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Reliever finds groove in bigger role


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 8, 2001

Baseball always has slow starters, guys who come out of spring training still waiting for the three months of inactivity to wear off and the pop in their bat or the break on their ball to return.

Then there is Chris Wright.

The Bakersfield right-hander took the term "slow starter" and added his definition, starting 0-3 with a 5.84 ERA in his first six games. He pitched 12 innings, allowed eight runs on 15 hits, walked five and struck out 11.

By the end of May, there was hope in sight, but Wright, who was 2-4 with a 5.61 ERA on June2, still was waiting for the performance that caused the Rays to draft him in the 11th round in 1997.

Then, what seemed like the worst possible scenario occurred. Closer Hans Smith, the Blaze All-Star who led the team with 16 saves, went on the disabled list. Suddenly, the struggling Wright's role became more important.

Through June and July, Wright racked up three saves, improved his ERA to 4.05 and put together a .500 record, leaving him 5-7 for the season. The 24-year-old has appeared in a team-most 40 games, pitching 731/3 innings, striking out 68 and walking 27.

PLAYING LIKE DOGS: Charleston's 5-0 loss to Wilmington on Monday night in which Waves pitchers Ben Diggins and Nial Hughes no-hit the RiverDogs was bad enough, but the loss underscored another problem. It continued a stretch in which the 'Dogs haven't had more than five runs in a game, dating to July16 when they beat Macon 9-0. Charleston is last in the 16-team South Atlantic League with a team batting average of .225.

FITTING IN: Manny Aybar, acquired in the deal that sent Fred McGriff to the Cubs, earned his first win for Durham on Sunday night, pitching six innings and allowing three runs on three hits while striking out seven and walking one.

Aybar allowed two home runs and was called for two balks.

NO FOUR-PEAT: For the first time since joining the International League in 1998, Durham most likely will not be the South Division champion. Entering Tuesday night the Bulls were 11 games behind Norfolk with a 58-58 record. The season ends Sept.3.

Durham has hope, however. The Bulls are battling Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (62-54), Ottawa (59-59), Syracuse (58-58) and Charlotte (55-61) for the wild-card spot.

RENEGADE RBI GUY: Hudson Valley designated hitter Eric Reece hit a game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th to lead the Renegades to a 6-5 win over Mahoning Valley on Sunday night. After Monday's games, Reece led the New York-Penn League with 36 RBI.

RUSTY'S RACE: Durham pitcher Rusty Meacham earned the most points in July in the International League relief race. Meacham had one win and five saves to record 17 points in the race to become the top reliever.

CLOSING IN: Bakersfield's Matt Diaz entered Tuesday's game two hits from equaling his career total of 157.

CHARLESTON HOMERS: Two players not responsible for Charleston's offensive woes are Justin Schuda and Jace Brewer. Schuda tied the score Aug. 1 by hitting his organization-leading 22nd home run in the bottom of the ninth. Brewer answered by hitting his second pro home run in the 11th to tie the score again before Charleston lost 9-5 in 15 innings.

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