By MARC TOPKIN and MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ryan Rupe says he has never pitched in relief. Not in the minors, not in college, not in high school, not in Little League.
But the Rays have decided to send him to the bullpen and, while disappointed to be dropped from the rotation in favor of Tanyon Sturtze, Rupe says he'll go with an open mind.
"If they think this will make the team better, I'm more than happy to go try it," Rupe said. "Maybe it works out and it's a good thing."
Rupe was 2-3 with a 5.93 ERA in six starts, averaging barely five innings an outing. Manager Hal McRae envisions using the 26-year-old right-hander as a late-inning setup man.
"We feel he has the kind of stuff to pitch at the back end of the bullpen," McRae said. "We're hoping he can just let it rip. He has that kind of sinker that if he only has to pitch one inning maybe he can just grip it and rip it as opposed to trying to save something."
Sturtze, inconsistent in the setup role, had been hoping for a chance to return to the rotation and build on his strong 2000 showing, when he went 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA in five Tampa Bay starts.
McRae said talk about starting Sturtze goes back to spring training, but it wasn't until Rusty Meacham came up and established himself as a dependable setup man that the Rays could consider the change.
"I don't think we could have seriously considered it if he hadn't pitched well for us," McRae said.
ALVAREZ IMPROVING: Wilson Alvarez's arm doesn't hurt at all. Now he just has to convince himself to start believing it.
Alvarez pitched in his third rehab game Thursday at the Naimoli Complex, allowing one hit in five innings and striking out four. He threw 54 pitches.
The left-hander, who is recovering from rotator cuff surgery last year and hasn't pitched in a game for the Rays since late 1999, mixed his pitches well. His fastball was in the low- to mid-80s and later in the game his curveball was especially sharp.
"The velocity is getting a little better. Man, I'm happy, I can't complain about anything," Alvarez said. "It feels good to get more and more confidence. My arm doesn't hurt at all. It hurts more in my mind than in my body."
Alvarez made one bad pitch, leaving a changeup high over the middle of the plate that led to a single, but otherwise seemed to keep the Phillies he faced off balance. Three of his strikeouts came on called third strikes.
Alvarez is expected to pitch again Tuesday in another extended spring training game before possibly making the move to a Class A or Double-A game.
LEFT OUT: Steve Cox is one of the Rays' better hitters, but he hasn't been in the lineup much, starting seven of the past 21 games. McRae would like to use him more, but usually rests first baseman Fred McGriff only once a week and is reluctant to put Cox, a natural first baseman, in the outfield. "It's tough to move him around in the outfield when as a team we're not playing good defense," McRae said. "It doesn't make sense." ... Randy Winn and Aubrey Huff each will get a start this weekend. "It's a must that they play once a week," McRae said.
COMMAND PERFORMANCE: The St. Petersburg High School band and Devilettes will perform before Saturday's game and receive a $500 donation from the Rays of Hope foundation.
Better yet, the band members won't have to pay. Last year the band canceled a planned performance at a Rays game after being told its members would have to buy tickets to get in, and the story received national attention. The Rays quickly apologized, saying there was a miscommunication and it was not their policy for band members to buy tickets.