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Catchers swapped as DiFelice starts

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 2001


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Hal McRae's latest attempt to improve the Rays has Mike DiFelice replacing John Flaherty behind the plate.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Hal McRae's latest attempt to improve the Rays has Mike DiFelice replacing John Flaherty behind the plate.

McRae said DiFelice will start indefinitely, with the chance to win the job permanently.

"I want to get a longer look at him and see what he does if he catches a lot," McRae said. "How many days, how often, I don't know. But this will give him an opportunity to show what he can do."

During his first three seasons with the Rays, Flaherty was the primary starter, playing five or six days a week.

Now, DiFelice will get essentially the same opportunity. "It's not a tryout," McRae said. "If he hold his own, the roles will be flip-flopped. If he doesn't hold his own, we'll have to try to figure out some combination of the two."

Though McRae didn't want to say what Flaherty, 33, wasn't doing well, the concerns appear to be with his defense.

In 38 games, Flaherty has four errors and two passed balls, and he has been behind the plate for 29 of the Rays' major-league high 37 wild pitches. With Flaherty behind the plate, Rays pitchers have a 5.26 ERA. When DiFelice is there, they have a 5.98 ERA.

"Obviously I'm not playing well, and when you don't play well you're not in the lineup. I'm not doing things I normally have done," Flaherty said. "It's my responsibility to get back where I was, and that's the only thing I can handle."

This is the first time DiFelice, 32, has had a chance to be an everyday player in the big leagues, but he said he doesn't plan to change anything.

"It's a nice opportunity," DiFelice said. "I'm just going to try and do a good job and just play hard and see what happens."

DUTCH TREAT: Bullpen coach Darren Daulton is considered in some south Florida media reports as the leading candidate for the Marlins' manager's job, but said he had not heard from Florida officials.

Daulton, who finished his career with the Marlins' 1997 championship club, said he would be interested. "It's very intriguing," he said.

There are also reports former Rays manager Larry Rothschild is a candidate to be Florida's pitching coach.

WELCOME BACK: Ben Grieve prefers to keep a low profile, but his return to Oakland was headline news.

The Rays acquired Grieve from the A's in a three-way deal, and Tuesday's game was his first as a visitor. Grieve, politely handling a bevy of interview requests, said the best thing about coming back was seeing his former teammates. "That's the part I'm enjoying," he said.

THERE GOES THE JUDD: Mike Judd's career with the Rays ended when he was claimed on waivers by Texas. Judd, acquired from Los Angeles at the end of spring training for $100,000, was 1-0 with a 4.05 ERA in eight games.

INJURY UPDATE: Wilson Alvarez had another successful extended spring training start, allowing two hits over five shutout innings. Trainer Jamie Reed said the best news was that Alvarez raised his average velocity to 85 mph. ... Right-hander Juan Guzman pitches at 1 today at Clearwater's Carpenter Complex. ... If second baseman Russ Johnson makes it through a workout today in Florida with no effects of a right quads strain, he will be activated and start Thursday.

Today: Rays at Athletics, 3:35

WHERE: Oakland Coliseum.

TV/RADIO: FSN; WFLA-AM 970, WLCC-AM 760 (Spanish).

2001 RESULTS/SCHEDULE:

Tuesday 5-1 W

Today at Oakland, 3:35

Thursday at Oakland, 3:35

8/31 at Trop, 7:15

9/1 at Trop, 4:15

9/2 at Trop, 1:15

9/7 at Oakland, 10:05

9/8 at Oakland, 4:05

9/9 at Oakland, 4:05

The pitchers

ALBIE LOPEZ: Lopez (3-5, 4.28) is the Rays' best starter, but he hasn't won since April 24. A groin strain and a bruised right thumb have contributed to his woes, though he said he felt fine in his last start. Manager Hal McRae, however, said Lopez was not focused.

MARK MULDER: The 23-year-old left-hander (6-2, 3.25) is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA in five May starts. Worse for the Rays, he has the second-best home ERA in the league (2.10). Mulder was Oakland's first-round pick in the 1998 draft out of Michigan State. He has never faced the Rays.

You don't say

Players usually relish the chance to make a road trip to their hometown and relax in their own house, but Greg Vaughn's family put him to work Tuesday. "I've already been in the swimming pool (with his daughter), in the batting cage (with his son), put together a new bike, saw our new dog, saw the horses and visited our property (where they are building an equestrian center)," Vaughn said, laughing. "I've already had a full day's work."

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