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Lopez feels better, but Rays in no hurry

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001


CLEVELAND -- Albie Lopez says he feels fine.

The Rays want to make sure he stays that way.

Lopez, who came out of his previous start with a strained right groin, said Friday he expects to make his regularly scheduled start Tuesday.

Manager Hal McRae is not so sure. McRae said he will keep an open mind, but the idea of putting his No. 1 starter at risk is not appealing.

"It's not worth risking," McRae said. "The worst thing that could happen is he could have a setback."

Lopez retired the first 10 hitters he faced Wednesday against the Orioles before feeling a twinge in his groin. He said he was in quite a bit of pain Wednesday night, but the injury has steadily improved.

Instead of a full bullpen session Friday, Lopez played long toss before the game and said he had no problems. He anticipates throwing off a mound before Sunday's game and, if all goes well, wants to start.

"I think the decision is mine," Lopez said. "If I feel fine, they've got to let me throw. There's no way I'm skipping a start."

With Monday off, the Rays could skip Lopez in the rotation without taking the other starters off their schedules. In that scenario, Lopez's next start would be May 19 at home against the Tigers.

Trainer Jamie Reed said there is a possibility Lopez could be ready by Tuesday, but skipping a start appears to make more sense.

"It's always better to be cautious," Reed said.

CARPE DIEM: The No. 5 spot in the rotation has not offered a lot of job security, so right-hander Brian Rose does not want to take any chances.

"This is an opportunity for me. And it may be my last opportunity," Rose said. "They've seen me throw out of the bullpen, but I want to show them I can start. And this might be the only chance I get."

Previous occupants of the No. 5 spot -- Travis Harper and Mike Judd -- got two starts apiece. Harper was sent to Triple-A Durham, and Judd was sent back to the bullpen before going on the disabled list this week.

Rose, acquired on waivers from the Mets, has been a starter for the bulk of his major-league career. He is 14-19 as a starter with a 5.81 ERA with Boston, Colorado and the New York Mets.

McRae said Rose, who has not thrown longer than four innings this year, will be limited to about 80 pitches today.

"If I go five innings or I go eight, all I want to do is leave with the lead," Rose said. "I'll definitely be looking for some easy outs so I'm not throwing so many pitches."

STREAKY: Fred McGriff extended his team record and tied a career high by collecting an RBI in his seventh straight game. McGriff last drove in runs in seven consecutive games 10 years ago this week with the Padres. His third-inning homer Friday was the 424th of his career, putting him two behind Billy Williams for 27th on the all-time list.

SEEKING SOLUTIONS: McRae had a meeting with pitching coach Bill Fischer, catcher John Flaherty and pitcher Paul Wilson to address Wilson's recent problems.

"We've addressed the situation and I won't give you more information than that," McRae said. "But I feel good about the discussion we had, and I think he does too."

Wilson has given up 27 earned runs in 29 innings over his past six starts.

FAN FAVORITES: The Rays may be last in the American League in home attendance, but they're pulling fans in on the road. Tampa Bay was fifth in the league in road attendance going into the weekend and could jump higher with today's and Sunday's games sold out. It helps that the Rays already have had road dates in Boston and Baltimore, two of the top drawing teams in the league.

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