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Yan's job may be going up a Creek

By JOHN ROMANO and BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- The past few weeks, it appeared the only thing keeping Esteban Yan in the pitching rotation was lack of a better alternative.

That may no longer be the case.

Though Yan's numbers continued to go downhill Wednesday, left-hander Doug Creek made a positive statement in relief. Creek threw four shutout innings to lower his ERA to 1.77. He has 25 strikeouts in 201/3 innings, and opponents are batting .145 against him. Creek was a starter the past three years in Triple A and Japan.

Manager Larry Rothschild acknowledged that Creek's performance might warrant a look for the starting rotation.

"You'd have to think about it. He's extended out now," Rothschild said. "I'd have to review everything. I'm not prepared to say that right now."

In mid-May, Yan appeared to have made a successful conversion from the bullpen to the rotation, running off five straight starts of at least six innings.

Those days seem long ago. He has given up 32 runs in his past 302/3 innings covering seven starts. He is 2-5 in that span.

COX IMPRESSES BOGGS: Steve Cox did not have to work to get Wade Boggs' attention before the game. The Rays special assistant was as interested in a chat as the rookie.

Boggs knows that the Rays' 1999 minor-league player of the year grasps the basics of hitting. He cites Cox's .341 average and 127 RBI last season at Triple-A Durham as evidence. The purpose of their 30 minute conversation was a head check, and Boggs came away satisfied.

"We just talked about staying within himself," Boggs said. "He has all the talent; he just needs to take everything in stride and let it all happen. He has a great head on his shoulders."

It's the cerebral more than the mechanical Cox, 25, enjoys discussing with Boggs.

"He was a hitter who knew why he hit," Cox said. "There are a lot of guys who go out there and don't know why they're hitting. He was one who knew."

NOT AGAIN: First baseman Fred McGriff fouled a ball off his right shin in the sixth inning and left the game with a bruise. He was listed as day-to-day.

"I'll go home, ice it, keep it elevated and see what happens," McGriff said.

INJURY UPDATES: left-hander Tony Saunders, attempting to return from a broken humurus bone in his pitching arm, threw 61 pitches in batting practice and reported no problems except arm weariness.

"Endurance is the big thing right now," he said. "I threw everything today, but I need to build my arm up. And the only way to do that is to throw fastballs."

Saunders is scheduled to pitch batting practice again Monday, pitching coach Bill Fischer said.

Rothschild, who watched Saunders from behind the batting cage, yelled to Saunders to "throw it, not nurse it" during the session. He said Saunders soon should be ready for minor-league rehabilitation.

Rothschild said Jose Canseco and third baseman Vinny Castilla improved. Canseco, nursing a sore left heel, jogged lightly and reported less pain, Rothschild said.

Castilla, who has missed 21 games because of an ailing back, took what Rothschild called his best round of batting practice in weeks and took grounders at third base. Leftfielder Greg Vaughn, recovering from a sore right hamstring, also reported progress and is expected to return to the lineup Friday.

Pitcher Doug Eiland's rehabilitation start for Double-A Orlando was rained out.

IT'S A LIVING: Miguel Cairo had never been a designated hitter, but he figured it beat the alternative. Cairo, who lost his starting job at second base to Bobby Smith, had started four of the previous 14 games.

With Rothschild stacking the lineup with right-handed hitters to face David Wells, Cairo became the seventh Tampa Bay player to start at designated hitter. He went 0-for-4.

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