tampabay.com

Cutdown day stuns pitchers

Rays demote McClung and Orvella; Norton's injury may force rethinking of roster.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 31, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The Rays were full of surprises Friday.

They shocked Seth McClung by telling him that he contractually could, and would, be sent to the minors. They similarly stunned Chad Orvella, who was demoted despite allowing only one run all spring. They chose long-shot candidates Jae Kuk Ryu and Juan Salas to complete an extensive bullpen makeover.

And there could be more to come.

Just as the Rays seemed set to pick Jonny Gomes over Jorge Cantu for the final roster spot, there was concern Friday night over a possible right knee injury to first baseman/DH Greg Norton, who came out of Friday's game in Sarasota early and later left Tropicana Field hobbling. Without Norton, the only alternative to Ty Wigginton at first base, the Rays might opt to keep Cantu and ask him to try first or seek to bring back Carlos Pena, who earlier Friday was reassigned to minor-league camp.

And though Rocco Baldelli was encouraged after a minor-league game that his right hamstring will be good enough for him to play in Monday's opener at Yankee Stadium, it appears he likely will be limited to DH duties. That would leave centerfield to either Elijah Dukes, who will be playing his first major-league game, or B.J. Upton, who otherwise would start at his second, where he apparently had beat out Cantu.

Both Baldelli and catcher Dioner Navarro, who has been slowed by a sore left hamstring, are scheduled to play in today's exhibition finale against the Mets at Tropicana Field. The Rays, with 30 players still in camp, have to submit their 25-man roster by 3 p.m. Sunday.

McClung, much to his dismay, won't be on it, having been optioned to Triple-A Durham.

Had he known he was in danger of being sent down, McClung - who still gets his full $750,000 guaranteed salary - said he would have approached the spring differently and focused more on results. Instead, assuming his place on the roster was secured, he said he spent time working on different pitches and other mental adjustments and didn't expect the poor results (an 11.57 ERA, 25 baserunners in 91/3 innings) to matter much.

"To the layman, you look at my spring and saw numbers that are ugly," he said. "But for me, what I see out of my spring is an individual who took an intelligent approach to a spring training situation where I had to work on some things."

He said that after a couple of rough outings "I saw the panic button being hit very early" and then followed with some good outings that "I really just think nobody really paid attention to."

The Rays were able to send him down because of an unusual fourth option (since he used three in less than five full pro seasons), but he wasn't aware of it until Friday and blamed agent Scott Boras. "It's my agent's responsibility to make me aware of that and I am disappointed with that," he said.

Manager Joe Maddon listened to McClung's detailed philosophy but said the decision was based on what McClung - who has yet to spend a full season in the majors - did in the spring.

"If somebody's had a proven track record of success, then you don't necessarily evaluate the spring training performance as heavily," he said. "But when it comes right down to it, we're looking for consistency, and we had more options this year."

Orvella had a good spring (0.87 ERA), but the Rays questioned whether he could pitch on back-to-back days, and he too was sent to Durham.

The Rays hope to keep Pena in the organization in any case, with Maddon saying, "He's our kind of player, and he's the kind of guy we want to build around."

But Pena has an option in his contract to instead become a free agent and, while saying Tampa Bay was a perfect fit, will explore the possibility of a major-league job elsewhere. "I never considered the possibility of being sent down to the minor leagues," Pena said.

Baldelli, who has been sidelined since March 20, went 1-for-6 in a Triple-A game Friday and, though not running hard, sounded his most optimistic that he would be ready Monday. "I'm pretty much planning on being out there," he said. "I'm very encouraged as to how my leg is responding."

The Rays expect to know more about Norton's condition today. Last year, he was hurt in the second-to-last exhibition, straining his left hamstring and not joining the Rays until April 27.

Fast Facts:

 

Friday's moves

RHP Seth McClung, optioned to Triple-A Durham

RHP Chad Orvella, optioned to Triple-A Durham

1B Carlos Pena, reassigned to minor-league camp