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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Bell's performance merits Rays' attention
After two years here, the pitcher feels he has to force his way into the rotation, and does.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 25, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Rob Bell said he does not have a chip on his shoulder. The Devil Rays pitcher dismissed that characterization immediately because it would mean he was angry.
But Bell did not deny extra motivation this spring because of a gnawing feeling he was being overlooked by the organization as the competition for spots in the starting rotation heated up.
Bell said he understands why young arms such as Scott Kazmir, Seth McClung and Doug Waechter garnered so much attention, and why veterans such as Hideo Nomo and Denny Neagle were so intriguing.
Still, Bell said he wondered where that left him, a pitcher who the past two seasons was a combined 13-12 in 43 appearances, including 37 starts, for a team that was 133-190.
"I felt like all along the way I've been steady and got kind of back-burnered a little bit," Bell said before Thursday night's game against the Reds at Progress Energy Park. "You feel like you're flailing your arms in the background saying, "Hey, look at me.' "
As it turned out, Bell made everyone take notice.
With a 1-0 record, 1.62 ERA, 15 strikeouts and two walks in 162/3 innings in five spring appearances, including three starts, the right-hander will be one of the Rays' five starters out of camp.
"He deserves it," catcher Toby Hall said. "He proved it last year, and he came into spring training and has been basically unhittable. He's taken his game to another level."
"I'm excited to be in the rotation, and I mean this in the best way possible, but that kind of confirmed what I knew in my heart," Bell said. "I'm confident in my abilities. I'm confident where I stand and I'm confident in the way I can compete in this league."
Bell, 28, said he hasn't added anything drastic to his repertoire from last season, when he was 8-8 (though 1-6 against teams above .500) with a 4.46 ERA in 123 innings.
He spoke of maturing as a pitcher, the comfort of having a new one-year, $800,000 contract, and the development of his curveball and the split-finger fastball he learned at Triple-A Durham, where he pitched last season until May 19. It is the split-finger, Bell said, that takes the pressure off his curve when it isn't particularly sharp.
So far, the pressure has fallen on opposing hitters as Bell has not allowed an earned run in his past 122/3 innings.
"He's had a good spring," manager Lou Piniella said. "He's throwing the ball well, he really is. What we want to see from Rob is steady improvement as the season starts. But he's earned a spot in the rotation. Nothing was given there. He earned it by the way he pitched in spring training."
Bell could start the season in the bullpen. Piniella said with two off days in the season's first 11, he likely will rotate four starters before going to a five-man rotation in mid April.
"It's not what I want to do by any means," Bell said of bullpen duty. "I'm prepared to be a starter and I want the ball to be a starter. But if that's how the role needs to be and that's how they administrate that decision, then I'll deal with it. But that's not what I want. That's not what I expect to happen by any stretch of the imagination."
Bell expects to work with "tangible goals you can achieve every single day. ... I'd like to throw a ton of innings. That's the most simple goal, and everything will come from there. I throw a lot of innings, I'll be in a position to win a lot of games."
Fellow Rays starter Dewon Brazelton likes that kind of fire.
"Rob is a better pitcher than people give him credit for," he said. "He's got a good fastball, curveball and changeup. He's got a chip on his shoulder; it's because he doesn't get enough credit."
"No," Piniella said. "He wasn't overlooked. He's earned himself a spot and we're going to give him the ball."