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Loss brings call for improvement

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 18, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- Opening day is two weeks away, and it appears that might be a good thing for the Rays.

After a second straight sloppy game Sunday, a 7-4 loss to Minnesota, manager Hal McRae said his team must play better. Second baseman Brent Abernathy went further, saying it needs to play harder.

"I think our effort can definitely be improved," Abernathy said. "You're going to make mistakes, there are going to be errors, there are going to be walks, all that stuff. But effort is something you can control and always give your best at.

"Hopefully we can give our best effort the rest of the way. We need to go into the season with a winning mind-set and a winning attitude, and I don't know if we have that right now."

Sunday's lackluster performance, the Rays' fifth loss in six games and ninth of 15 overall, was a group effort. They were held to five hits (though two were two-run homers by Steve Cox) by an indistinguishable quartet of Minnesota pitchers, allowed 13 hits and seven walks while throwing three wild pitches, made one error and allowed a few other balls to drop in, and were caught stealing three times.

"We played two lousy ballgames is what it amounts to, and we've got to play better," McRae said. "We've got to bounce back and play a good ballgame, a crisp game."

DELVIN OKAY: Rookie Delvin James didn't dominate during his 3 2/3 innings, but pitched well enough in his first start to get another and stay in competition for the fifth starter's spot.

"He's in the mix, and we'll probably go as far as we can go with him," McRae said.

James, 24, started strong, but wore down in the fourth inning and ended up allowing three runs on seven hits and a walk overall. "I got tired and left a couple pitches up," he said.

But for a guy who has spent six years in the minors, just to have the chance to compete for a big-league job has been exciting.

"It's finally to a point where you can actually see it right in front of you," James said. "Before, when you're in A ball or Double A, you're waiting for guys not to do well or something to happen ahead of you where you can move up.

"Now I'm at a spot where it's my turn. If I do well I've got a good chance of making the team, or if I leave a good enough impression I've got a good chance of getting called up. I'm just trying to do the best I can until the end of spring training and hopefully leave an impression strong enough to where they feel 'We need this guy, he's ready.' "

COX STAYS HOT: Cox says he isn't trying to hit home runs, but the two he hit Sunday gave him five for the spring and a place among the major-league leaders.

"I'm being aggressive," Cox said. "I think that's probably the main thing."

Otherwise, Cox insists he isn't doing much different. He is using a new type bat, one made of maple, but said he didn't know how much difference that made. Nor did he say much about batting in the No. 3 spot. McRae had been using Cox sixth and Ben Grieve third, but flip-flopped them Sunday and said he hadn't decided which way he will go.

FELIX DOWN: A day after being criticized by McRae for careless play, infielder Felix Martinez reported discomfort in his left knee. Trainer Jamie Reed said Martinez has slight patella tendinitis. He likely will have an MRI exam and is considered day to day.

BIERBRODT AT WORK: Nick Bierbrodt, trying to overcome control problems, worked as scheduled on his mechanics during a bullpen session early Sunday, then threw 5-10 pitches at the end. "Very encouraging," pitching coach Jackie Brown said.

MISCELLANY: After drawing 3,715 Sunday, the Rays are averaging 3,179, 18th among 20 Florida-based teams. ... The kelly green jerseys and caps worn Sunday are being auctioned on devilrays.com with proceeds to the team's charitable foundation. ... Ex-Ray David Lamb, bidding for a reserve spot with the Twins, had the winning hit, a two-run double in the eighth.

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