tampabay.com

Two Bulls stars begin audition

By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 5, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Two more potential pieces of the Devil Rays' future arrive today with the promotions of catcher Shawn Riggans and reliever Juan Salas from Triple A.

Riggans, 26, hit .293 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs and was named the International League's best defensive catcher at Durham, where the Rays wanted him to improve his game-calling ability.

"Riggans, I really liked in spring training," manager Joe Maddon said. "He made a very good first impression on me. Physically I think he's very talented. The biggest thing that we were concerned about was that he become more of a mental student in regard to handling his pitching staff and run the game and know what to do."

Salas, 29, pitched in 50 games between Double-A Montgomery and Durham with remarkable success, allowing only five earned runs (and 28 hits) in 631/3 innings while striking out 85. He was 4-1 with 17 saves in 20 chances and had a 0.71 ERA. He went 481/3 innings - including all 342/3 at Montgomery - before allowing his first earned run.

"You look at his numbers, and arguably they are among the best in all of minor-league baseball this year," Maddon said. "So I'm looking forward to it."

Salas will be the Rays' team-record 25th pitcher used this season. He and Riggans will be the eighth and ninth Rays to make their major-league debuts.

PITCHING IN: Jae Seo, out since Aug. 20 with a left groin strain, returns to the mound tonight, and Maddon said he should be good for 80-100 pitches. "It hasn't been that long, and he looked really good when he threw 50 pitches (in a simulated game Saturday)," Maddon said. "He should be fine."

Maddon is leaning toward keeping the rotation in order after Thursday's off day, but he hadn't made a final decision. One issue is whether to continue to use Brian Stokes, who filled in Sunday for Casey Fossum, as a starter and go to a six-man rotation.

INJURY REPORT: Jonny Gomes stopped by the clubhouse before heading to Cincinnati for today's surgery to alleviate an impingement in his right shoulder by shaving the bone and other frayed areas. Recovery time is usually three to four months. ... Reliever Travis Harper, out a month with a shoulder problem, said he felt good after throwing a bullpen session Monday and is close to returning. ... Scott Kazmir, out since Aug. 23, might start playing catch later this week, but the first step is "sock throws" - where he goes through the motion of throwing with a ball in a sock.

SAY HOLA, SETH: The Rays are trying to arrange for Seth McClung to pitch winter ball in Venezuela, possibly with Magallenes, so he can get more experience in the closer's role, though Maddon said it has to be the right situation.

"When a guy is pitching well in winter ball, they have a tendency to abuse him, and if a guy's not pitching well in winter ball, you have a tendency to see him by Thanksgiving because he's home eating turkey at that point," Maddon said. "Hopefully, he does well enough and there's someone there to monitor what he's doing."

MINOR MATTERS: Montgomery, which won the Southern League second-half South Division title, finished the regular season Monday with a 6-1 win and opens a best-of-five playoff series Thursday at Jacksonville. ... Durham finished a tumultuous season under first-year manager John Tamargo at 64-78. ... Class A Visalia clinched the California League second-half North Division championship with a 13-5 win over Bakersfield. The Oaks open postseason play Wednesday.

MISCELLANY: The last 11 runs the Rays have scored have come on home runs. ... Monday's game was the major-league-high 49th the team lost after leading. ... Having surpassed their 2005 season total attendance (1,136,092) on Sunday, the Rays drew 15,910 Monday and are on track for a 20 percent increase. ... The Rays are 0-5 on Labor Day. ... Rondell White has now homered in every AL stadium. ... Twins rookie Francisco Liriano, out since Aug. 8 with an elbow strain, had no problems in a 78-pitch bullpen session Monday and could rejoin the rotation in the next couple of weeks.

- MARC TOPKIN, Times staff writer