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Rupe is working to earn it

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002

CLEARWATER -- Ryan Rupe understands how crucial his spring performance is to his shot at the rotation.

The Rays right-hander, 5-12 with a 6.59 ERA last season, made his fourth appearance and first start of the spring against the Phillies on Saturday at Jack Russell Stadium.

"I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't a little nervous. I was," Rupe said. "I've backed myself to the wall where I need to pitch well. I'm the one to blame for that. There's no one else.

"I want to prove to myself that I can still do it. And prove to the coaching staff and all the front office people that my stuff is still there. A little fine-tuning and I think I can get it back on track."

Rupe pitched well in four innings, allowing one earned run on four hits while striking out four and walking one. In 11 innings this spring, he has given up two earned runs, struck out 11 and walked two.

Until Nick Bierbrodt's status became uncertain because of control problems, Rupe and Wilson Alvarez appeared to be vying for the fifth spot in the rotation. Both appear to be in good shape.

"If he's healthy, he's fine," manager Hal McRae said. "Rupe and Alvarez go into the 'if they're healthy' category. If they're healthy, they'll be fine."

SPRING DEBUT: His left calf and right hand feeling better, Greg Vaughn will make his spring debut today as the designated hitter.

"I've been out there before," he said. "I want to be ready for (today) and ready for April 2, too."

The Rays will be cautious with Vaughn, who won't play the outfield until he says he's ready.

"When he feels like he can play the field he'll play," McRae said. "But we'll see how the DHing goes first. If he injured that area he'll be out. That's a four-to-six-week type of injury."

UNSCHEDULED START: Two days after his regular bullpen session, Delvin James will start in place of Bierbrodt today.

James, who was drafted in 1996, is trying to earn a spot after six minor-league seasons. He has allowed four hits in six scoreless innings.

ROOM TO IMPROVE: The Rays committed two errors, and only five of the Phillies' nine runs in the 9-8 Tampa Bay loss were earned.

The costliest mistake was a throwing error by shortstop Felix Martinez in the sixth inning, which allowed the tying and go-ahead runs to score. It was the third error in five appearances for Martinez, who's vying with Jason Smith to be Chris Gomez's backup. He is batting .143 through seven at-bats.

"You've got to have someone to not only make the routine play, but that can play. Make plays and swing the bat," McRae said. "That was a routine one we botched today. We laid back."

PROMOTIONAL SCHEDULE: The Rays will give away Toby Hall and Jason Tyner bobblehead dolls as part of a 28-game promotional schedule at Tropicana Field this season.

The first 5,000 fans ages 14 and younger will get a Tyner bobblehead when the Rays play Oakland on June 2 and a Hall when the Rangers visit Sept. 8.

The Rays also will offer Autograph Saturdays, St. Petersburg Times Family Funday on Sundays and Seniors Days at select games. The complete promotional schedule will appear in the Times' season preview March 31.

ODDS AND ENDS: After going 12 games without a walk, outfielder Jason Tyner has one in each in his past three games. He also stole his first base in the seventh against the Phillies. ... The Rays are auctioning off the Kelly green uniforms they'll wear against the Twins today at The auction ends Friday. ... John Flaherty has two spring hits, but both are for extra bases. The catcher has a double and triple in 12 at-bats. ... Outfielder Kevin Sefcik has a homer, double and three RBIs in his past two plate appearances.

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