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Thumb, ankle keep Hall out of lineup

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

BALTIMORE -- Rays catcher Toby Hall, who took a foul ball off the tip of his right thumb Friday, is not expected to play until Thursday in Oakland.

The decision is two-fold.

It will give Hall a chance to heal not only the bruised thumb, but a left ankle severely bruised two weeks ago. The ankle limits his mobility on pitches to his right.

If everything goes as planned, Hall will begin working on defensive fundamentals with bullpen coach Glenn Ezell on Tuesday in Seattle.

"He's young, and he's talented," manager Hal McRae said. "We want to break some habits down. It needs to be done, and he needs to do it now. To work on it for three days is probably the best way to do it."

Trainers drilled a hole in Hall's fingernail Saturday morning and drained fluid from the thumb to relieve pressure.

"It's still throbbing," Hall said. "They drained as much as they could out of it. There's no fracture or anything. It just hit me flush right on the end. Hopefully as the day goes by, all that fluid gets out of there."

John Flaherty started Saturday and will continue to do so until Hall is ready. Hall, however, will be available to catch if needed, and Russ Johnson is the emergency backup.

SPOT STARTER: Travis Harper cruised through the first two innings of his spot start against the Yankees on Tuesday.

It was the third and fourth, when he faced New York's lineup a second time, that got him in trouble.

The Yankees hit three homers off Harper and scored four runs in a 3 2/3-inning performance the right-hander does not want to repeat today against the Orioles. It is his second spot start in five days.

"I'm prepared to throw," he said. "I could throw tonight out of the pen. I could start tomorrow. I'm ready to pitch."

McRae is looking for five, possibly six innings from Harper before he moves into a long relief role.

Either Wilson Alvarez, on the disabled list since April 15 with a strained rib cage muscle, or Delvin James, on the DL with shoulder stiffness, is the probable starter against the A's on Saturday.

"I don't see him as a starter," McRae said of Harper. "I see him as a long guy, a spot starter, a one time through the lineup guy. We didn't bring him up to use him two times (through a lineup). I think he's most effective one time through."

LEFTY LINEUP: The top of the batting order had a decidedly left-handed feel.

McRae wanted to stack as many left-handed hitters as possible against Orioles starter Sidney Ponson.

"I'm trying to grab the lead," he said.

The Nos. 2-5 spots belonged to third baseman Jason Smith, centerfielder Randy Winn, first baseman Steve Cox and rightfielder Ben Grieve.

"I hope to get as much as I can get as fast as I can get it, then pay the price about the sixth inning when they bring a left-hander in," McRae said. "But I don't prefer to do that."

Right-handers had a higher batting average against Ponson than left-handers (.288 to .237) entering Saturday.

STEADYING THE PEN: He prefers to stay out of the spotlight.

But if there has been a steadying force in the bullpen this season, it has been veteran left-hander Doug Creek, who has allowed runs in only three of his 15 outings.

"The quality of my pitches is what I strive for," Creek said. "I've been pretty successful with how I go about things. I've found my little niche in baseball and have kind of figured things out a little bit.

"My confidence is a big key. I don't get shaken too much. I don't get too high. I don't get too low."

ODDS AND ENDS: Jared Sandberg is scheduled to return to the starting lineup today and play third base. Rookie Felix Escalona would start at second base, and Smith would play shortstop. ... Leftfielder Jason Tyner batted ninth for the first time this season but is scheduled to bat first today.


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