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Young arms enjoy change of scenery

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 5, 2000


CLEVELAND -- Dan Wheeler and Travis Harper figured to be pitching forTriple-A Durham in the International League playoffs this week. Instead, they'll be pitching against teams fighting to get into the American League playoffs.

The Rays called up the two young right-handers to help their beleaguered pitching staff get through the rugged final four weeks of the season.

Wheeler, who opened the season in the Rays rotation, will be used out of the bullpen. He worked a scoreless eighth inning Monday, working into a bases-loaded jam and out of it by getting dangerous Jim Thome to pop out. Harper, who made one start for the Rays on Aug. 4, appears headed into the rotation, possibly taking Dave Eiland's place.

Both were excited to be back in the majors but somewhat dazed due to a lack of sleep.

Durham clinched the division championship Sunday by winning at Charlotte in a game delayed three hours by rain. The game ended about 11, the bus didn't get back to Durham until about 2:30 a.m, the players had to clean out their lockers at the ballpark, went back to their apartments to pack, and headed back to the Durham airport for a 6:30 a.m. flight back to Charlotte, then another to Cleveland.

"It's been a wild day," Wheeler said.

Wheeler, 22, struggled in two starts for the Rays, then went 5-11 with a 5.63 ERA at Durham, allowing 35 home runs in 26 starts.

Harper, 24, started the season at Double-A Orlando, going 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA in nine starts, and went 7-4 with a 4.24 ERA at Durham. Harper, who lasted just 22/3 innings in his one start for the Rays, is hoping his previous week in the majors will help this time around. "You play better when you're more comfortable," he said.

The Rays have been short-handed because Esteban Yan has been out for more than a week with a sore shoulder and because their starters failed to go more than five innings in five of the past seven games.

Yan is expected back in the next few days. Manager Larry Rothschild said the decision on whether to keep Eiland in the rotation will be made "according to how he feels and what we want to do."

DISCIPLINE DAY: Word is expected today from Major League Baseball vice president Frank Robinson on disciplinary action stemming from Tuesday's brawl-marred game against Boston. Gerald Williams is likely to be suspended for charging the mound after being hit by pitcher Pedro Martinez. "I'll deal with it as I can," Williams said. "I just hope (Robinson) views this as a unique case as opposed to what is standard. And I have a lot of trust in him that he'll see it that way." Asked what makes the case unique, Williams said, "That is something he's going to have to address." ... Rothschild may be fined or suspended for his post-game comments.

(ANOTHER) HARD DAY'S NIGHT: After their 25-inning "tripleheader" Friday, a tough 3-2 loss on Saturday and a three-hour, pregame rain delay Sunday, Bill Evers' Triple-A Durham Bulls won their third straight International League South Division title Sunday, beating Charlotte 7-3. The Bulls open the best-of-five, first-round play at Indianapolis (a Brewers farm team) on Wednesday.

READY TO ROLL: Vinny Castilla was activated after five weeks on the disabled list and is likely to make his first start tonight or Wednesday. Castilla, who has been on the disabled list three times this season, is hoping a strong finish will offset an otherwise disappointing season. "This year has been so frustrating; I'd never been injured before in my career," Castilla said. "I just want to be me again, to play at the level I know I can, and to help the team." Rothschild will use Castilla on a semi-regular basis.

RAYS BITS: Albie Lopez had pitched at least six innings in 10 straight starts. ... In five outings of three or more innings, Doug Creek has a 1.03 ERA, allowing two earned runs in 171/3 innings. ... Cleveland's Bartolo Colon may be scratched from Thursday's start due to shoulder inflammation. Charles Nagy may be activated off the disabled list to take his place. ... Kenny Lofton's streak of consecutive games with a run scored ended at 18, tying Red Rolfe's 1939 record.

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