tampabay.com

Fossum excited about leap in control, change

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO and MARC TOPKIN
Published March 23, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Devil Rays starter Casey Fossum and pitching coach Mike Butcher couldn't have been happier with the way Fossum threw Wednesday in a minor-league game at the Naimoli Complex.

The left-hander not only located his fastball better than he had all spring, he mixed in a changeup that was so effective, he threw just 38 pitches in the last three innings of his five-inning, 72-pitch outing.

"I'm very pleased," Fossum said. "I didn't have to worry about anything out here and was able to work on some things."

Fossum, pitching for Triple-A Durham, threw 51 strikes and allowed five runs on nine hits, including a three-run home run. But the stats were secondary.

"He had a nice finish on his pitches," Butcher said. "He did a nice job."

And with his changeup working, Fossum said, "I guarantee I'll throw it a little bit more the next time."

UNDER THE RADAR: Very quietly, Jason Childers has made himself part of the competition for a bullpen spot. The nonroster invitee has not allowed a run in eight innings, allowed four hits and struck out six.

He struck out the side in the inning he pitched in Wednesday's minor-league game.

"It doesn't bother me," he said of the lack of publicity. "I just hope the staff is watching."

Childers, 31, who has never pitched in the major leagues, isn't overpowering but does well mixing in a curve and changeup.

"He's been impressive the whole spring," Butcher said. "He has not been unnoticed. I know we like him."

RELIEF PATROL: It's not unusual for a team to be looking for the final piece for its bullpen in the last week of spring training. What has been different, at least compared to his last job with the Angels, new manager Joe Maddon said, is looking for the final three pieces this late in the spring.

"Where I come from I'm just not used to this," he said. "(When you are) a little more established, you might be looking at one guy, normally like the sixth guy. Normally. This year we're looking at maybe four, five and six."

SQUARING OFF: The Orioles on Wednesday set their rotation for the season-opening series against the Rays, naming Rodrigo Lopez the opening day starter, followed by left-hander Erik Bedard and Kris Benson.

Maddon said he would name his opening day starter today. Based on the spring rotation, the Rays would appear set to use Scott Kazmir, Seth McClung and Fossum.

PARTY TIME: The Rays are hosting a free "Picnic in the Park" at Tropicana Field for fans to watch the 3:05 p.m. April 3 opener in Baltimore on the stadium video board.

There will be seating on the field and in the stands and food can be brought in as long as it is wrapped, bagged or in a softside container or picnic basket. Single-serving juice boxes and sealed water bottles no larger than 1 liter are also permitted. Concessions also will be available.

Gates open at 2 p.m. Parking and admission are free. The team will raffle off autographed memorabilia and other prizes.

Call (727) 825-3250.

NO MORI: Losing Japanese reliever Shinji Mori to a season-ending shoulder injury without even getting to see him pitch was tough.

"We had him scouted well, we'd seen the video and all that stuff, we were kind of excited about having him," Maddon said. "So there is a disappointment involved."

MISCELLANY: Amid rumors of advanced trade talks with the Marlins, outfielder Joey Gathright is expected to be back in the lineup tonight or Friday. He left Tuesday's game with a strained left shoulder. ... By allowing 177 hits in 179 innings, the Rays join the Orioles as the only AL teams that have given up fewer hits than innings. ... The Rays' 41 stolen bases are nearly double the next highest major-league team; the Nationals have 22. ... Reliever Travis Harper will start tonight so he has a chance to get innings. Kazmir pitches in a 1 p.m. minor-league game today at the Raymond A. Naimoli training complex.