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Report: McHale, Rays near deal

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001


BALTIMORE -- Tigers president John McHale Jr. could be named Rays chief operating officer by the end of the week.

The New York Times, citing an unnamed baseball official, reported that McHale "is scheduled to be in the Tampa Bay area Thursday to talk to all of the partners and complete an agreement that will bring him there permanently."

A Rays spokesman said late Tuesday he had no knowledge of any meeting or plans for an announcement.

The New York Times also reported that the general partners were unhappy former managing general partner and current chairman Vince Naimoli was in Detroit on Sunday talking about the search for a top executive. "The partners, angry again, called Major League Baseball to ask to have Naimoli cease and desist. "He's not allowed to do this on his own,' said a person involved with the Devil Rays partnership," the newspaper reported.

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN: A handful of Rays got the presidential treatment Tuesday morning: a VIP tour of the White House and a chance to meet President Bush.

"As pro athletes you're used to doing things like playing in front of 40,000 people, but it's nice to be in awe," catcher Mike DiFelice said. "To meet a person of his historical stature, that was something else."

DiFelice arranged the outing through his agent's son's friend, who happens to be a Secret Service agent, and brought along Russ Johnson, Albie Lopez, Ryan Rupe, Tanyon Sturtze and Paul Wilson.

The players visited the room where presidential briefings are held, walked the West Wing, poked into the kitchen and toured the Rose Garden, but they were most impressed by meeting Bush in the Oval Office.

"We took pictures with him and everything," Rupe said. "It was all cool."

SHORT STORY: Felix Martinez was on the bench, but manager Hal McRae said he will put him back at shortstop tonight.

"I have to," McRae said. "He's my best shortstop. He's not playing well, but he's my best and I realize that. He's capable of playing better."

McRae took Martinez out of Monday's game in the middle of the fifth, shortly after Martinez made his ninth error, matching the major-league high, then made another bad throw.

Given a fresh start by the Rays last season after his career stalled in Kansas City, Martinez made the most of his opportunity by playing outstanding defense, making 14 errors in 106 games, while hitting .214. He had no real competition for playing time this season and though his average is up to .291, his defense has slacked off noticeably.

McRae, who spoke with Martinez after Monday's game, said he thought the mistakes were the result of mental and physical fatigue.

RAYS BITS: Gerald Williams is one steal from matching Miguel Cairo's team record of nine straight. ... Jason Johnson, troubled by a blister Tuesday, is 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA in three starts against the Rays. ... The Rays' eight wins in April matched their fewest in any month. They also won eight in May 2000. ... The bullpen is on an impressive roll, having posted a 0.87 ERA over its past eight games (two earned runs in 202/3 innings).

Tonight: Rays vs. Orioles, 7:05

WHERE: Camden Yards.

RADIO: WFLA-AM 970, WLCC-AM 760 (Spanish).

* * *

2001 RESULTS/SCHEDULE VS. ORIOLES:

April 13,2-0 W

April 14, 5-6 L

April 15, 7-4 W

April 16, 2-6 L

Monday, 3-5 L

Tuesday, 1-3 L

Today, 7:05 p.m.

July 31, 7:05 p.m.

Aug. 1, 7:05 p.m.

Aug. 2, 3:05 p.m.

WEATHER FORECAST: Partly cloudy with a high of 84 degrees.

The pitchers

RYAN RUPE: Rupe has shown some signs of regaining the dominating form of his 1998 rookie season, but he's not there yet. He has made one quality start in five, holding the Orioles to three runs over six innings April 21. He is 4-3 in seven starts against the O's with a 5.44 ERA.

JOSE MERCEDES: Mercedes led AL pitchers with 11 second-half wins last season, but he has not picked up where he left off. He is 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in five starts and opponents are hitting .293 off him. Mercedes pitched seven decent innings against the Rays on April 22.

You don't say

Manager Hal McRae naturally was concerned when Vinny Castilla was struck on the right wrist by a pitch Monday, but only to a certain point. "Once I heard him tell (trainer) Jamie (Reed) "I'm okay,' I turned around," McRae said.

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