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Rays add 5 pitchers to roster

In addition to Witt, Valdes and Cooke, Charlton and Ontiveros create depth entering the spring.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 1999


ST. PETERSBURG -- They're no longer in their expansion season, but the Devil Rays remain an expanding team.

Tampa Bay added to its spring training roster again Wednesday with the formal announcement that pitchers Bobby Witt, Marc Valdes, Steve Cooke, Norm Charlton and Steve Ontiveros had signed minor-league contracts.

All pitchers received spring training invitations, except for Valdes, who will be out until at least midseason recovering from elbow surgery.

The Rays went to spring training last year with a major league-high 73 players and could exceed that total in 1999. That means the Rays will once again use split sessions early in spring training to handle the overflow.

"Based on what happened last year, we ended up using a lot of those guys we brought to spring training. Even the guys in the afternoon group, 12 or 13 ended up in the major leagues at some point," manager Larry Rothschild said. "Right now it's necessary for us because we're not in a situation where the minors are going to feed us.

"These guys are a viable alternative, although I'll be glad when the day comes when we can come to spring training with 55 guys and know we'll be fine even with injuries."

Charlton, 36, and Witt, who turns 35 in May, are the biggest names among the signees. Witt has 131 major-league victories; Charlton has 96 saves.

Rothschild worked with Charlton in the Reds minor-league system and later as Cincinnati's pitching coach.

Charlton was one of the top relievers in the game before running into arm troubles in 1994. Since then, he has pitched with four teams in four seasons with mixed success.

Witt, who worked with Rothschild at Florida, has also been less effective in recent seasons. He said after being traded from Texas to St. Louis last year, pitching coach Dave Duncan discovered flaws in his delivery.

"Mechanically, I was out of whack. Dave Duncan noticed something right away and I went up 3-4 mph after one bullpen session and one outing. I was actually hitting 90-91 mph real fast," Witt said. "I'm hoping getting back with Larry and (pitching coach) Rick Williams will get me back on track."

Ontiveros, 37, has not pitched in the majors since 1995 when he made the All-Star team while with Oakland. He pitched in the minors for St. Louis and Baltimore last season, finishing 5-2 with a 4.18 ERA.

The Rays also have been negotiating with pitcher Ben McDonald.

TICKET ALERT: Individual tickets for the 1999 season go on sale Feb. 13, coinciding with a Devil Rays FanFest at Tropicana Field.

FanFest will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Feb. 13-14 with Devil Rays players -- including newly signed outfielder Jose Canseco -- on hand to sign autographs. The two-day event will also feature question-and-answer sessions with Rays management, a baseball round-table discussion featuring ESPN's Peter Gammons, tours of the clubhouse and batting practice for youngsters.

Season ticket holders will be able to pick up tickets at the stadium during weekend festivities.

Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. on Feb. 13 at the Tropicana Field box office, as well as all Ticketmaster outlets. Tickets can be purchased by phone at (727) 898-RAYS in Pinellas and (813) 282-RAYS in Hillsborough or via the Internet at www.ticketmaster.com.

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