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Devil Rays fire manager Larry Rothschild; McRae hired through 2003

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©Associated Press and staff reports

ST. PETERSBURG -- Larry Rothschild was fired Wednesday as manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after three consecutive last-place finishes and a 4-10 start this season.

At an afternoon news conference, team officials announced that Hal McRae, the Rays' bench coach and former Kansas City Royals manager, has been signed as manager through the 2003 season. McRae had a winning record in four seasons as skipper for the Royals.

Other coaching changes: Terry Collins becomes third-base coach; Billy Hatcher becomes bench coach; Lee May will be the new first-base coach, replacing the fired Jose Cardenal. Wade Boggs remains as hitting coach and Darren Daulton becomes bullpen coach.

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"I feel I'm better prepared to manage now," McRae told reporters at the news conference. During his Kansas City tenure, he wasn't far enough removed from his playing days to do a good job, he said. "I don't know today exactly what I'm going to do different. But there will be differences.

"I have to earn the players' repect," McRae continued. "If I earn their repect, they'll respond to my desires." When asked what the team needs to do to get better, he replied: "Catching, throwing and hitting better."

The firing, the first of the 2 1/2-week-old Major League Baseball season, came a day after the Devil Rays lost 10-0 to Boston in their 499th regular-season game. They began play in 1998. Rothschild had been the manager for every game, compiling a 205-294 record.

"Hopefully we hit rock bottom and from here it will change," Rothschild, 47, tsaid after the game, in which Tampa Bay made two more errors and allowed six unearned runs to boost its total to 24 in 14 games.

All but two of the unearned runs have come in the team's 10 losses.

"If you're going to lose, you'd prefer to do it the right way and play good clean games and know you'll come out of it and be OK," Rothschild said. "But there's no consolation when you lose."

The team called a news conference to discuss the change and announce a successor.

Rothschild was hired as the Devil Rays' first manager after serving as pitching coach for the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins.

The Devil Rays were nearly flawless in opening the 2001 season with an 8-1 victory over Toronto, but it was pretty much all downhill after that. After playing sloppily and losing the second game of the series 11-8, the Blue Jays took the finale 11-0.

The skid reached seven games when the Devil Rays dropped the first five games on a 10-game, 11-day road trip that may have sealed Rothschild's fate. The team not only looked bad losing, but one starter (second baseman Bobby Smith) was designated for assignment; another (third baseman Vinny Castilla) was benched and asked to be traded or released; and a third (centerfielder Gerald Williams) was sat down for two games after a dugout confrontation with the manager.

General Manager Chuck Lamar said on Wednesday that he made his decision on Rothschild after observing the team in person on the road trip.

Asked before Tuesday night's game if it was nice to be back home after such a rough trip, Rothschild laughed.

"Yeah, a lot happened on this trip. Maybe it's a maturation process. Things have been very quiet here for three years and it's time to make transition," he said. "That's part of what happens."

LaMar retained Rothschild after last season in a surprise move, citing injuries as a factor in winning only 69 games for the second straight year and saying his longtime friend deserved to have an opportunity to help turn the team around.

The club's two most accomplished pitchers, Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman, still are on the disabled list after all of last season (Guzman made one start, lat year's home opener against Cleveland, lasting 1 2/3 innings). And veterans like Castilla and Greg Vaughn also were slowed by injuries in 2000, but reported to spring training confident that they would rebound with productive years.

But while Vaughn is off to a decent start, Castilla and offseason acquisition Ben Grieve have struggled at the plate. The Devil Rays have been shut out three times and were outscored 21-0 in their last two home games under Rothschild. Castilla, who has been replaced as starting third baseman by Aubrey Huff, has expressed a strong desire to be traded.

The defense and pitching have been even worse. The club had committed a major league-leading 18 errors through Tuesday night and is on pace to break the AL record for unearned runs allowed in a 162-game season (123) set by the 1975 Detroit Tigers.

Vaughn's second-inning error paved the way for the Red Sox to score five unearned runs Tuesday. Afterward, he said there was no excuse for his mistake, but shrugged off a question about whether the team had bottomed out.

"I think the only way for us to go was up anyway. I don't think we hit rock bottom. We just had a bad day. A real bad day," Vaughn said. "Now if 14 or 15 games into the season somebody is going on top (of Tropicana Field) to jump the dome, we'd have problems. We've just got to find a way to regroup."

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