tampabay.com

Neagle makes a strong first impression

By MARC TOPKIN
Published February 21, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - After Denny Neagle threw the last pitch of his bullpen session Sunday, catcher Toby Hall had a message for him:

"Welcome back."

Neagle didn't look anything like a 36-year-old pitcher who has been out since July 2003 and is trying to come back from elbow and shoulder surgeries. He looked sharp, composed and impressive and, though it is only the third day of camp, very much like a pitcher who could help the Rays this season.

"He looked great," Hall said.

Neagle said he is pleased with what he has done and will continue building arm strength.

"Even in a normal spring training for me, healthy, coming off no surgeries, I've always been the kind of guy that kind of gets stronger each outing, each bullpen session, each live (batting practice)," Neagle said. "Even though I've been out and I'm coming back off two surgeries, I've been throwing off a mound the last two months. I definitely feel like I'm ahead of the game. And I think with each session I'll only get stronger."

The left-hander will have another bullpen session Tuesday, then move to the next stage of his recovery by throwing live batting practice Thursday.

"It's going to be of the utmost importance for me to start facing hitters," Neagle said. "It's been since June of last year (in simulated games in extended spring training) since I faced any kind of hitters whatsoever. So I'm really looking forward to my first live BP session."

Hall said he was most impressed with Neagle's command of his offspeed pitches. Neagle was glad he noticed.

"The biggest difference I've seen is in my breaking pitches," Neagle said. "I can feel the finish on it and see the results. Before, when my shoulder was hurting and I was fatigued, I had no finish on my changeup or breaking ball."

ON THE OTHER HAND: Hideo Nomo , the other veteran starter trying to make the team, didn't sound too pleased after his second session.

"My command was not really there today," the right-hander, 36, said through an interpreter. "I was not throwing my best right now."

PERSONAL ABSENCE: Manager Lou Piniella missed Sunday's workout to be with his 86-year-old father, Louis Sr. , who has been hospitalized in Tampa with a heart condition and was moved to the critical care unit.

"Our prayers are with him," said bench coach John McLaren , who ran the workout in Piniella's absence. "We just hope everything's okay."

MR. BIG: At 6 feet 7, Angel Garcia can stand out in a crowd. If he continues to throw as well as he did Sunday, it will be hard to miss him.

"He's awesome," catcher Pete LaForest said. "He has great stuff."

The Rays thought enough of Garcia, 21, to work a deal with Arizona to make him the first pick of the winter Rule 5 draft. He has made it look like a smart move so far, though the ultimate decision will be whether the Rays can keep him on their big-league roster.

"This is my big chance," Garcia said. "I'm very excited. This is my dream, a chance to pitch in the big leagues. I'm going to work very hard."

MISCELLANY: The Rays estimated a two-day crowd of more than 30,500 at their annual FanFest at Tropicana Field. ... Nonroster pitcher Jimmy Haynes did not practice because of flulike symptoms. ... Shortstop Julio Lugo and nonroster infielder Shane Halter reported to camp and worked out. The full team is due in by Tuesday and will work together Wednesday. ... An intrasquad game is tentatively planned for March 1. ... Neagle, McLaren and new radio announcer Andy Freed will be guests on tonight's Rays insider radio show at 7 on WDAE-AM 620.

QUOTABLE

"It was itchy."

- HIDEO NOMO, Rays pitcher, on why he shaved his scraggly beard after two days of camp.

TODAY

The workout starts at 9:30 a.m. and should last until around noon at the Naimoli complex, 7901 30th Ave. N. Pitchers will start throwing off the practice mounds around 10. Admission and parking are free.

DID YOU KNOW

Catcher Dan Massiatte played in the 2000 College World Series for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.