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Waechter's tale is just getting started

BLUE JAYS 5, RAYS 3: St. Petersburg native tires, but a rotation job is nearly assured.

TOM JONES
Published September 25, 2003

TORONTO - At first, it seemed nothing more than a cute little story. Local kid makes his major-league starting debut around the corner from where he went to high school with family and friends filling the stands.

He tosses a shutout, wins the game, gets a standing ovation and a big slap on the back from a grizzled manager brought to tears by the performance.

Freeze the frame, cue the inspirational music, run the credits.

But, wait, that's not the end of the story. St. Petersburg's Doug Waechter, the 22-year-old from Northeast High, reeled off three victories and, according to Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella, this story isn't even close to being done.

Waechter ran out of gas Wednesday night in a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays in front of 16,050 at SkyDome, but he has acquitted himself well enough in his September audition that Piniella has penciled Waechter into next season's starting rotation.

"For a young kid to come up here and pitch the way he has against the caliber of teams he has ... it has been a very positive development for our baseball team," Piniella said. "Truthfully, the way he has pitched here in September, at the very least he has given himself every opportunity to be in our rotation next season."

Waechter has run over a few speed bumps in his five starts and six appearances, including Wednesday. He mostly pitched well but ended up allowing five runs and five hits in six innings. The loss left him 3-2 with a 3.31 ERA. Ignore the numbers, though; Piniella sees beyond that.

"I like his stuff," Piniella said. "I like his demeanor on the mound. I like the way he approaches pitching and goes after the hitters. Of all the kids we've brought up and we've brought up a big slew of them, he has been our most impressive."

Waechter climbed three levels of professional ball this season and landed on cloud nine.

"I'm still excited to be here," he said. But he learned baseball is still baseball no matter what level it is.

"The first thing you think of is it's the big leagues, it's unbelievable and you don't know what to expect," Waechter said. "But everything is still the same when you get between the lines."

Still the same, including the cardinal rule that walks come back to haunt. That's what happened to Waechter in a game that featured none of the bad blood present in the first two of this series.

After Julio Lugo homered for the third consecutive game and the Rays added a run in the sixth, Waechter carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth. But he walked two, and both scored on Josh Phelps' double.

Waechter left the game in the seventh and was charged with two more runs, including one runner that reached on a walk. Still, Waechter and Piniella were pleased with Waechter's performance, not only Wednesday but, especially, for all of September.

"That doesn't mean I don't have to go in there and perform in spring training (next year)," Waechter said. "I still have to go in there and do my job."

So far, he has done just that.

"I'm just having the time of my life right now," Waechter said.

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