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With Flaherty hurt, Rays call up Hoover

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 9, 2001


OAKLAND, Calif. -- A painful pinching sensation in the back of John Flaherty's neck left the Rays in something of a pinch Friday night with no backup catcher.

So the Rays tracked down Paul Hoover, the hustling do-it-all utilityman who by the end of the season had become Triple-A Durham's starting catcher, and brought him to the big leagues.

"I thought I was done," Hoover said. "I knew I had to go to instructional league (on Sept. 16) for a week before going out to the (Arizona) fall league, but I was in shutdown mode. Until a welcomed phone call (Friday) night."

The 25-year-old spent the night packing and the morning flying, but that didn't dim the excitement of being a major-leaguer for the first time. Nor prevent him from singling in his first at-bat, as a pinch-hitter in the ninth, then scoring.

"It's awesome," Hoover said. "After the game, I just sat in the dugout with Jared (Sandberg). It hasn't all sunk in yet. It's amazing. It's my first day, I just get here, my first at-bat I get a hit. It's just an awesome feeling."

Hoover was a shortstop at Kent State and played shortstop for rookie-league Princeton in 1997, but was invited to 1998 major-league spring training as an extra catcher and has been on the move since.

He played everywhere but centerfield and pitcher for Durham this season, splitting the catching job with Pat Borders after Toby Hall was called up in late July and taking over the final 10 days when Borders was sold to Seattle. He hit .215 at Durham with three homers and 21 RBI.

With Flaherty out indefinitely, manager Hal McRae said he would use Hall on virtually an everyday basis, but that Hoover will get some playing time somewhere.

"It's nice to know he can play at least one other position besides catcher," McRae said. "I'm not interested in him playing eight."

FLASH OF PAIN: Flaherty isn't sure what happened, just that in the middle of last week he developed the "feeling of a pinched nerve" between his neck and shoulder blades.

He tried rest, medication and a variety of treatments, but the movement was so restricted during batting practice Friday that he told trainer Jamie Reed he wouldn't be able to play.

"That was the first time in my career," Flaherty said. "Everyone in here can play with some injuries, some nagging things, but (Friday) night I really didn't feel I could play. Frustrating is probably the best way to describe it."

Flaherty -- "more stiff than sore," according to Reed -- will be examined by team back specialist Tom Tolli on Monday.

UP, UP AND AWAY: Bryan Rekar didn't give the Rays much of a chance Friday, giving up three homers to launch the A's to an easy 9-3 victory.

Rekar said he thought he did okay, that he made just a few mistakes in his third start after a month on the disabled list. McRae thinks it may be more than that.

"Maybe he hasn't regained his arm strength and maybe he's just not sharp from the layoff. His velocity might not be the same, consistently be the same," McRae said. "Instead of pitches getting popped up and fouled back, they get centered and hit out of the ballpark."

RAYS BITS: Class A Bakersfield lost to San Jose 3-2 in the opener of the best-of-five California League division final. ... The Rays lost their 51st road game, matching their team high. ... Of the 29 runs Nick Bierbrodt has allowed, 15 have come on nine homers. ... Greg Vaughn started after missing five games with a left hamstring strain.

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