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McClung heads to minors to learn to close
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published June 21, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - Seth McClung said he still wants to be a starter. For now, though, his future is in the bullpen.
The Devil Rays right-hander is headed to Triple-A Durham, and Tampa Bay pitching coach Mike Butcher said McClung will for the rest of the season be tried as a closer, a role the team believes might suit him better.
"Not everybody gets to do what they want," McClung said Tuesday. "I do want to be a starter, but my job now is to go to Durham and pitch out of the bullpen. I'm 100 percent committed to that."
The demotion was not a shock. McClung is 2-10 with a 6.81 ERA in 15 starts and allowed 98 hits with 47 walks in 802/3 innings. The surprise was the shift to the bullpen.
After the game, the Rays promoted right-hander Edwin Jackson from Durham to pitch in relief. Right-hander Tim Corcoran moves into the rotation and likely will start Saturday.
Butcher said that with a 96 mph fastball and good curve, McClung has the stuff to be overpowering in short outings, and he compared him to the White Sox's hard-throwing closer Bobby Jenks.
Not that the transition will be easy, even though McClung has relieved before and said, "I know what I'm doing."
"No matter how hard you throw, you have to command both sides of the plate and throw a breaking ball for a strike and be able to put guys away," Butcher said. "He has the stuff to do that. It comes down to execution of his pitches. When he's able to do that, he'll be a very successful member of our club."
McClung, 25, came into the season with sky-high expectations. But inconsistent pitch location and trouble closing out hitters contributed to six straight losses.
"I think I was really close," McClung said. "A lot of tough luck. That's just the way the game works. My stuff is good. I just have to learn how to harness it."
Manager Joe Maddon said it would have been too much for McClung to learn the closer's role with the Rays, even though Tyler Walker is on the disabled list with a sore right elbow.
"That's way too far of a leap for me," Maddon said. "I don't want to put pressure on a guy like that. He has struggled to have success this year. It would be very unfair to expect that much out of him."
Maddon said he told McClung the move could benefit him "for the next 10 years or longer, who knows. We still expect to make a lot of noise in this division before the season is over. We want to get everyone in the right spot."
THE OTHER CLOSER:
Walker said orthopedic team physician Koco Eaton told him he has tendinitis. The right-hander said he could start throwing in the next few days, though Maddon said he expects Walker to be out two to three weeks "at the outside."
Walker said the diagnosis during Monday's examination took a load off his mind.
"I didn't sleep very well on Sunday," Walker said. "I was a little nervous. You think about your career. It was great news."
Maddon said the team might give Jonny Gomes an MRI exam to figure out his aching right shoulder.
Gomes, who has played just eight games in the outfield, said he believes he was hurt working out in the offseason.
"I didn't really have a good throwing program set up," he said. "I concentrated more on working out lifting weights and hitting."
As for eventually getting back into the outfield, he said, "This early in my career, I don't want to be labeled as a DH. I'm leading the pack trying to get out there. I'm not sitting on nothing."
Evan Longoria, the Rays' first-round pick in the June 6 draft, debuted at short-season Hudson Valley and hit a first-inning sacrifice fly. He finished 1-for-5 in a 5-3 14-inning loss to Aberdeen.
The Rays are 4-0 lifetime against the Diamondbacks, their expansion counterparts, and 6-1 this season against the NL. ... Rocco Baldelli's first-inning double was his first hit at Tropicana Field since Sept. 28, 2004. ... With Arizona's first trip to Tropicana Field, only the Cubs and Astros have not played in St. Petersburg. The Nationals played there as the Expos.