By PETE YOUNG, MARC TOPKIN
Published April 9, 2004
The only thing really new for left-hander Mark Hendrickson will be the guys playing behind him.
Hendrickson makes his first start with the Rays today against a familiar foe, the Orioles. With the Blue Jays last season the 6-foot-9 Hendrickson made four starts vs. Baltimore, going 0-1 with a 7.27 ERA.
"I had some good outings, some bad outings," Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson, 29, has tweaked his delivery and is hoping the improvement he detected in the preseason carries through the regular season.
"I made some changes. I've got some things people probably didn't see much of last season that I'm pretty excited about," Hendrickson said. "My mechanics, I'm a little bit taller. It makes my sinker a lot more effective; my curveball's a lot more effective. I just don't think teams saw too much of that last year."
Hendrickson was acquired in the offseason after going 9-9 with a 5.51 ERA as a rookie in 2003. He didn't start playing professional baseball until 1998, after two of his four seasons in the NBA. He dropped basketball for baseball in 2000.
He essentially replaces left-hander Joe Kennedy in the rotation, the player for whom he was obtained in a three-team swap involving Colorado.
Hendrickson's debut has been delayed until the fifth game due to the unusual circumstances created by the Rays trip to Japan. It allowed Victor Zambrano to start two of the first three games.
Hendrickson said he also has watched tape of new Baltimore sluggers Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez. The trio combined for 108 home runs and 327 RBIs last season.
"We'll just see how it goes," Hendrickson said. "I'm ready to get the season going."
BIRDS TO RAYS: Rays backup catcher Brook Fordyce played the past 31/2 seasons in Baltimore, and his 348 at bats in 2003 were a career-high.
Fordyce, 34, became a starter last June and played in 108 games, batting .273.
"I've got a lot of friends (on Baltimore); it'll be good to see them," said Fordyce, who has played for five major league teams. "But at the same point I'm very competitive, so when you get on the field it's all about business."
Fordyce made his first start Thursday, subbing for Toby Hall in a day game after a night game and going 1 for 4. He is likely to start once this weekend, and he has dispensed some insight about Baltimore's hitters.
"I've talked to Mark (Hendrickson) a little bit (during batting practice) in the outfield," Fordyce said. "About some tendencies, about what guys like to do in certain situations, ahead in the count, behind in the count. But you know, I don't want to feed him too much because really, if you can execute your pitches you're going to get guys out."
Rays reliever Damian Moss joined Baltimore from San Francisco on July 31 and made nine starts for the Orioles, winning once against the Devil Rays on Aug. 20. Tampa Bay signed him as a free agent.
STAY READY: After spending spring training preparing for the season, manager Lou Piniella said he doesn't want players rotting on the bench.
"I like the idea of playing everybody," Piniella said. "It keeps everybody feeling a part of it."
Piniella backed up his words Wednesday. The Rays started Eduardo Perez at first base, Fordyce at catcher, Geoff Blum at second base and Robert Fick at DH. Regular DH Aubrey Huff played third base.
CLEAN TEETH: Jose Cruz's four-hit game Tuesday was a home run shy of a cycle. Cruz said he hung on by "dental floss" on multiple two-strike counts to get his hits.
WEEKEND DUTY: The Rays play at home five of the next eight weekends.