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Piniella believes Rays still can obtain player

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 27, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Manager Lou Piniella said the Devil Rays should have the chance to add at least one player before Saturday's roster deadline.

"I think if we choose, we will," he said.

The Rays are looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder and a utility infielder.

"Not an everyday guy, but somebody that can improve us in specific areas bench-wise," he said.

That move, or moves, could impact whether the Rays carry 11 or 12 pitchers, meaning relievers Jorge Sosa, Brandon Backe and Cedrick Bowers might be competing for one spot rather than two.

Wednesday was the deadline for teams to release players without having to pay their full salaries, but no obvious candidates emerged. General manager Chuck LaMar said he will continue his extensive trade talks.

"We know what type of player we're looking for," he said. "Whether they're available or not remains to be seen."

The Rays might have a chance to get back outfielder Adrian Brown, who was signed to play in Durham then taken by Boston in the Rule 5 draft. The Red Sox offered him back Wednesday for $25,000, but the Rays are waiting to find out if he'll accept an assignment to Triple-A before deciding.

PHELPS GONE: The Rays released reliever Travis Phelps, who pitched in 75 games for them during the past two seasons. Piniella said Phelps, 25, worked hard but wasn't going to make the team.

"We felt as an organization we had a lot of young pitching," Piniella said. "I hope he catches on with somebody else."

The Rays saved money (having to pay only $75,000 of his salary if he isn't claimed off waivers by Friday) and gain a 40-man roster spot, which will come in handy Saturday when they add Rocco Baldelli, Jim Parque, Steve Parris and possibly others to the roster.

Phelps, who threw the pitch that drew Piniella's televised wrath in a March 6 spring training game, was an 89th-round draft pick, the lowest to reach the majors in draft history.

TYNER TICKED: All of the talk about acquiring an outfielder has Jason Tyner feeling a bit left out. Tyner said he is disappointed he didn't get an opportunity to compete for a starting job, as team officials told him he would, and doesn't believe he's getting much chance to show his worth as a backup.

"What does a backup do? Play defense, steal bases, pinch-hit, score runs. There's no one else around who does that better than me," Tyner said. "I find it hard to believe there's not a place on this team for me."

Tyner also said he believes he is a victim of the "option game" in that he gets sent back to the minors because he has an option -- in his case, a special fourth option -- left, meaning the team doesn't risk losing him.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays had another ugly performance, losing to the Yankees 15-3. Tampa Bay pitchers gave up five home runs and 17 hits. "We just got the hell beat out of us," Piniella said. "It's going to happen at times." ... Likely closer Jesus Colome had a rough outing, pitching the second and third innings. ... Bobby Seay and Seth McClung threw well. ... Aubrey Huff, Ben Grieve and Travis Lee each had two hits.

FOR OPENERS: The Red Sox set their pitching rotation, so the matchups for the season-opening series are Pedro Martinez-Joe Kennedy on Monday, Tim Wakefield-Victor Zambrano on Tuesday, Derek Lowe-Parque on Wednesday and Casey Fossum-Nick Bierbrodt on Thursday. ... Gates open at 2:35 p.m. for Monday's 5:15 opener with Rays players greeting fans at the rotunda. All fans will receive a schedule magnet. ... Colors will be presented by a MacDill Air Force Base honor guard. ... The Baseball Looper Trolley from downtown to Tropicana Field will be in service opening day and for the April 4-6 Yankees series. ... The Rays have won three consecutive openers, the longest current streak in the American League.

FAMILIAR FACES: The Yankees had three ex-Rays in uniform. Bubba Trammell, who kept his Tampa Bay area home, was excited about coming over from the Padres and marked his return to St. Petersburg with a home run. John Flaherty remains in competition with Chris Widger for the backup catcher job. Bobby Smith, on loan from minor-league camp, took over at second base in the fifth inning.

MISCELLANY: Greg Vaughn cleared waivers, as expected, and is free to sign with any team with the Rays responsible for all but the $300,000 minimum of his $9.25-million salary. ... Damian Rolls got the night off after his wife gave birth Wednesday morning to their child, Devyn Michael Rolls. ... Veteran reliever Jose Paniagua was released from minor-league camp. ... Dan Reichert worked out for the Blue Jays on Wednesday with the possibility of signing a minor-league deal.

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