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Standridge starts strong

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Jason Standridge had a good start, but the Devil Rays didn't finish well, losing their exhibition opener 2-0 to Toronto in 10 innings at Progress Energy Park.

Excited about his first true shot at earning a spot in the rotation, Standridge struck out three in two innings, walking one and allowing one hit. He relied mostly on his fastball, but mixed in a few sliders and one sharp curveball to strike out Frank Catalanotto.

"I've just got to continue on the same path and get better," Standridge said. "That's the only thing I've got to do."

Manager Lou Piniella was pleased with the pitching and defense, but not the offense, which consisted of four hits.

The Jays scored twice in the 10th when Tom Wilson's liner scooted past centerfielder Jason Conti and a flock of seagulls, then was kicked by Damian Rolls. Conti said he wasn't distracted, just unable to make the catch: "No aviary issues."

The Rays loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning against Pascual Coco, but Conti grounded out to end the game.

GAME NOTES: Closer candidate Lance Carter was scratched from Saturday's game after feeling soreness in his left side. ... Reliever Seth McClung's debut was eventful, as he hit Toronto's Mike Moriarity in the face with a pitch to load the bases with one out then worked out of the jam. ... In three games (intrasquad, Eckerd College, Toronto), Rocco Baldelli is 0-for-8. ... Rays infielder Antonio Perez said he was okay after being hit on the left hand by a pitch.

BOTTOM LINE: Players who haven't agreed to terms by this morning -- there were eight unsigned as of Saturday evening -- will have their contracts renewed at the new $300,000 minimum salary.

The Rays decided the increase in the minimum (from $200,000) was enough of a raise and limited their offers to players with 0-2 years major-league experience to the $300,000 and eliminated a $20,000 incentive-bonus package. That didn't go over well as players at the top end of the group in terms of experience and performance, such as Joe Kennedy, felt they should make more than a player who hasn't been in the big leagues.

"I just think it's unfair that I'll get paid the same as a rookie with no service time," said Kennedy, who made $225,000 plus $15,000 in incentives last season. "It's not going to affect me on the field, and I'll still go out and do what I'm supposed to do. We'll just wait and see."

The decision to be renewed is merely a show of principle since the players end up with the same salary, but some think it could help their cases when they eventually get to arbitration.

"Hopefully we'll all play well and it will benefit us in the long run come arbitration time," said infielder Brent Abernathy, who made $215,000 plus $20,000 in incentives.

General manager Chuck LaMar said the team salary structure is fair. "I know this year is unique because the minimum was raised and you're going to have young players not only in our organization but throughout baseball that feel like they should get a raise on top of the increase," LaMar said. "Our feeling is that the increase in the minimum is sufficient for where they are in their stage of development as major-league players."

Other unsigned players are Carl Crawford, Toby Hall, Travis Phelps, Damian Rolls, Jared Sandberg and Jason Tyner. Aubrey Huff agreed to a one-year, $325,000 deal.

FIRST TEST: Jim Parque, a former White Sox starter working his way back from May 2001 shoulder surgery, takes the next step in what has been an impressive spring with a start against the Yankees today.

"I came in with the feeling that I have a lot to prove, and I do," Parque said. "I throw a perfect game in batting practice every time. In the bullpen I throw a perfect game. That means nothing. It's the games that count."

YANKEE DOODLES: There's usually more than just the game when the Rays play the Yankees. For Piniella, today will be his first game at Legends Field and a chance to see his old boss, George Steinbrenner.

"I'm looking forward to going to Tampa and seeing George and Joe (Torre) and his staff," Piniella said.

Players scheduled to make the trip include Marlon Anderson, Huff, Greg Vaughn, B.J. Upton and top prospects Crawford, Baldelli, and Josh Hamilton.

Pitchers scheduled for work after Parque today include Steve Parris, Bobby Seay, Travis Harper, Edgar Huerta, Bob Wells and Blake Stein.

KEEP SHUFFLING: Piniella isn't kidding about using the spring to experiment. His latest ideas include playing Anderson in centerfield and thinking about trying Huff in left. Said Huff, who played some outfield in a college summer league: "Cool. That would be fun."

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