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Rupe looking toward future

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 24, 2002

The injuries and the fact he was arbitration eligible led Ryan Rupe to half expect the news he received Wednesday.

The right-hander, the first Devil Rays draft pick to reach the majors, was released as Tampa Bay reworked its 40-man roster to protect seven minor-league players.

"At first it was kind of disappointing," Rupe said Friday. "I spent five years in the organization, so it was kind of tough. But maybe a change of scenery might be better for me and the organization."

The 27-year-old's tenure with the Rays proved equally promising and painful.

Voted the team's most outstanding rookie in 1999 when he went 8-9 with a 4.55 ERA after being recalled from Double-A Orlando in May, Rupe was limited to 18 starts with the Rays the next season because of a blood clot above his right biceps.

He went 5-12 with a 6.59 ERA in 2001, setting career highs in starts (26), innings pitched (143 1/3) and strikeouts (123), only to suffer through an injury-filled year last season.

After gaining a spot on the staff during spring training, Rupe went 5-5 with a 4.88 ERA in the first two months, but he was 0-5 with a 7.24 ERA before season-ending arthroscopic knee surgery in mid August.

"The past couple of years have been kind of tough," said Rupe, who had a 23-37 record and 5.84 ERA in 85 major-league games with Tampa Bay. "I thought I did a lot last year, changed a lot of things and pitched well when I was healthy.

"But the health was a reason I think they wanted to try something else."

He began working out three weeks ago and has experienced no pain in his right knee, leaving him optimistic and curious about where he might wind up.

"I'll be interested to see who's interested in me," he said. "I'm still young and I still feel like I can pitch."

* * *

TAKING A CHANCE: By designating relief pitcher Steve Kent and minor-league infielder Jace Brewer for assignment Wednesday, the Rays risk losing two players they have invested considerable time and money in.

Kent, who never had pitched above Class A before last season, was so valued by the Rays that they paid Anaheim $25,000 to pick him in December's Rule 5 draft. The left-hander went 0-2 with a 5.65 ERA in 34 relief appearances last season.

Tampa Bay took Brewer in the fifth round of the 2000 draft and signed the shortstop to a $1.3-million major-league contract. He hit .277 with 22 doubles and 60 RBIs in 130 games between Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Orlando last season.

The Rays have until the end of this week to trade, release or ask waivers on both. Another team could claim either player off waivers. But performance by both in the Arizona Fall League and other extenuating circumstances might limit outside interest.

Brewer, who has a year left on the contract he signed in 2000, played in just 17 games this fall because of a left shoulder injury. Kent had a 6.39 ERA and 19 walks, third most in the AFL, in 251/3 innings.

NEW PITCHER, SAME NUMBER: Former Crystal River standout Mike Hampton, acquired last week by the Braves in the six-player deal involving the Marlins and Rockies, will wear No. 32 in Atlanta next season.

That's the same number former Rays pitcher Albie Lopez wore while going 1-4 with a 4.37 ERA for the Braves last season.

"No. 32 will never look better on a player than it will look on this one," Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said at the news conference to announce Hampton's arrival.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Brewers are looking for a shortstop to replace the strikeout-prone Jose Hernandez, and general manager Doug Melvin has received calls from agents representing available free agents. One of those calls came from Alan Meersand, who represents former Rays shortstop Chris Gomez. ... Tampa Bay outfield prospect Rocco Baldelli finished in the top 10 in batting in the Arizona Fall League. He hit .308 with 41 hits and eight stolen bases in 34 games. ... Rays players, coaches and staff will host a Thanksgiving dinner for the needy at 6:30 p.m. Monday at St. Vincent de Paul in St. Petersburg.

THE LAST WORD: "Lou is a legend. He's almost fictional, like Sparky (Anderson) and Whitey (Herzog), one of the great managers. I'm not going to fill his shoes, I've got to be my own person." -- Bob Melvin, who was introduced last week as Mariners manager, filling the vacancy created when Lou Piniella became Tampa Bay's manager after 10 seasons in Seattle.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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