By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001
TORONTO -- The Rays will use today's off-day to their advantage, skipping No. 5 starter Travis Harper and using ace Albie Lopez to open the weekend series in Baltimore on Friday.
Manager Larry Rothschild decided to keep the top four starters on their regular schedule of pitching every fifth day and moved Harper to the bullpen. Paul Wilson will pitch Saturday, Bryan Rekar on Sunday and Ryan Rupe on Monday.
"I want to keep those guys pitching, and they feel good the way it's going," Rothschild said. "And I want to try and get our best guys on the mound as much as I can."
Lopez, 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA in his first two starts, liked the idea of staying on schedule.
"It's been good so far, and there's no reason to change it up right now," Lopez said. "It's early in the year, and we're not tired. There's no need for an extra day."
With Harper out of the rotation, the Rays have eight relievers. "I've got to be ready to do my thing," Harper said. "I need to prepare a little differently and be ready to go."
The 24-year-old rookie, who allowed 11 hits and four runs in his first start, would be projected to start Tuesday's home game against Boston.
STRIKING OUT: Tuesday, home plate umpire Doug Eddings called several of the "new" high strikes. Monday, umpire Brian Gorman didn't appear to call any. The inconsistency can be confusing for all involved.
"I know the purpose of the strike zone, what they want to do, is make it more consistent," Rothschild said. "Maybe that will happen during the course of the season, but I don't think it's happened yet. If anything, it's been more inconsistent because some guys are calling it to the letter and some guys aren't. In two games, you saw it."
HISTORY LESSON: Pitching coach Bill Fischer has seen plenty of Toronto over the years. Fischer pitched at the old Maple Leafs Stadium in 1956, going 5-3 for the Triple-A Maple Leafs on his way before making his big-league debut that season with the White Sox. He went to Exhibition Stadium many times as pitching coach with the Red Sox in the 1980s and has been to SkyDome as pitching coach with the Rays. "I'm probably one of the few guys who's been to all three stadiums," Fischer said.
CRAB CAKES, ANYONE?: In the midst of an 11-day road trip that is their second-longest of the season, the Rays have a day off in Baltimore today. Given their rough start, no one objects to the timing. "I think it's good," Rothschild said.
CHART CLIMBER: Fred McGriff took sole possession of 28th place all time with his 418th home run, breaking a tie with Baltimore's Cal Ripken. With nine more, McGriff will pass Billy Williams and claim the 27th spot. "When I'm done, I'll look back at all that," he said.
MINOR MATTERS: Top prospect Josh Hamilton, in a 1-for-21 slump, had two hits and an RBI for Double-A Orlando. ... Outfielder Rocco Baldelli, the Rays' top pick in the 2000 draft, has hits in his first six games for Class A Charleston. ... Chris Hatcher had RBI in four straight games for Triple-A Durham.
RAYS BITS: Greg Vaughn broke an 0-for-16 skid with a first-inning single. ... The team's longest losing streak is 11 games, set June 30-July 13, 1998. There was a 10-game streak in September. ... The Rays went into play Wednesday 12th in the AL in runs scored and 14th in runs allowed.
Bill Fischer, the team's 70-year-old pitching coach, was throwing off the mound again Wednesday afternoon. "He's ticked at me because he asked how I thought he was doing in front of (manager Larry Rothschild), and I said he did great -- throwing from 12 feet," catching instructor Darren Daulton said.