Nomo makes case for rotation spot

Published March 20, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Slowly but surely, Hideo Nomo is working his way closer to the Devil Rays' starting rotation.

The righthander had his best outing in Saturday's 6-4 victory over the Phillies at Progress Energy Park, allowing one unearned run on two hits with a walk and a wild pitch. He threw fastballs between 86 and 88 mph.

"Nomo threw the ball better," manager Lou Piniella said. "The last couple of innings, I thought he was sharper than at the start of the game. He helped his situation today."

Nomo allowed a single to Jim Thome in the second inning. But after getting Mike Lieberthal to ground into a double play, he faced just nine batters through three.

Philadelphia scored in the fourth on first baseman Travis Lee' s throwing error, but Nomo escaped a first-and-third, one-out jam by getting Lieberthal to fly to center and Tomas Perez to pop up to short.

"I'm just doing the best I can right now," Nomo said through an interpreter. "I'm just trying to keep my pitches down. I think I had a pretty good outing."

Nomo is known for getting stronger as the spring progresses.

"If today is an indication, hopefully we'll see better and better as spring training comes to an end," Piniella said.

ALOMAR ENDORSES CANTU: Roberto Alomar said Jorge Cantu can handle the second-base job.

"I see a guy who loves baseball," Alomar said. "He loves working and he wants to improve every day. That's going to make him better than what he is. I told him, "Don't let anybody tell you what you can't do.' "

"He used to be one of my idols growing up and I'm standing there at second base taking ground balls with him," Cantu said. "He likes to teach. I'm sure he's going to be a hell of a coach somewhere."

Cantu was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs against Philadelphia, and in 13 games is batting .314 (11-for-35) with a home run and six RBIs.

"He has a future," Alomar said. "It's up to him. It's in his hands."

GAME DETAILS: Lee had three hits, including a double, and a run batted in. Catcher Toby Hall had two hits as did shortstop Julio Lugo, who had a triple. ... Reliever Danys Baez threw a strong inning with two strikeouts. ... Reliever Jorge Sosa allowed two runs on four hits in two innings.

PEREZ DIDN'T KNOW: Outfielder Eduardo Perez is Alomar's best friend on the team but said he didn't know he was thinking of retirement.

"Not at all," Perez said. "That's his professionalism knowing not to have conversations about that with active players around. To his credit he tried to come back and play. More to his credit, he saw what was in front of him."

DEFENSIVE STANCE: The assumption is the Tigers released Alex Sanchez because of sloppy defense. Sanchez made nine errors in 79 games last season, tops among major league centerfielders. But Sanchez said the team never told him that was a reason.

"I don't think it's a big deal for giving a release," said Sanchez, whom the Rays signed to a minor-league deal. "I don't know what happened."

A fifth-round draft choice, Sanchez was in the Rays' system from 1996-2000. The Brewers claimed him off waivers in 2001. He hit .322 last season with two home runs and 26 RBIs.

"I'm very excited right now the Rays gave me an opportunity to play," he said.

MISCELLANY: Denny Neagle threw in a Triple-A game at the Naimoli complex and allowed one hit with a strikeout in three innings. ... First baseman Steve Cox, who went 1-for-3 Friday against the Blue Jays after being called up from the minor-league complex, could not play Saturday because of a broken right index finger. He was hit by a pitch against Toronto. "Bad break," he said. "What are you going to do?" ... The game against the Yankees is sold out. ... Dewon Brazelton is scheduled to pitch in a minor-league game at 1 p.m. today at the Naimoli complex.