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Rothschild looks for answers on Lopez

By BRUCE LOWITT and MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Albie Lopez is 3-0 against Seattle in his three career starts against the Mariners -- but he is 0-3 in his past three starts this season.

Lopez's record has slipped to 11-12 with a 4.35 earned-run average, and he has failed to make it through the fourth inning in those starts.

He says he isn't tired. He says he's not feeling the aftereffects of a left calf strain on Sept. 4 at Cleveland, when this slide began.

"But since he's had that calf the games have changed a little," manager Larry Rothschild said.

Rothschild said Lopez believes that "it's more mechanical than anything else, and he might be right. Or it could just be one of those things he's got to get through. We'll see. He pitched so well for so long that when he gets off track ... "

With two or three starts remaining this season, Rothschild said, "Hopefully he can get it back together and finish up strong."

His next win will be his 22nd as a Devil Ray. He and former teammate Rolando Arrojo share the record.

GOING DOWN: The Devil Rays have lost a season-high seven consecutive games, during which they have been outscored 61-12. Saturday's 17-3 loss was the second-worst in team history, eclipsed only by a 17-1 battering by Baltimore Aug. 10, 1999.

They've lost seven in a row twice before, the first time split between the end of the 1998 season and the start of 1999 (Sept. 22-April 5), then June 4-11, 1999. The Rays' record is 11 in a row (June 30-July 13, 1998).

They are 2-13 in September and have plunged from 161/2 games out of first place in the AL East to a season-high 25 games back. And it doesn't get any easier.

Tampa Bay is in the midst of a 26-game season-ending run against playoff contenders with records better than .500 (it will be 25 games if Sunday's weather postponed game against Oakland doesn't have to be made up Oct. 2). So far the Rays are 2-10 in this stretch and have fallen a season-low 26 games worse than .500.

Nine of the Rays' 13 remaining games (excluding the possible makeup game) are at Tropicana Field -- but that is of little comfort. Their 31-40 home record is worst in the AL.

THE REAL TEST: This is the time, Rothschild says, when a player's character as much as his ability is being evaluated -- when there seems to be nothing left to play for, when things aren't going well and the season is just about over.

What he looks for, he said, are the players giving 100 percent in the midst of a slump this bad. "I'll take my chances (with them) going down to the wire in a pennant race. I'll take my chances with them making us better in the future. ... You can tell more about a person when thing aren't good than you can when they are.

"It's easy to come to the park when you were 5-for-5 the day before. But the difference is the guy that's 0-for-20 and coming to the park and still fight your way through it. The guy that's going to battle through it is not only going to have success but help the team be successful."

DOING WELL BY DOING GOOD: Fred McGriff was nominated as the Rays' candidate for the Roberto Clemente Award honoring the major-leaguer who best exemplifies sportsmanship, community involvement and contribution to his team. McGriff has been involved for five years with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, helping to raise more than $1-million.

"Kids never change. They always love you, regardless," said McGriff, who has made numerous visits to youngsters victimized by cancer.

"Being with them makes you think about life, about some of the things you worry about. You see the kids and it's a reality check. Going 0-for-4 is important, but it's not life or death."

A-OKAY: Rays top outfield prospect Josh Hamilton wants everyone to know his right knee is feeling fine after arthroscopic surgery.

"I told one of the guys they should just flash it up on the scoreboard, "It's good. It's back to being 100 percent.' "

Hamilton missed the final month of the minor-league season after a tear in the meniscus. He joins the instructional league team today and says he should be at full speed.

CANADIAN JUSTICE: It appears it won't be until the Sept. 22-25 visit to Toronto that centerfielder Gerald Williams and pitchers Dave Eiland and Tony Fiore will get to appeal their suspensions stemming from the Aug. 29 game with Boston.

If Williams' five-game suspension is upheld, he would miss some, or possibly all, of the season-ending series with the Red Sox. Williams, leading off the bottom of the first inning, was hit by Pedro Martinez and charged the mound, triggering a bench-clearing brawl. Eiland and Fiore were suspended for throwing at Brian Daubach.

RAYS BITS: The Hudson Valley Renegades of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League signed a four-year extension of their player development contract with the Devil Rays. It runs through 2004. ... Rays third-base coach Billy Hatcher is scheduled to speak at 10 a.m. today to boys 11-14 in the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Juvenile Boot Camp Transition Program. The camp is at 14599 49th St. N in Clearwater. For information: (727) 825-3242.

You don't say

Paul Wilson began his professional career as the New York Mets' phenom-in-waiting. He was expected to follow in the footsteps of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, who wore the now-retired No. 41. Wilson, traded by the Mets to Tampa Bay this season, wears No. 41. "It's just a number," he said. "I got to Kansas City (joining the Rays on a road trip) and it was hanging in my locker. That's it. Nothing to do with a former Met. I wore No. 32 with the Mets and No. 43 at (Triple-A) Norfolk. Forty-one has no significance to me. I want to make a mark for myself."

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