By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2001
NEW YORK -- Albie Lopez doesn't want to jump to conclusions.
But the way the right-hander, who starts today against the Yankees, is looking at things, this could be his final month with the Rays.
"Every indication I've gotten is that they don't want to sign a long-term deal," Lopez said. "And I'm a free agent at the end of the year."
"And from a business standpoint the way things usually go," Lopez said, "if a team has a free agent they don't plan to sign at the end of the year, they go ahead and get rid of them."
Lopez says he'd prefer to stay with the Rays. Team officials say they haven't made any decisions. The non-waiver trading deadline is July 31.
Today, he'll go to the mound trying to end a tortuous nine-game losing streak and salvage something from a season gone drastically wrong.
A 3-1 start has turned into a 3-10 mess, but Lopez, nagged by a groin strain and other minor injuries, has pitched noticeably better in his past two starts.
"I feel like I'm not holding back," Lopez said. "The last two times I felt like myself. I feel more confident. Before I felt like I was just trying to get through it."
FOR APPEARANCE'S SAKE: A loss is a loss, but Tanyon Sturtze was impressive for much of his 61/3-inning outing Sunday. He needed 122 pitches to get 19 outs, though poor defense contributed to his demise. Of the six runs, Sturtze said Tino Martinez's first-inning homer was the most troubling.
"I made a mistake pitch to Tino, and I felt that was really the only bad pitch that I made all day," Sturtze said.
IN THE SWING: Rookie Aubrey Huff is sizzling, with eight hits in his past 15 at-bats. And that, it turns out, is exactly why he hasn't played the past two days.
With the Yankees starting left-handers, manager Hal McRae put right-hander Russ Johnson at third base and the lefty-hitting Huff on the bench.
"Huff has a decent stroke going and I want him to maintain that stroke," McRae said. "It might be interrupted by a left-handed pitcher. I need him most against right-handed pitchers, and we're going to see more rights than lefts. Eventually he'll play against everyone."
REHAB REPORT: Juan Guzman pitched five shutout innings in Double-A Orlando's 6-0 win at Mobile. The right-hander threw 75 pitches, allowing two hits and two walks and striking five. His average velocity was 86 mph, with a high of 88. ... Wilson Alvarez was pain free in pitching six innings in a rehab start for Durham on Saturday, but his velocity was down. He is likely to start for Durham on Thursday and could rejoin the Rays after the All-Star break.
MINOR MATTERS: Pitcher Bobby Seay, out since May 7 with a strained left index finger, returned to action for Orlando on Saturday, allowing four runs on five hits in 21/3 innings. ... Outfielder Matt Diaz has 106 hits in 77 games (and a .337 average) for Class A Bakersfield.
RAYS BITS: Randy Winn's sore left hamstring is improving, and McRae said he expects to have Winn back in the lineup by Tuesday. ... Today's game could be in jeopardy; it rained heavily in New York on Sunday evening and the infield was not covered. ... Brent Abernathy is 10-for-26 with hits in all seven games since being called up Monday. ... Fred McGriff hit .382 in June, fourth in the AL.
WHERE: Yankee Stadium.
TV/RADIO: Fox Sports Net; 970 WFLA-AM, 760 WLCC-AM (Spanish).
RAYS VS. YANKEES, 2001:
6/22 -- 3-6 L at Trop
6/23 -- 1-2 L at Trop
6/24 -- 5-4 W at Trop
Friday -- 5-7 L at at Yankee Stadium
Saturday -- 4-5 L at Yankee Stadium
Sunday -- 1-6 L at Yankee Stadium
Today -- at Yankee Stadium, 1:05
WEATHER FORECAST: Partly cloudy with a high of 77 degrees, low of 67 degrees.
ALBIE LOPEZ: Lopez appeared to have snapped his nine-game losing streak Wednesday at Boston, but the bullpen couldn't hold the lead. Lopez has pitched poorly on the way to a 3-10 record and5.64 ERA, and his mates haven't helped by scoring 3.36 runs a game.
MIKE MUSSINA: Mussina has won three straight and has pitched more like his 3.69 ERA indicatesthan his 8-7 record. The right-hander beat the Rays June 22 at the Trop, allowing three runs in seven innings, to improve to 5-2 against them with a 4.26 ERA.