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A pitched battle gains clarity - just a little
Spring star is bullpen bound as four vie for last Rays rotation job.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published March 15, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays narrowed the competition for the fifth starter from six to four, but the team believes it has found a better spot for one of the pitchers who didn't make the cut. Right-hander Brian Stokes is moving to the bullpen.
"We're pretty pleased with the process right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "The competition's been great."
The Rays reassigned right-hander Jason Hammel to Triple-A Durham, leaving right-handers Edwin Jackson, Tim Corcoran and Jae Kuk Ryu and left-hander J.P. Howell to vie for the final starting spot.
Stokes has had an impressive spring, and the Rays believe he can help them later in games instead of once every five days.
Only three relievers appear a lock: Dan Miceli, Shawn Camp and Ruddy Lugo. And Seth McClung has struggled to ensure himself the closer's job. Maddon said Wednesday that he believes Stokes could eventually work into the closer role.
"I think he has the physical ability and the makeup and the accountability and all of the characteristics necessary for a guy to pitch at the end of the game," he said.
Stokes, who hasn't allowed a run in 62/3 innings in the spring, spent his first two minor-league seasons as a reliever.
"I'm just going to go out with the same energy level," Stokes, 27, said. "It's still hitters up there, so the only thing that will change is the time of the ballgame when I go in."
The final decision on the fifth starter, meanwhile, will have a lot to do with how the other pitchers can best help the team. Jackson, Ryu and Corcoran have worked out of the bullpen.
Another factor is the health of left-hander Casey Fossum, who appears on track in his recovery from left shoulder surgery. Also, Jackson and Stokes are out of minor-league options, so if they don't make the team, they could be lost on waivers.
"It might be a difficult decision because it might not just be based on who is suited best to be the fifth starter," pitching coach Jim Hickey said.
Jackson made his case in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Cincinnati, allowing one earned run on two hits in three innings. After a leadoff double by Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez, Jackson retired nine of the next 10, yielding only an infield single in the second.
"Honestly, I want to go shake hands with our starting pitcher because I've never really seen him before," Maddon said of Jackson. "That was as good as I've ever seen Jack. I thought his composure was fantastic. I thought his stuff was what we always thought he can be."
Hickey and Maddon have preached the importance of throwing strikes and staying ahead in the count.
"Make them put it in play and no free passes," Jackson said. "Of course you're going to walk people here and there, but four or five a game is not going to cut it in the long run.
"For it to sound so simple, sometimes it's kind of difficult. You can try to get outs, but in reality, the more they put the ball in play, the more chance you have of getting guys out letting the defense work behind you."
Said Hickey: "That's still the stuff ... I hone in on as it goes along, because it doesn't change. ... It's important we have that mind-set that we make them hit it, not let them hit it."