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Alvarez tries to rebound

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Wilson Alvarez had full right to the low-grade sense of panic he felt after his last start.

Two years removed from reconstructive shoulder surgery, seven starts from his most recent banishment to the disabled list with a rib strain, the left-hander had nothing July 4 against Texas. Devoid of velocity or control, Alvarez allowed seven earned runs on six hits -- including three home runs -- and two walks in 22/3 innings.

"I got a little frustrated about it and they said, "Hey, that is going to happen,' " said Alvarez who starts today against Seattle. "For all I have been through, I am still learning to deal with it. I still don't know what's coming."

More of those dead-arm games, according to pitching coach Jackie Brown.

"Anyone coming off the kind of surgery will have dead times when he comes back," Brown said.

An easy eight-pitch first inning apparently cloaked the problem against the Rangers.

"What you hope is you recognize it quick enough and get him out," Brown said. "That first inning kind of gave us a false (read) on him.

"He did not have his best stuff, but, still, Wilson knows how to pitch to hitters when he does not have his best stuff."

Alvarez, who is today making his 10th start and eighth since coming off the disabled list on May 31, is 2-2 with a 5.56 earned run average.

"I've had two years away, I just want to compete," he said.

Still, his activity is structured to nurture arm strength. Brown estimates Alvarez throws one pitch for every seven of Tanyon Sturtze in between-start sideline sessions. Brown said three days off for the All-Star break produced a solid side session by Alvarez on Friday. He expects him to be fine today.

"He should be good again for about three starts," Brown said. "It could be two, it could be five, but it will happen again."

HALLMARK: The Rays wanted to see defensive improvement from catcher Toby Hall when they sent him to Triple-A Durham this year, and his low-.200s batting average dictates he perform well behind the plate to platoon with John Flaherty.

Hall was perfect defensively Saturday, throwing out all three attempted base-stealers, including Mark McLemore twice. Hall tied Flaherty's club mark for caught stealings in a game, set in 1999.

McLemore entered the game with 14 steals in 21 attempts for a team that leads the AL with 88 steals.

Varied delivery speeds and attentiveness by starter Sturtze helped on the first two, but the third was all Hall.

"It was a split finger and (McLemore) took off," Hall said. "He's so fast, a lot of the time if (the throw) is left or right he's safe."

Containing the running game requires constant drilling with bullpen coach Glenn Ezell.

"Toby and (Flaherty) are religious about the work," he said.

Hall has erased 12 of 31 attempted base-stealers. Flaherty has caught 12 of 42.

FIRST STRIKE: Early offense was in vogue Saturday. Ichiro Suzuki hit a home run leading off the game for the fourth time in his career and the third time this season. He also led off the third with a homer, giving him two in a game for the first time.

Randy Winn opened the Rays' first with his fifth leadoff homer, a club record. Four of Winn's leadoff homers have come this season, two in the last four games.

NICE DAY: Jason Conti, starting in left in place of disabled Greg Vaughn, went 2-for-3 with a steal and threw John Olerud out at the plate in the third.

"I was hoping he would go," Conti said. "I was out there kind of daydreaming about it. I was thinking that (batter) Bret Boone likes to go the other way, but if he gets a sinker in, he might pull it right through that hole. ... I just charged and made the throw."


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