By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 17, 2001
MIAMI -- The list of possible superlatives for Joe Kennedy is growing daily.
The latest: Should the 22-year-old left-hander beat the Marlins today at Pro Player Stadium, he will become the first American League pitcher since Boston's Vaughn Eshelman in 1995 to start his career with three straight victories.
Since being called up from Triple-A Durham on June 1, Kennedy has thrown 111/3 innings and allowed four earned runs, striking out 10 and walking six.
"I think he makes you want to play better because he's fun to watch," manager Hal McRae said.
"It's fun for me watching. I think that makes the players want to play better. It's not something you manufacture. It develops when he's out there for some reason."
Kennedy, who ended a six-game losing streak for the Rays by winning in his debut against Toronto on June 6, became the first Tampa Bay pitcher to win back-to-back games since Cory Lidle last September by beating Philadelphia on Tuesday.
"We were struggling a little bit and he added a little life to the team and he came in and has given us two good starts so far," first baseman Fred McGriff said. "But like anything else, he's young and he'll have his lumps."
BACK IN: McGriff returned to the lineup after sitting out Friday's game because of a slightly strained right hamstring.
One of baseball's top hitters the past month, he was injured sliding at home plate against Philadelphia on Thursday.
"I didn't have him in the lineup and he said he thought he could play," McRae said. "I'll try to get him out of the game if we're in the lead."
McGriff held the best average of any player in the majors since May 1 before Saturday's game. He was 50 for 127 for a .394 average.
MEMORY LANE: The Marlins series marks the first time McRae and former Reds teammate Tony Perez have managed against each other.
Perez was hired as the Marlins manager on May 28.
"I was always impressed with his ability to knock in runs," said McRae, who began his playing career with Cincinnati in 1968 and from 1970-1972.
"I recognized that at an early age. He was the one player that kept the big guys together through all the stuff that would go on. They would never get angry with him. They would get angry with each other but not him."
FUTURE ALL-STAR: Durham catcher Toby Hall will play in the Future's Game during All-Star week in Seattle next month.
Hall leads the International League with 49 RBI, is second with a .335 average and is tied for third with 12 home runs.
ODDS AND ENDS: Class A Hudson Valley and Princeton begin their seasons on Tuesday. Outfield prospect Toe Nash will be assigned to Princeton. ... Florida centerfielder Preston Wilson missed his third consecutive game because of stiffness in his back. Wilson had started 258 straight games before sitting out Thursday. ... With his run-scoring single in the first, the Marlins' Cliff Floyd extended his career-best hitting streak to 11 games. ... John Flaherty replaced Mike DiFelice behind the plate for the Rays. It was Flaherty's first start in five games.
WHERE: Pro Player Stadium, Miami.
TV/RADIO: Ch. 32; WFLA-AM 970, WLCC-AM 760 (Spanish).
WEATHER: Partly cloudy with a high around 89 degrees and a 10-plus (extreme) UV index.
VS. AL EAST: 8-20
VS. AL CENTRAL: 5-13
VS. AL WEST: 3-10
VS. NL: 5-3
VS. RH/LH STARTERS: 16-38/5-8
AHEAD AFTER 8 INNINGS: 21-1
BEHIND AFTER 8 INNINGS: 0-42
COME FROM BEHIND WINS: 7
OUTHIT BY OPPONENTS: 4-35
OUTHIT OPPONENTS: 14-5
SCORE FEWER THAN FOUR RUNS: 1-27
JOE KENNEDY: Kennedy (2-0, 3.18) has gone from top prospect to bona fide starter in two appearances. The left-hander, who gave up four hits in 61/3 innings against Philadelphia on Tuesday, is the lone Rays pitcher to win back-to-back starts this season.
RYAN DEMPSTER: A National League All-Star last season, Dempster (6-7, 5.07) is 0-3 with a 8.80 ERA in three career starts against the Rays. After a terrible start, Dempster has settled down and is 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in his past four starts.
It doesn't surprise Darren Daulton that the Marlins attract 15,488 fans per game. The Rays bullpen coach and former Florida catcher remembers the half-empty nights at Pro Player Stadium even during the club's World Series-winning season in 1997.
"When I first got here at the trade deadline, they didn't draw that well then," Daulton said. "They really didn't draw until everybody here in south Florida starting figuring it out that, "Hey, we've really got something here to cheer about.'
"It took them a while, but once it happened, it caught fire just like you'd expect it to."