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Bullpen battle down by two

By MARC TOPKIN and MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 14, 2001


CLEARWATER -- Competition for spots in the bullpen was reduced Tuesday when the Rays shipped out Bill Pulsipher and Santos Hernandez as part of a nine-player roster reduction.

Pulsipher, a four-year veteran, did not distinguish himself in a large field of left-handers. Hernandez, an expansion draft pick, was a long shot.

"Yeah, I'm surprised," said Pulsipher, who allowed 16 hits and two walks in six innings. "I'd like to be pitching today, but decisions have to be made, and I'm not the guy who makes the decisions."

The Rays have 46 players on the spring roster, 21 above the Opening Day limit. Pitchers Derrin Ebert, Victor Zambrano and Pulsipher; catcher Paul Hoover; outfielders Carl Crawford and Chris Hatcher; and infielder Ron Wright were reassigned to minor-league camp. Pitcher Delvin James was optioned to Double-A Orlando, and Hernandez was loaned to the Mexico City Tigers for a consecutive season.

"We've got to get down," manager Larry Rothschild said. "The innings are going to get limited because the starters are going to get extended, and we're getting closer to the time when you want to get the position players ready.

"My No. 1 priority -- and I've said it all along -- is to get this team ready, and if that means there are some hurt feelings along the way or whatever, I can't help that."

The Rays have 22 pitchers competing for 11 or 12 slots.

ALVAREZ OPTIMISTIC: It was only 10 minutes of early morning batting practice, but for Wilson Alvarez, it was a significant accomplishment.

Alvarez said he felt good after facing batters for the first time since June shoulder surgery. More important, he felt no pain.

"I just wanted to throw the ball over the plate with no pain at all," Alvarez said. "I didn't worry about my velocity or nothing. I just worried about being pain free."

Alvarez still faces considerable hurdles before he can rejoin the rotation. But he felt so good after the workout at Florida Power Park, he predicted an earlier return than his target date of late April.

"I'm excited," he said. "I think I'm going to come back sooner than everybody expects."

RAIN MEN: Tuesday's game with the Phillies was delayed, then canceled because of rain and lightning at Jack Russell Stadium. The Phillies led 2-1 in the fourth.

Russ Johnson provided the Rays' offense with a first-inning home run off Omar Daal. Albie Lopez pitched three innings, allowing two runs on four hits.

Bigger news was Lopez's baserunning. After drawing a walk to open the third, Lopez went to second on Gerald Williams' walk and third on Ben Grieve's single. Lopez said it was the first time he had gotten to third base as a professional, even in spring training games.

He had a chance to score when Vinny Castilla flied to left, but he and third-base coach Billy Hatcher thought better of it. "There was no chance of me running," Lopez said. "No chance."

FUTURE WORLD: With plenty of brighter days ahead, Crawford, one of the team's top prospects, wasn't disappointed at his demotion. "I'm just happy I got brought up," he said. "I got a feel for how things go, and I'll be much better prepared next year." ... Hoover was cut for the fourth straight year. "The ultimate goal is to get to where this day doesn't happen," he said.

HOME BOY: While the Rays go to Mexico City this weekend, hitting coach Wade Boggs will host the Legends of Baseball game at Florida Power Park and other related activities. "These duties were arranged when I was still a special assistant to Chuck LaMar," Boggs said. "I'd love to go to Mexico City. This was done last August when I had no idea I'd be the hitting coach."

MAKING UP: In a somewhat unusual arrangement for spring training, the Rays will make up their rained-out game against the Braves at the Disney complex March 24. The Rays will play two games that day, the other at home against Toronto.

PITCHING IN: Paul Wilson, unscored on in five innings, is scheduled to make his third start today. Bobby Seay, Rusty Meacham and closer candidate Tanyon Sturtze also are scheduled to pitch.

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