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No. 2 has work to do in start No. 2

Rays' Jeremi Gonzalez has time to get ready, and he needs to get better.

By TOM JONES
Published April 5, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - The baseball season provides constant ups and downs and endless twists and turns and is so ridiculously long that it's unfair - and downright wrong - to take a snapshot and draw a conclusion about a player.

But ...

It's not unfair or wrong to say there are some whispers of concern about Devil Rays pitcher Jeremi Gonzalez. Counted on to be the No. 2 starter in the rotation, Gonzalez has not resembled in 2004 the pitcher he was in 2003.

"I don't know that I have any concerns about it, but he really hasn't thrown the ball well this spring," manager Lou Piniella said.

Last season, Gonzalez was the Rays' feel-good story. After three surgeries in three years, Gonzalez climbed off the medical charts and into the rotation. He went 6-11, but five times he left with a lead and watched the bullpen blow it. Counting those games and the fact that he received the sixth-lowest run support in the American League, Gonzalez conceivably could have won 15 games last season.

His performance was strong enough that Piniella named Gonzalez his No. 2 starter behind Victor Zambrano before spring training started.

But his performance has been wobbly. During the Grapefruit League season, Gonzalez pitched in three games and had an ERA of 8.10. In his regular-season debut in Japan last week against the Yankees, Gonzalez was roughed up for five earned runs on four hits with four walks and a hit batter in 42/3 innings. Gonzalez's next start has been pushed back a few days. Instead of facing the Yankees again on Wednesday as scheduled, Gonzalez will pitch this weekend against the Orioles.

"His command wasn't good (in Japan)," Piniella said. "He threw a lot of pitches, walked four hitters. We're giving him a little time (Sunday) to do some work."

That work was pitching in a game at Tropicana Field between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. And the results were mixed. Pitching for Montgomery, Gonzalez gave up one run on four hits in four innings with four strikeouts and a hit batter. Three of the four were hit hard and reached the wall.

Asked to sum up his spring, Gonzalez shook his head and said, "Not great. Not good."

But he is not down.

"That's what spring training is for, to work," Gonzalez said. "(Sunday) my command was better, the location was good. ... I'm ready for my next start."

[Last modified April 5, 2004, 01:20:27]

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