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McRae mulls options after latest collapse

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2002

DENVER -- Hal McRae doesn't like what he sees in his bullpen, but he doesn't know what can be done to make it better.

DENVER -- Hal McRae doesn't like what he sees in his bullpen, but he doesn't know what can be done to make it better.

The afternoon after his bullpen's latest maddening meltdown, when Victor Zambrano and Esteban Yan turned a 7-3 ninth-inning lead into an 8-7 10-inning loss, McRae wasn't sure what to do.

"Everything has sort of crumbled," he said.

Zambrano did most of the damage, allowing a triple and two doubles to the first four batters. Yan then gave up a double to Brent Butler, then another to Larry Walker that tied the score. The Rockies won it in the 10th on Walker's two-out single, the third hit of that inning.

The Rays have been concerned that Zambrano has lost confidence on the mound and that appeared to be the case again Friday, along with the inability to keep the ball down.

Zambrano emerged as a successful setup man to Yan last season and McRae needs him in that role, but Saturday sounded unsure how long he could stick with him.

"Until we get a replacement I don't have any other way to go," McRae said.

An option would be to use Travis Harper in that role, but McRae likes what he is doing in middle relief. Other possibilities would be to recall either Jesus Colome or Travis Phelps, who both started the season with the Rays and are pitching at Triple-A Durham.

"I don't like what I see, but what are we going to do and who are we going to do it with are the concerns to me," McRae said. "I can't change for the sake of change."

In his past nine games, Zambrano has allowed 13 runs on 15 hits and 12 walks in 141/3 innings. After Friday's debacle, he said the location of his pitches was more of the problem than his confidence.

"I know I'm going to close games," Zambrano said. "I know that. I'm 100 percent sure about that. No matter what happens, if I get the opportunity to close a game I'm going to close. I put my heart in it. I'm 100 percent sure someday I can be a closer. I can do it. ... I know I can close games."

MORE GORY DETAILS: Friday didn't just seem like the longest night in Rays history, it was. The 5-hour, 33-minute elapsed time (3:11 of play and 2:22 for two rain delays) surpassed the 5:20 on June 14 at Florida (3:36 of play and 1:44 of delays). ... The four-run advantage was the largest ninth-inning lead the Rays have blown, having lost three three-run leads. ... The five extra-base hits Zambrano and Yan allowed in the ninth were a team record for an inning. ... It was the fifth game the Rays have lost this season when they were within two or one outs of a win. ... Lost in the outcome was a strong effort by Paul Wilson, who allowed three runs on eight hits in 62/3 inning without allowing a walk.

RUPE QUESTIONABLE: The Rays should know after a bullpen session today if Ryan Rupe will make his scheduled start Tuesday.

Rupe has been bothered by soreness in his right knee, and a doctor's exam found inflammation from a fold in the capsule surrounding the knee. Rupe received a cortisone shot Friday and will test the knee.

If he can't go Tuesday, the Rays are more likely to take advantage of Monday's day off to move him back in the rotation and start Tanyon Sturtze on five days' rest.

STARRY-EYED: Joe Kennedy pitches today for a chance to be considered for the AL All-Star team. With a strong game, Kennedy could improve to 6-5 and lower his ERA to around 4.00. Randy Winn is the leading candidate to represent the Rays, but Kennedy could have a shot. "It depends how the team sets up," McRae said.

RAINDROPS KEEP FALLIN' ... : Winn said the rain was so hard Friday that at one point he didn't think he'd be able to catch a fly ball. A moment later he had to make a running catch of a long drive just in front of the left-centerfield wall. "It was kind of a blur, that's the best way to describe it," Winn said. "I was lucky the rain let up."

MISCELLANY: Brent Abernathy moved to the second slot Saturday because the Rays were facing a left-hander Denny Neagle. ... McRae said when Greg Vaughn is ready to move back to the cleanup spot "I think the whole league would know it." ... The Rays have played eight extra-inning games, tied for most in the AL.

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