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McRae ready to see new bullpen pay off

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001


DETROIT -- Manager Hal McRae is pleased with the way the bullpen has been restructured. Now it's just a matter of it pitching well.

McRae wanted the maneuverability of having two left-handers, and Jeff Wallace was brought up to team with Doug Creek. McRae likes the flexibility of having two setup men, and he hopes Rusty Meacham keeps pitching well enough to share that role with Tanyon Sturtze. McRae believes Esteban Yan, like other closers, works best in one-inning outings, and if Meacham proves to be a successful setup man, McRae plans to use Yan that way whenever possible.

"As of now, I feel good about it," McRae said. "Rusty has to pitch well, has to pitch the way he pitched last time out for this to materialize. He was basically an innings guy before. If he goes from being an innings guy to being used at the back end of the bullpen, he has to pitch well. It can't happen unless he does."

Meacham was sharp again Friday, pitching the final two innings and allowing one hit, dropping his season ERA to 2.63.

TAKE YOUR TURN: Even before seeing how Mike Judd pitches today, the Rays decided to skip the No. 5 spot in the rotation at least once and maybe twice, taking advantage of days off to keep ace Albie Lopez pitching on his regular fifth day. "There's no need to (use a fifth) if your lead dog can stay on schedule," McRae said. "The decision was made basically to keep him on schedule. He gives us our best chance to win."

Lopez, scheduled to pitch here Sunday and Friday at home against Cleveland, is in favor of the plan. "Your body gets used to going on the same days," he said. "Your body feels a lot better. The extra day kind of throws you off."

ROAD RULES: This is the team's first road trip under McRae, but he said he doesn't believe in imposing lots of rules and regulations. "I only have two rules -- show up on time and play hard," McRae said.

COMING UP SHORT: Felix Martinez has been surprisingly impressive at the plate, hitting .312. But his six errors at shortstop have been disappointing. "I'd like for him to play consistent defense and not worry about his hitting," McRae said. "Two-forty and making all the plays would be just fine with me. In that position we're more concerned with the defense. We don't need to play shoddy defense in the middle of the field. You can play it on the corners, but you can't play it in the middle."

NUMBERS GAME: Russ Johnson extended his career-high hitting streak to 10 games. ... Greg Vaughn leads the AL with 30 strikeouts. The Rays are tops as a team with 181.

ALL RIGHT: The Rays face left-handed starter Matt Perisho today, and usually that means trouble. In their three-plus seasons, the Rays are 32-76 in games started by lefties.

MINOR MATTERS: With general manager Chuck LaMar watching, Double-A Orlando left-hander Joe Kennedy on Thursday pitched six strong innings, allowing just an unearned run, to improve to 4-0 and lower his ERA to 0.28. Kennedy has 31 strikeouts in 32 innings. ... Toby Hall has an eight-game hitting streak for Triple-A Durham. ... Hans Smith, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound left-hander, has a California League-leading six saves for Class A Bakersfield.

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