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Ex-Ray gets fresh start with Jays

After going 4-18 in 2002, Tanyon Sturtze, who faces Tampa Bay today, hopes familiarity helps him rebound.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 9, 2003

CLEARWATER -- You remember him. He's Tanyon Sturtze, the former Devil Rays pitcher with the persistent arm and paltry record.

He's the 6-foot-5 starter whom fans first rooted for then against.

Today at Progress Energy Park, Sturtze is back. And although his return comes in a Blue Jays uniform against the Rays for his second start of the spring, the seven-year veteran is determined to prove his 4-18 performance in Tampa Bay last year was the exception, not the rule.

"It's a total relief," Sturtze said of beginning a new season with a new team. "I'm trying to forget what happened last year and start over new. I think it made me a stronger person, especially going through the bad times, which were pretty much the whole year."

To do so, Sturtze said, he first had to come clean.

"When I look back at last year, I see a guy who struggled throughout the year and didn't have a good season," said Sturtze, who has allowed one hit and struck out three in two innings this spring. "Numbers never lie. Whether I lost a one-run game or a five-run game, that doesn't matter. The record doesn't lie, and you have to be man enough to say that."

If anything, throughout 2002, Sturtze was a man. He took the ball every five days (33 starts). He logged the most innings on the team (224). He ignored, at least while on the mound, the losing streaks, unforgiving breaks and 5.18 ERA.

"You'd have to ask Tampa Bay why they did not bring him back," Toronto pitching coach Gil Patterson said. "But all things being equal, I'm pretty sure what he brought to the table for them was effort every fifth day.

"A lot of people in that situation last year would have crumbled. On that end, it was nice. Pitchers are told that, sometimes, you can't control some things. Those are runs that score when a ball hits the glove and bounces into the outfield instead of turning the double play. I assume that a number of times, things like that likely happened. So you can look at the glass as half full or half empty. We like to look at it as half full."

Sturtze said landing with the Blue Jays was perfect. He already had a relationship with Patterson, who was a minor-league pitching coach with Oakland during Sturtze's early days. Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi, then a scout for Oakland, signed Sturtze in 1990.

"There was definitely a bit of history there, and it's important," Patterson said. "We know his character. We know his work ethic. Now it's up to me to make him look like a genius and make him go 15-5 or something like that."

To do so, Patterson and Sturtze first dissected what went wrong during the past few seasons.

"We found some things, and we're working on them," Sturtze said. "Now I can say whatever I feel like because he's been there before and he knows me."

Now Sturtze can lock up the fourth or, perhaps, third spot in the rotation and play, he said, for a team that will give him support at the plate and on the field.

"The direction that this team is going in is something I'm extremely excited about," he said. "Coming into the clubhouse and seeing their work habits and how they go about their business has been a tremendous feeling."

Patterson said the way Sturtze has approached this season is proof the past doesn't equal the future.

"Success is possible for him if he stays as competitive as he did last year," Patterson said. "If he faces adversity early and not say, 'Oh, poor me. This is just like last year,' if he can stay mentally tough ... then with this team, nothing against the Devil Rays last year, but with this environment and attitude, he'll be fine."

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