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Trust in this rookie proves costly
Juan Salas pitches well in the eighth but falls apart in the ninth. Then Al Reyes can't save him.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 21, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Rookie reliever Juan Salas had been throwing well. So well that he earned manager Joe Maddon's trust to handle key late-inning work. Impressive enough in the eighth inning Friday that with the score tied, Maddon brought him back out for another.
But the game can be different in the ninth inning.
And Salas showed that he was, too.
With his velocity down and his command a bit off, Salas quickly got in trouble. And when Al Reyes couldn't come to the rescue, the Rays let another hard-fought game get away, losing 4-3 to the Indians.
"We're still learning what these guys can and can not do," Maddon said. "A night like tonight kind of gives me a different perspective maybe on what we can do in the future. His eighth inning was really, really good. It was exceptional. ... I thought we might get two innings out of there and then you might get a win without using Reyes in a nonsave situation."
Instead, Reyes, who had allowed only two hits in six scoreless from-the-start-of-the-inning appearances, had to come in midinning to try to save the day.
With Andy Marte, the Ray-slayer who led off with a double, on second and pesky Grady Sizemore on first, Reyes got David Dellucci looking at a called third strike.
Next was a duel with dangerous Travis Hafner, a powerful left-handed slugger nicknamed Pronk (a cross between Project and Donkey).
Reyes got ahead 1-2, then Hafner took a changeup. With the defense in an exaggerated shift, with shortstop Brendan Harris on the first-base side of second, Reyes was trying to come inside.
He came back with another changeup but left it up, and Hafner smacked it up the middle for a single, scoring Marte as Rocco Baldelli's throw curled up the line.
"It was a good at-bat," Reyes said. "You make a mistake and that happens."
Hafner, coming off a spectacular injury-shortened 2006 season in which he hit .308 with 42 homers and 117 RBIs, has done it to the best of them.
"He's different," Maddon said. "He plays in that other league that's above this league, whenever it's established. And, quite frankly, I wish he'd go there tomorrow. He's one of the better hitters in all of baseball."
The 6-10 Rays got a hefty homer from B.J. Upton off Indians ace C.C. Sabathia and an improved, but not good enough, six-inning start from Edwin Jackson. At least it was better than April 14, when he summarized his poor outing by saying he pitched "like a (wimp)."
"As far as making adjustments and going after hitters, it was just a little different," Jackson said.
The Rays want to find out if Salas, 28, a converted infielder, can handle late-inning work, given a fastball that cuts viciously and clocks regularly at 93-94 mph. With Brian Stokes, his most dependable setup man, felled by the virus that has been sweeping the clubhouse, Maddon decided to try Friday. His other option was to start the ninth with Reyes, whom he has been saving for save situations.
"You could use your closer at home in situations like that. That was open to us," Maddon said. "I just based if off how well (Salas) looked the previous inning. I could see from the start of the next inning he didn't have the same velocity on his fastball, which created a different situation entirely."