to their advantage as they continue efforts to shore up their defense. 1B Ty Wigginton said he expects the new turf to change as it gets more use, perhaps compacting a bit, but concurred with Cantu's assessment of the slower speed.

"The second hop's definitely different," he said. "It could definitely give our infield a chance to get to a few balls that they couldn't before."

The Rays also hope to utilize the turf's qualities on offense. They have been dabbling in more of a traditional National League-style offense this spring, with runners in motion on the bases and plenty of bunting, and Manager Joe Maddon believes the turf could aid the cause.

"Even though we do have speed on our team, we can take advantage of it even in a bunting sense," said Maddon. "We can actually bunt on this stuff. It plays like a real field."

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