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Control eludes scuffling Abbott

ROGER MILLS
Published May 23, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Right-hander Paul Abbott hasn't exactly been blowing away hitters lately. By his own admission, he has struggled with location and consistency.

What that means for his place in the rotation now appears unclear.

Winless in his past five starts after a 2-1 start, Abbott is listed as the starter for Thursday's game against the Twins, his usual spot in the rotation, but manager Lou Piniella didn't officially confirm that Abbott would be on the mound.

With an off day Monday, the Rays could bring back Saturday's pitcher, Doug Waechter.

"We'll see," Piniella said.

Abbott isn't ducking reality and is aware of the problem.

"It's location and inconsistency with throwing strikes," said Abbott, 2-4 with a 6.42 ERA. "The last two games, I can't finish the innings. I get two outs in the second inning (Friday) and get 0-and-2 on two hitters and end up giving up a run. The same thing happened the next inning. Get two outs and then get in trouble, all of a sudden there's a double and I give up two runs."

Now in his sixth season in the majors, Abbott, 36, said he is experienced enough to understand what is expected.

"You try to isolate the problem and fix it," he said. "There isn't anything major physically with (the starts), but they haven't been good. But as a starter, you're getting six starts a month and it's a lot more microscopic and harder to get back on track. ... This game is a long season and you go through games like this, and we just have to fight through it."

HIS TURN NOW: One pitcher the Rays have been pleased with is left-hander Mark Hendrickson, who starts today in the series final.

Since returning to the starting rotation after a stint in the bullpen, the 6-foot-9 Hendrickson has been steady and given the Rays much-needed innings. In those four starts (2-2, 4.32 ERA), he has pitched at least six innings.

"For me, compared to last year, the big thing is I've been able to stay in ballgames and give my team a chance to win," Hendrickson said. "And that's pretty much all you can do, and I've been happy with that. Obviously, you try to get better, and every start you try to improve on the last one. Get real consistent."

Hendrickson began the season as the No. 3 starter but struggled in his first three outings, going 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA. He was sent to the bullpen to work out the kinks, and it seemed to work.

"Since I've gotten back into the rotation I've been real happy," he said. "You can't control the offense; it's added stress you don't need. You have to go out, make your pitches and let everything fall where they may."

SOSA IN A PINCH: With closer Danys Baez pitching the ninth the past two nights, the prospect of using him late Saturday wasn't ideal. So an alternative had to be in the mix.

Right-hander Jorge Sosa, who entered the game with 1-0 record and a 5.79 ERA, replaced Waechter with one out in the seventh and earned his first save in the major leagues.

"He's executing his pitches," catcher Brook Fordyce said.

Since being recalled from Triple-A Durham on May 14, Sosa has given up two runs on four hits with four walks and seven strikeouts through five innings.

"He's throwing the ball, getting ahead of hitters and really, he's been pounding the strike zone," Piniella said. "That's been the difference."

ODDS AND ENDS: Durham shortstop B.J. Upton continues to swing a hot bat. Upton was 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in the Bulls' 5-0 win over the Indianapolis Indians Friday night. Since his promotion, Upton is hitting .343 (12-for-35) with two doubles, four homers and 10 RBIs in nine games. ... Carl Crawford stole his 21st base in the first inning, giving him 85 for his career. He needs 15 in the next 66 games (before Aug. 5) to become the eighth player since 1900 to steal 100 bases before turning 23. Crawford's eight-game hitting streak was snapped. ... The win over the Indians guarantees the Rays only their second series win of the season.

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