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ALEX RIOS: PEP TALK Add to ...

Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi and burgeoning young outfielder Alex Rios had a curious meeting in the tunnel that leads from the visiting team's clubhouse to the dugout at Yankee Stadium the other day.

Perhaps it was the rarefied air in the historic stadium - where famous Yankees such as Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle and Maris went about their business - that prompted Ricciardi's fatherly chat.

If there is one player who has performed to his capabilities during this season of disappointment for the Blue Jays, it has been the 26-year-old Rios.

Before last night's game, the rangy right fielder had already surpassed his single-season high with 19 home runs, and the major-league schedule has just inched into the second half. He also led the team in batting average (.297), runs batted in (56), hits (111) and runs scored (66), and was selected to the All-Star Game for the second consecutive year.

In an interview with Ricciardi behind the batting cage as the Yankees were winding up hitting practice on Tuesday, the GM said the meeting with Rios had nothing to do with his performance this season, but was more a pep talk for the future.

Ricciardi believes Rios can develop into one of the game's great outfielders. While Rios has established himself as an offensive star, Ricciardi wanted to remind him not to overlook his defensive responsibilities.

"I think in Alex's case he can be as good as he wants to be," Ricciardi said. "I think to be a complete player should be his goal and I think to be as dominant defensively as he is offensively puts him in a whole different stratosphere."

Ricciardi stressed that he is not unhappy with the way Rios has played this season.

Rios leads the Blue Jays in outfield assists with six, including two in the past three games before last night's contest against the Yankees.

"He's played great, he's played absolutely great," Ricciardi said. "He's really starting to come into his own."

Ricciardi's concern - and he said he has seen it before with outfielder Jose Canseco when both were with the Oakland Athletics - is a young slugger often gets caught up in his offensive prowess and his defensive play begins to wane.

"I just told him, when we were in Oakland and we had Canseco and he went backward as a defender and don't let that happen to you because you're too good a player to allow that to happen. And I think it comes down to having enough pride in your defence," Ricciardi said.

"But he's got all the ability in the world to be one of the top players in this game. That's a credit to him. Some guys work at it, some guys don't."

Rios's appearance in the All-Star Game in San Francisco, where he advanced to the final of the Home Run Derby before losing to Vladimir Guerrero, has boosted his confidence, Ricciardi said.

"It was nice to see him out there, it was nice to see him get the exposure," he said. "I think in this game, it's how you handle success.

"Look at the shortstop over here," Ricciardi said, nodding toward the Yankees' Derek Jeter. "He works hard all the time, never stops working.

"I think the great ones just continue to take pride in playing the game the right way."

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