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Pen mind-set a task for Stokes

Rays RHP Brian Stokes came into this season with 29 days of big-league experience and a starting pitcher's mentality.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 13, 2007


TORONTO - Rays RHP Brian Stokes came into this season with 29 days of big-league experience and a starting pitcher's mentality.

Now he finds himself with a 7.31 ERA and a pencil-thin margin of error as he learns how to be a late-inning reliever on the fly.

"The biggest thing in the bullpen is that you have to have amnesia, " Stokes said. "When you're a starter, you have four days off to work on things and get over it a bit, whereas if I mess up, I have to be back in the fire again the next day with the game on the line."

For the Devil Rays rotation to develop, it might depend on the development of Stokes.

Pitching coach Jim Hickey, pointing to the division leaders, said out that to have a successful pen, you need four relievers you can rely on with a lead.

"I would say we have two now, " Hickey said. "We're looking for a bit of an evolution here."

Those two are closer Al Reyes, who has converted all 10 save opportunities, and RHP Shawn Camp, who has pitched five straight scoreless outings. The Rays are without Juan Salas, suspended for 50 games after failing a drug test, and have sent Ruddy Lugo down for seasoning and brought up Chad Orvella and Tim Corcoran for help.

Meanwhile, Stokes has struggled. He has allowed an AL reliever-high five homers, most recently Aubrey Huff's walk-off blast Wednesday, and four have been game winners.

"Sometimes I think I put a little bit too much pressure on myself, " Stokes said. "It's been a flash for me. In this role, I have a bad situation and it determines the whole game. But if you go out and do well and as they all say, it's contagious. One good outing leads to another good outing, and for me, getting over this hump is the next step."

Rays manager Joe Maddon firmly believes success will come in a short time for Stokes.

"I've told him, 'For us to assume you're going to go out there and be nails is a really dumb assumption on our part. We want you to go into this role and grow into it.' The thing I like is that he's able to come back the next day and handle himself well and he weathers it, and when he figures that out, he's going to be dominant.

"He just needs a little more salt and pepper - just a little seasoning."

LOOKING FOR MR. CLUTCH: The Rays are hitting just .165 with runners in scoring position the past 16 games, which explains their 3.2 runs per game in that span.

"You just really need to stay more focused on the middle of the field, and if you stay in the middle of the field, you're going to hit the ball well, " INF Ty Wigginton said. "More importantly, it's hitting pitches in the strike zone. When you see a hitter get real hot, he's only swinging at strikes."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Vanderbilt LHP David Price, thought to be the Rays' target as the top overall pick in the first-year player draft, ran his record to 9-0 on Friday in a win over Auburn. Price struck out five and is six short of tying his school record of 155 set last season. ... The Rays' 43 homers are most in the AL and their most after 36 games. ... Pitchers James Shields and Casey Fossum will be at Disney's Magic Kingdom at 1 p.m. Monday to promote the Rays' three-game series in Orlando. ... Former Rays RHP Jorge Sosa, traded to the Braves for since-departed Nick Green, is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA in two starts with the Mets. Opponents are batting .174 against him. ... After his heroics against his former team last week, Huff is batting .381 (8-for-21) with two homers and four RBIs against the Rays. ... Newcomer Josh Wilson's father, Mike, is the head baseball coach at Duquesne in Pittsburgh.