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Yan's return finds bullpen stabilized

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 13, 2001


MONTREAL -- The Rays said their bullpen should be considerably better now, and not just because they activated closer Esteban Yan off the disabled list Thursday.

Manager Hal McRae said Travis Phelps, Victor Zambrano and, especially, lefty Doug Creek pitched so well during Yan's absence he has more depth and options than before.

"We're in a lot better shape," McRae said. "Some roles were expanded, and they responded. This gives me more options late in the ballgames. I'm not afraid to do some things."

Because Creek has done so well against left-handed batters, allowing a .185 average (10 hits in 54 at-bats with 17 strikeouts), McRae will use the three setup men on a matchup basis in the seventh and eighth innings, then turn the games over to Yan, who was out 20 days with shoulder inflammation.

To make room for Yan, the Rays sent Jesus Colome to Triple A. Colome was impressive with fastballs that regularly challenged the 100-mph barrier, but probably will benefit from consistent late-inning work.

"I think he'll be a good pitcher," McRae said. "I like him a lot. He's gotten a taste of it, and now he'll know more about it before he comes up again. If he liked the experience, he'll do good and get back."

FULL-SPEED AHEAD: The sore right hamstring that caused Greg Vaughn to sit out the All-Star Game felt better Thursday, enough that Vaughn returned to the lineup and said he can play without reservations.

"I'm just going to go play, and we'll see what happens," he said.

McRae plans to use Vaughn in leftfield again tonight, then rest him Saturday, with Damian Rolls scheduled for his first outfield start.

Rolls' role has become something of a running joke as McRae keeps talking about using the infielder in the outfield, but thus far has not done so.

"It's time," McRae said. "Either he can play out there, or we need another outfielder."

ALL-STAR REVIEW: Except for not being able, Vaughn said he had an enjoyable experience at the All-Star Game. "It was great," Vaughn said. "I had a great time, my family had fun, I got to spend a lot of time with (former teammate) Tony (Gwynn) and with his family. It was a great time."

REHAB REPORT: Wilson Alvarez, whose shoulder rehabilitation was stopped due to forearm tightness, started throwing again. He is scheduled for a mound session today in St. Petersburg.

MINOR MATTERS: Durham catcher Toby Hall and first baseman Ron Wright each went 0-for-2 in the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday in Indianapolis. ... Orlando outfielder Carl Crawford went 0-for-2 in the Double-A All-Star Game. ... Princeton catcher Shawn Riggins was named Appalachian League player of the week after going 8-for-18, including seven homers.

GATOR BAIT: The Expos called up outfielder Brad Wilkerson, the former Florida star whom they drafted as a supplemental first-rounder in 1998.

"It's a big day for me and for my dad (Mike) too," Wilkerson said. "He taught me pretty much everything I know about hitting a baseball, throwing it and catching it."

Wilkerson may be somewhat unknown to most of the Rays, but not to second baseman Brent Abernathy. They were roommates on the U.S. Olympic team last summer.

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