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Ball is in Rekar's hand

He welcomes the chance to determine his fate as a Rays starter.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2001


VIERA -- It's bad enough that Bryan Rekar's chances to win a spot in the Rays' starting rotation could depend on a pair of surgically repaired shoulders, a circulation problem and the durability of a reconstructed elbow.

photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Bryan Rekar works against the Marlins Friday. He retired all six batters he faced as a starter.
But what really stings is that it's the shoulders of Juan Guzman and Wilson Alvarez, the blood clot problems of Ryan Rupe and the elbow of Paul Wilson.

"I want to be judged on me; I don't want to be judged on if this guy is healthy or not," Rekar said. "I really don't like being considered the No. 6 guy in case somebody's not healthy. I think I had a pretty successful year last year. ... After I got a chance to start every fifth day I was able to prove to a lot of people that I can pitch in the big leagues and start."

Manager Larry Rothschild said no decisions have been made and if Rekar can keep pitching at that level, he won't have anything to worry about. Rekar took a strong first step Friday in the Rays' exhibition opener, retiring all six Marlins he faced in a 7-6 loss.

"If he pitches like he did last year, he's got to make the staff. He's got to be one of our starters," Rothschild said. "But he's got to pitch the way he did last year after he got things turned around. It looks like he's taken some good steps, and if he keeps making progress that decision becomes easy. But it's up to him."

For a guy who felt opportunity was all that was keeping him from success, Rekar welcomes the chance to control his fate.

"Right now I'm starting so there's nothing to complain about," he said. "If they're going to give me a shot to start, I'll pretty much go from there."

Rekar, 28, pitched inconsistently during his first two seasons with the Rays, a product, he said, of inconsistent assignments and shuttling between the bullpen and the rotation, the majors and the minors, the disabled list and the active roster.

Last season started similarly. Rekar missed time after burning two fingers on a lawn mower, went on the disabled list with a groin strain and opened the season in the minors. He got called up and made two relief appearances, went into the rotation for three starts, got bounced back to the bullpen. Finally, with Alvarez and Guzman out, Rupe in the minors, Dwight Gooden released and Dave Eiland hurt, Rekar got a chance for steady work. He made 24 consecutive starts, some better than others, logging a 4.33 ERA and a 6-8 record with minimal run support. As important, he did what starting pitchers are supposed to do: throw strikes, work deep into games, keep the score close. He finished the season as the Rays' career leader with 3542/3 innings pitched.

"He improved greatly last season," Rothschild said. "He made a lot of strides."

Getting people to take Rekar seriously as a starting pitcher is important. Getting him to take life seriously is something else.

Rekar has made something of an odd name for himself over the years, rattling on about The Simpsons and South Park as his favorite TV shows, doing film reviews one spring for this newspaper, deadpanning answers in interviews, talking about plans to some day to write scripts and/or become a B-movie actor.

"I'm really not much of a follower," he said. "I like to go the path less traveled, my own winding path, whatever you want to call it. I try to have a good time -- you don't know how long this can last. The key to having success is winning, but you still have to have fun too."

After earning salaries in the $200,000 range his first three seasons, Rekar, having gained arbitration eligibility, cashed in with a $1.4-million contract.

Once he gets the first check, he and his wife, Jamie, plan to visit the local car dealers. The 1995 green Jeep with cow-print seat covers and 107,000 miles on it is going to go, as is Jamie's 1995 Chevy Cavalier. "We might splurge with that first paycheck and get an upgrade," Rekar said. "Maybe I'll get a new Jeep and she'll get a new Cavalier."

The money has allowed the Rekars to make another change in their lifestyle. After last spring's accident, Jamie now forbids Bryan from using the lawn mower at their Tampa home.

"So now I'll have to find a different way to get a tan," he said.

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