By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The prospective employer wanted to check references, so a call was put in to Devil Rays manager Hal McRae.
McRae declined to discuss the specifics of the conversation, but the Houston Astros seemed sufficiently pleased to hire Vinny Castilla.
The former Rays third baseman signed a one-year deal with the Astros on Tuesday that will pay him a prorated portion of the $200,000 minimum salary, or about $151,912. The Rays are responsible for the remainder of his $7-million contract this season.
"I'm happy he signed with someone," McRae said. "I hope he does well."
Castilla certainly did well in his debut Tuesday, hitting a homer and a double and driving in two runs in his first three at-bats.
Castilla talked to the Cubs and Astros, deciding to sign with Houston because it agreed to let him play full time. The Astros sent third baseman Chris Truby to Triple A earlier in the day.
"I wasn't happy in Tampa," Castilla told the Houston Chronicle. "I'm happy here and ready to go. I wasn't happy there anymore. It was a good situation for me to get out of there and come back to the National League and play with a team like the Astros."
Castilla's numbers were abysmal in Tampa Bay the past two seasons, but Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said the minimum-salary contract made it worth seeing if Castilla could revive his career.
"Vinny Castilla offers a significant upside potential," Hunsicker said. "While under the circumstance there doesn't appear to be any downside risks."
CHECKING ACCOUNT: Travelling secretary Jeff Ziegler was the most popular man in the Rays clubhouse before Tuesday's game. Ziegler is in charge of handing out pay stubs, a duty that became slightly more than routine after a recent New York Times report suggested the team would have trouble meeting its payroll.
Team officials have maintained the report was false, and players said they were unconcerned. Still, several said they called agents or wives to double-check if the direct deposit had been made to their accounts.
The New York Times report said that if the Rays met Tuesday's payroll, they still would have trouble coming up with money for the May 30 payroll.
MEDICAL REPORT: Albie Lopez raised the issue of going on the disabled list Tuesday, although McRae said he expected the right-hander to make his start Saturday. Lopez was skipped in the rotation Tuesday to give a pulled right groin muscle more time to heal.
"It's moving along slowly," Lopez said. "Hopefully I have enough time before the next start for it to heal."
Lopez said the injury still is painful when he tries to stride in his pitching motion. He threw in the bullpen Tuesday and was scheduled to throw again Thursday. He said if the injury remains painful, he could go on the disabled list because he has not appeared in a game since May 9.
"I think I have to be concerned about it," Lopez said. "If I miss this next one, I have to go retroactive (on the DL). That's just being honest."
JOB SWITCH: McRae wanted to give shortstop Felix Martinez a day off, and he wanted to give Damian Rolls a chance to play in his hometown. So that means Rolls will make his debut as a shortstop Thursday.
"I had a discussion with (coach) Terry Collins, and he thinks Rolls can play short, so we'll give it a try," McRae said.
Rolls was primarily a third baseman in the minors and has played at second and third for the Rays. He played shortstop in winter ball in Venezuela and took grounders there during spring training. McRae said he preferred Rolls get his first start at shortstop while playing on a grass infield.
MINOR NEWS: Ryan Rupe went six innings, giving up two hits and one run and striking out nine in his first start for Triple-A Durham. Indianapolis won 4-0, and Rupe was charged with the loss.
WHERE: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
TV/RADIO: Ch. 32; WFLA-AM 970, WLCC-AM 760 (Spanish).
WEATHER FORECAST: Partly cloudy with a high of 88 degrees, low of 70 degrees.
BRYAN REKAR: Rekar (0-5, 5.52) is coming off his worst start of the season. He gave up a team-record 13 hits and 10 runs and lasted four innings against the Indians. He has the worst run support in the majors, 2.17 runs per nine innings.
JEFF SUPPAN: Suppan (2-3, 4.47) is tied for the team lead with five quality starts. He is coming off one of his best starts, going seven innings and giving up one run against Minnesota. He lost to the Rays on April 24, giving up five runs in six innings. He is 0-3 lifetime vs. the Rays.
Hal McRae's return to Kauffman Stadium could not pass without a reference to his infamous office tantrum in 1993. Angry with the line of questioning of a reporter after a game, McRae flung the contents of his desk into the air. Alan Eskew, a reporter with the Topeka Capital Journal, was struck in the face with a flying object, which opened a nasty cut. When McRae's office door opened Tuesday afternoon, Eskew was among a handful of reporters waiting to walk in. He was wearing a catcher's mask.