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Flaherty's pep, pop may open few doors

By KEVIN KELLY and MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 10, 2002

TAMPA -- John Flaherty is wasting no time showing people he is healthy and able to play regularly behind the plate.

After missing the first six games with a sore groin, the Rays backup catcher made his second start of the spring in a 2-0 win against the Yankees on Saturday at Legends Field.

"I was more concerned with feeling more comfortable at the plate today than anything else," Flaherty said. "I felt really good, felt like I was really moving around well."

He was 1-for-2, including a triple off Yankees starter David Wells in the third and run.

"Flash did a good job," manager Hal McRae said. "It seems like he's moving faster than he did last year. He seems quicker. Full of energy. It's nice to see. He's fired up."

This spring could amount to a showcase for Flaherty, who is in the final year of a three-year deal and is coming off an injury-slowed 2001 season.

The Rays probably wouldn't mind shedding the $3.25-million he'll make this season as Toby Hall's backup and Flaherty probably would welcome a deal to a contending team, particularly in his native New York.

"I hope people were watching," he said.

SPRING SWEEP: The victory was Tampa Bay's second against the defending American League champions in three days, capping the spring sweep.

The Rays beat New York 8-5 on Thursday at Florida Power Park.

"Is there a trophy involved?" McRae said.

Starter Tanyon Sturtze pitched four shutout innings, his longest outing of the spring. He gave up three hits and struck out four. Paul Wilson pitched three innings and didn't allow a hit. Closer Esteban Yan pitched a perfect eighth and ninth.

TOUGH SPRING: As the club's leadoff batter, the Rays are counting on Jason Tyner to get on base. Through six games this spring, Tyner is batting .053 (1-for19).

"I haven't gotten comfortable in the box at all," he said. "I just need to keep swinging. There's nothing you can do about it. Just keep trying to get it going. Better now than later."

EXPERIMENTAL PITCH: A week after talking with pitching coach Jackie Brown about adding a curveball to his repertoire, Sturtze experimented with one.

"Real good pitch," McRae said. "I'm very happy. It gives him a change of speed which could help the fastball."

The right-hander threw one curve during warmups in the fourth inning and another to Yankees catcher Ron Coomer, the last batter in the inning. Coomer swung and missed.

"(Flaherty) called it and (Coomer) swung over top of it for a strike," Sturtze said. "Flash just started laughing behind the plate. ... We're just trying to get a feel for it."

FIRST START: Jason Conti got his first start of the spring, going 1-for-3 with a run scored and catching a fly in the fifth.

"You can only do what you can do," Conti said. "I'm not going to impress these guys by hitting home runs. I'm going to impress these guys by getting on base and scoring runs. That's what I do and I'll try to do that as many times as I can."

ODDS AND ENDS: Sidelined by a sore calf since the start of spring training, Greg Vaughn could make his first spring plate appearance this week.... General manager Chuck LaMar will appear on Sports Connection tonight at 11 p.m. on Bay News 9. ... The Rays will auction off the Kelly green uniforms they'll wear during their March 17 game against the Twins on www.devilrays.com. The auction runs from March 15-22 and proceeds will benefit the Rays of Hope Foundation. ... Saturday's game was played in 2 hours, 6 minutes.

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