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Power arm lures Rays to Baez

By MARC TOPKIN
Published January 7, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Lance Carter and Danys Baez both showed the ability last season to close out games in the big leagues. But it is the way Baez does it, with a power arm and an aggressive style, that led the Devil Rays to bring him in to replace Carter as the team's closer.

"You like that power guy," manager Lou Piniella said Tuesday. "In the late innings, strikeouts and popups are easy outs. And he can do that."

Baez formally signed a contract Tuesday that guarantees him $6.5-million over two years and could be worth $10.5-million over three. And the Rays quickly got some more bullpen help, agreeing to a one-year, $650,000 contract with left-handed specialist Trever Miller, who made an AL-high 79 appearances for Toronto last season.

Baez, 26, is excited to be with the Rays and to know he'll be the full-time closer. "I like closing," he said. "I love closing. It's very exciting to be there in the ninth inning when everybody's waiting for the last out of the game."

In Cleveland, Baez was bounced between the rotation and the bullpen and had mixed results; last season he was 2-9, converting 25 saves but blowing 10 to match a major-league high. Rays officials think he'll improve by being able to focus solely on closing.

"We think he just needs to grow into the role," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. "There are not many 25-, 26-year-olds that are effective closers in the major leagues. We went through that with Mark Wohlers (in Atlanta), who had to grow into the job and when he did he became very effective.

"It's unique for us to get our hands on someone we think will help us in the bullpen and help us close games and yet have an upside. He has a chance to get much better and not have the blown saves he had last year."

Baez, 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds, certainly has the physical tools. It is his fastball, which regularly tops 95 mph, that makes the Rays think he is an upgrade over Carter, who relied more on finesse and an assortment of pitches while saving 26 of 33 games and representing the team in the All-Star Game.

"To truly have the potential to save 40-plus games, you either have to have great arm strength or a tremendous extra pitch, a second pitch," LaMar said. "Lance Carter is an outstanding major-league reliever, we think the world of him, and I think he'll save games for us even with the addition of Danys Baez. But it's the power arm, the potential for strikeouts, right- and left-handed. If they put the ball in play too much in the ninth inning, something's going to happen."

With Carter, 29, taking over as the eighth-inning setup man the Rays feel the overall bullpen will be improved because there will be specific roles and increased competition. For example, returning right-handers Travis Harper, Chad Gaudin, Jorge Sosa and Jesus Colome are competing for, at most, three spots.

The addition of Miller, 30, gives the Rays a left-hander who can be used frequently in specific situations. He was 2-2 with four saves and a 4.61 ERA (3.68 away from SkyDome) last season, holding left-handers to a .226 average.

Miller's signing will be official once he passes a physical exam scheduled for today. He also has pitched for Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

[Last modified January 7, 2004, 02:58:52]

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