Cantu, who wouldn’t even be playing if not for Alomar’s sudden retirement in spring training, will try to continue his strong start when the Devil Rays host the Oakland Athletics in the middle game of their series.
Cantu, a 23-year-old second baseman, had strong season at Triple-A Durham in 2004, amassing 22 homers and 80 RBIs in 95 games, but the Devil Rays seemed to be leaning toward starting Alomar before the veteran infielder decided to retire a few weeks ago.
Things have worked out quite nicely for Cantu as he is hitting .467 (7-for-15) with three home runs and six RBIs in his first four games.
He’s also taken on a bit of a leadership role. He publicly called out his teammates over what he felt was a lack of effort in losing their first two games of the season.
While it had the potential to rub some people the wrong way, Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said he understands where it was coming from.
“Cantu is a good team player and sometimes you need to be woken up a little bit,” Piniella said. “You can start feeling a little sorry for yourself as an individual and a team. Sometimes it takes somebody other than the manager. I know he’s a good kid, and I know he’s a heck of a team player. I know he was just trying to, in his way, get us going a little bit.”
Cantu homered and Nick Green had an RBI single in the 10th inning on Friday as Tampa Bay opened this series with a 3-2 win.
The A’s will try to slow Cantu and the Devil Rays down with ace Barry Zito. The veteran left-hander will be looking to rebound from a lackluster 2005 debut in a 4-0 loss to Baltimore on Monday.
Zito allowed all four runs and six hits over six innings.
“Barry had a couple of walks that scored on him. That kind of hurt him, and he hung a curveball (to Luis Matos),” A’s manager Ken Macha said. “Besides that, I thought he was good.”