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Pen forced to get by without Walker

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published June 15, 2006

DETROIT - The Devil Rays bullpen has been among the worst in the majors this season. And now the Rays are going to be without arguably their best reliever for at least two weeks.

Tyler Walker, who provided much-needed stability in the closer's role while saving 10 games in 12 chances, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

The Rays called up Tim Corcoran from Triple-A Durham to take Walker's place on the roster but are not sure how they will fill the closer's role.

"I don't know," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're pretty much back to the amorphic nature."

Possibilities include Brian Meadows, Ruddy Lugo, Shawn Camp and Corcoran, though Maddon said he is open to any of the relievers grasping the role.

Going into Wednesday's game, the Rays had a bullpen ERA of 5.52, better than only Kansas City among the 30 major-league teams. They had allowed 63 of 136 inherited runners to score, blown 10 saves and allowed opponents a .315 average.

Walker, acquired from San Francisco on April 28, has been bothered by tightness in the elbow for about two weeks and had been treating it with anti-inflammatory medication, which the team kept quiet. According to Maddon, Walker maintained that it was not a serious problem, but Maddon said it was obvious Tuesday, the day after a two-inning outing, that something was wrong.

"He's been saying, "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine,' " Maddon said. "I think he's very much a tough guy, (but) his face kind of belied that a little bit to me. I just don't think he truly felt as good as he said he was, and he finally admitted (Tuesday) that he wasn't."

Walker (1-3 with a 4.95 ERA) had an MRI exam Wednesday, which revealed the sprained ligament. Walker is likely to be further evaluated, but indications are he will need only rest and rehab.

Walker described the problem as "a real tightness" and said it is difficult to straighten the elbow, but he was optimistic he wouldn't be out more than the 15 days.

BACK IN THE BIGS:

Corcoran was sent to Triple A after a brutal spring performance (29.43 ERA, 15 hits and five walks in 32/3 innings) and taken off the 40-man roster, but he did very well for the Bulls, going 5-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 19 games, mostly in middle relief.

"I knew I had to go down there and pitch and get back to form," he said.

Corcoran, 28, made his major-league debut last season, pitching in 10 games and compiling a 5.96 ERA. Wednesday, he worked the 12th for the final three outs. To add him back to the 40-man roster, the Rays moved reliever Dan Miceli from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.

BIG RED EXPRESS:

Maddon said the Rays still plan to keep struggling Seth McClung in the rotation, but even if he were moved to the bullpen he would not be a candidate to close, a role some team personnel think may suit him best.

"I think that's quite a leap to take someone who's been predominantly a starter and ask them to be a closer the very next day," Maddon said. "I'm not saying something like that is impossible, but it's not what we're looking at right now."

CATCHING ON:

Carl Crawford is considered among the best defensive leftfielders in the majors, which makes it even more surprising he has had at least four balls bounce off or out of his glove - which was new this season - in the past month or so.

"I told ( Damon Hollins) if it happens again I'm burning that glove," Crawford said.

MISCELLANY:

Rocco Baldelli looked to be in pain after being hit on the left hand by a pitch, but Maddon said he was fine: "It just pinched him." ... Tomas Perez was hit on the left wrist by a line drive, but X-rays were negative. ... Ex-Ray Bobby Seay had been working in relief for the Tigers but was designated for assignment after the game. ... Reliever Juan Salas, who had a remarkable streak of 342/3 innings without allowing an earned run at Double-A Montgomery, was promoted to Durham.

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