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Rupe's early woes serve as 'reminder'

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2000


CHICAGO -- Ryan Rupe returns to Minnesota tonight a changed man.

When the Rays opened their season of grand promise in Minnesota 20 weeks ago, Rupe was expecting big things.

He'd been promoted to the majors in May 1999 after only 18 minor-league starts, he'd won eight games as a rookie and he was better for the experience.

In other words, Rupe hardly expected to open the season 0-4 with a 9.68 ERA in six starts, be sent to the minors after a month and spend nine weeks at Durham before returning to the Rays July9.

"It definitely was a test, and it definitely was a reminder," Rupe said. "This game doesn't come easy. You're playing against the best people in the world."

Rupe started the second game of the season at the Metrodome and pitched pretty well (three runs and six hits in six innings). It's just that it was all downhill from there.

Manager Larry Rothschild said Rupe seems to be pitching better since his return. He is 4-0 in eight starts despite a 5.21 ERA.

"He's gotten the ball down better, and his changeup has come back some," Rothschild said. "It's not where it was last year, but I think it will get better and better. And he's in better control of himself emotionally. He's carrying himself better on the mound, and as a result he's been able to pitch his way out of jams quicker."

Rupe said he's trying to make the best of his disappointing season but said he doesn't feel humbled by his struggles.

"I wouldn't want him to be," Rothschild said. "I don't think he had such an ego that he needed to be humbled. I think he's gotten more experience. That's the best way to put it. After you go through rough times, when you get on a roll you don't want to let go of it. You realize it's something that didn't just happen, and you want to keep it going."

TONY'S TALE: Tony Saunders, who was tired toward the end of his last two outings, will make another rehabilitation start for Class A St. Petersburg this week. Saunders is scheduled to pitch Thursday, though his start could be pushed back to Saturday to provide extra rest. The Rays are at Florida Power Park both nights.

With Saunders working his way back from a May 1999 broken arm, Rothschild doesn't sound overly concerned about the lack of stamina. "He hasn't pitched in a long time," Rothschild said. "We're going by how he feels and we're being conservative in what we do. ... The only setback Tony could have would be an injury. Everything else is a positive."

FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC: Sunday's win marked the seventh time the Rays have won when trailing after eight innings, most in the American League. The Yankees and Royals have done it six times each. The Rays had only three such comebacks in 1998-99 combined.

FALL GUYS: The Rays will send six top prospects for additional work in the Arizona Fall League. Pitchers Cedrick Bowers, Travis Harper, Travis Phelps and Dan Wheeler, catcher Toby Hall and outfielder Kenny Kelly will join the Mesa Solar Sox for the Oct. 3 season opener.

GOOD DEEDS: The Rays and Southwest Airlines will send 12 patients from All Children's Hospital and the Tampa Children's Hospital to Baltimore on Sunday to meet the Rays and watch the game at Camden Yards. It's the third straight year the team has sponsored a trip. ... Josh Hamilton will appear at the American Heart Association's kickoff breakfast at 7:30 this morning at Tropicana Field.

RAYS BITS: Steve Cox ranks third among AL rookies with a .286 average. ... Fred McGriff went into play Monday with one homer in a 112 at-bat span. ... After going 5-for-34 with men in scoring position in the first five games of the roadtrip, the Rays were 7-for-16 in Sunday's 12-11 win.

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