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Hey, Abbott nearing No.5 spot

TOM JONES, MARC TOPKIN
Published March 14, 2004

CLEARWATER - Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said he wants to go through the rotation one more time before settling on a fifth starter, but after Saturday, Piniella's thinking might be less cloudy.

Veteran Paul Abbott, the leader in the clubhouse so to speak, solidified his bid with an impressive outing in a 6-5 victory against the Phillies at Bright House Networks Field.

Abbott allowed two unearned runs and two hits with five strikeouts in four innings and confirmed the Rays decision that the 36-year-old still could be an effective starter.

"That's what we brought him here for," Piniella said. "I was pleased with Abbott. He gave up a couple runs in the first inning, and then he settled down and he got better as the game went on."

After allowing two unearned runs in the first, Abbott retired nine in a row at one point.

Abbott, who won 17 games for Piniella's Mariners in 2001, said he was pleased but is not concerned about where he fits in the team's plans.

"I don't think you can be concerned with that," Abbott said. "I'm trying to get ready for the season. Whether I don't have a spot or if I do or what, I'm just trying to get ready for the season. If I worry about something else, I'm probably going to pitch a different way, and it usually doesn't work that way."

GAME DETAILS: The teams combined for four errors, and six of the game's 11 runs were unearned. Geoff Blum snapped a 5-5 tie in the ninth with a two-out, run-scoring single.

Carl Crawford started the scoring with a leadoff homer. Crawford and Julio Lugo each had two hits as the Rays evened their spring record at 4-4.

Rob Bell pitched two scoreless innings, and Bobby Seay and Trever Miller each worked a scoreless inning. Travis Harper struggled, allowing three runs (one was unearned) and four hits with a walk in one inning.

BAD INTENTIONS?: There were murmurs before the game that the Phillies might try to retaliate for Rays pitcher Jeremi Gonzalez hitting the Phillies' Mike Lieberthal after giving up a homer on Thursday.

Well, Phillies pitchers hit four Rays batters, but Piniella said he didn't think any were intentional.

B GAME TODAY: The Rays will send a few veterans to today's B game against the Tigers. Tino Martinez is scheduled to be the designated hitter, and Deivi Cruz is expected to play shortstop. But the big name is Robert Fick, who will catch for the first time since the 2001 season.

"We'll see what happens," said Fick, who added he is excited about opportunity.

It also will be a big day for pitcher Damian Moss, who is trying to find a spot in the rotation but was criticized by Piniella after his most recent outing. The game is at 10 a.m. at the Naimoli complex (7901 30th Ave. N). Admission and parking are free.

SURGERY FOR PROSPECT: Pitcher Gerardo Garcia, hampered by elbow problems while seeing limited action for Triple-A Durham and Double-A Orlando last season, will have season-ending elbow surgery within a month. Garcia was signed as a free agent in 1999 and has a 20-20 record in the minors.

Meantime, pitchers Jason Standridge, Todd Ritchie and Seth McClung continued to rehabilitate from arm surgeries. Standridge is close to coming back, and Ritchie is progressing slowly as scheduled. He is not expected to be ready to pitch until later this summer.

McClung is hopeful to be back by midsummer.

"Seth is right on schedule," Piniella said. "He's anxious, and we got to slow him down."

MISCELLANY: Pitcher Bartolome Fortunato was optioned to Triple-A Durham on Saturday. That puts the roster at 42 with 23 pitchers. ... Today's game will be televised by Fox Sports Net. ... The Rays released their media guide Saturday with a cover painting of Aubrey Huff, Rocco Baldelli and Crawford. The painting was by Vernon Wells Sr., father of the Blue Jays outfielder. ... Fox broadcaster and former Phillies catcher Tim McCarver threw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday.

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