By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001
BALTIMORE -- Middle reliever Ariel Prieto was sent to the minors to make room on the roster for Aubrey Huff, but the right-hander could be back in a much bigger role.
With inconsistent performances from Nos. 4 and 5 starters Ryan Rupe and Travis Harper, and with slower-than-expected surgical recoveries by Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman, Prieto will be considered for a spot in the Rays' rotation.
"Right now he was not getting innings in, so it was a classic situation in that he had options and a lot of guys didn't have options, and it really worked out from the baseball standpoint the way we wanted it to because he's going to go down there to get stretched out and get innings in," general manager Chuck LaMar said.
"We still have some questions about our fourth and fifth starters and who is going to solidify those positions until Alvarez and Guzman, if they are going to be healthy, and who knows, but if they are going to be healthy, when that is."
Prieto, who was signed the final week of spring training, had appeared in two games, pitching a total of three innings. He spent most of his career as a starter with the A's.
Sounding less certain than he has previously about Alvarez and/or Guzman making it back this season, LaMar said the Rays need to be prepared to go through the season without the veterans if necessary.
"Albie Lopez, Paul Wilson and Bryan Rekar will continue to improve and they're three major-league pitchers," LaMar said. "We've got to continue to get efforts like we did the other night from Ryan Rupe and Travis Harper has got to pitch better than he did in Boston (April 7). "So we're still looking, and I don't know if that's Tanyon Sturtze, if that's Prieto, if that's biding time for (prospect) Jason Standridge to come up.
"But if it gets to the point that Guzman and Alvarez are not going to show up and not going to be healthy, then it becomes past the point of "Let's buy time for a month.' It's time to solidify that starting rotation."
LEFT IS RIGHT: Baltimore's Chuck McElroy is the first left-handed starter the Rays will face this season, and, based on history, that's not a good thing. In their three previous seasons, they are 32-75 in games started by left-handers. "It's a new season, so we'll see," manager Larry Rothschild said. "If they have good at-bats, they'll score runs and hopefully we'll do that."
QUICK WORK: At 2 hours, 5 minutes, Friday's game matched the quickest in Rays history. They'd played two other 2:05 games, last on Sept. 9 against Oakland. It was their quickest road game, a minute shorter than the Sept. 1, 1999, game here.
BORN FREE: Returning to leftfield after a week as the DH because of a sore left calf, Greg Vaughn was talking like a freed man. "You can have that DH stuff," he said. "There's nothing for me to do. Ask the guys on the team. Everyone can't wait for me to go back to leftfield. There's too much downtime."
ANGLING:Paul Wilson makes his third start today, and he figures it will be a good one if his recent adjustments work out and he can stay on top of the ball. "I'm trying to get that down angle," he said.
GAME BITS: Cal Ripken's fifth-inning single accounted for the 5,000th total base of his career. He is the 15th player to get to that mark. ... Albie Lopez's complete-game shutout was the eighth in franchise history.
Rays at Orioles, 1:35 p.m.
WHERE: Camden Yards
TV/RADIO: Fox Sports Net/970 WFLA-AM, 760 WLCC-AM (Spanish)
2000 RESULTS IN BALTIMORE: 4/19: L 3-2
4/20: L 8-4
8/25: L 4-3
8/26: W 4-1*
8/26: L 2-0*
8/27: L 3-2
PAUL WILSON: Wilson felt he improved from his first start against Toronto (5 innings, 3 earned runs, 7 hits) to his second (52/3 innings, 2 earned runs, 5 hits). He pitched twice against the O's last season (92/3 innings, three hits).
CHUCK MCELROY: The 33-year-old left-hander had made 603 major-league relief appearances until the Orioles put him in the rotation at the end of last season. A changeup is his out pitch. McElroy has never faced the Rays.
Several Rays spent part of Thursday's off day fishing on Chesapeake Bay, but didn't have much success. Mike DiFelice's two striped bass were all they had to show for themselves. "I think we're going to have to change our goal from going to every city and catching fish to going to every city and seeing fish," Paul Wilson said. "One day, the fish are going to owe us."