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Promise rebuilding for Gorecki

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 1999


He'll probably be a little behind and off to the side during the early weeks of spring training, but Rick Gorecki should not be forgotten.

* * *

Sidelined with shoulder trouble after three promising starts in April, then sentenced to months of trying rehab after July surgery, the right-handed starting pitcher is slowly -- and steadily -- working his way back. And he's doing well enough that he just might reclaim his spot in the Devil Rays rotation.

* * *

"I'm trying to not put any timetable on it," said Gorecki, who tried to come back several times last season before the surgery. "I want to do it right so I don't have to do it again."

Because he had previous extensive shoulder surgery, Gorecki and the Rays are taking it slowly. Trainer Jamie Reed says all signs are good but estimates Gorecki is throwing at only 60 percent effort.

"It feels better," Gorecki said after a 55-pitch workout with pitching coach Rick Williams last week. "But it's a matter of getting back into shape. You can do all the arm exercises you want, but until you get on the mound, that's the only way you'll know. I've been through this before, unfortunately."

Manager Larry Rothschild has heard the encouraging reports but says he isn't going to count on Gorecki yet. "I'd rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed," he said.

If Gorecki, 25, can regain the control and command he flashed last season, the Rays could certainly use him. "One of the real minuses in 1998 was not having Rick Gorecki pitch a full season," general manager Chuck LaMar said. "The way he pitched in spring training and the early part of last year, he was headed toward an outstanding season. ... We lost one of our young pieces to the puzzle."

IN STEP: LaMar brought back the top members of his front office staff, giving new contracts to assistant GMs Scott Proefrock (administration) and Bart Braun (baseball operations), as well as farm director Tom Foley and scouting director Dan Jennings. "We've built a fine foundation in baseball operations, and to make wholesale changes would be counterproductive," LaMar said. Bill Livesey, who oversaw the farm and scouting departments as director of player personnel, was named a special assistant to the GM and will handle scouting missions and other assignments at LaMar's request. "Bill will still be hands-on in scouting and player development, but he's going to be more active with me at the major-league level," LaMar said. Eddie Bane was hired as a special assistant, replacing Bill Geivett (who went to Los Angeles) and Mickey White (Pittsburgh).

O-WELL: Orestes Destrade left his post as Rays director of community development to explore business ventures, specifically commercial opportunities in Japan, where he was a star player. "It was great working for the Rays and making the transition from being a player into something else," Destrade said. He is also working with a non-profit organization, Advocates for Young Athletes, that will help children and serve as a resource and support group for parents, teachers and mentors. Call (813) 643-5683 for information.

TOUGH ROAD: Paul Wilder has struggled on the field and with injuries since the Rays made him their first No. 1 draft pick in 1996. Wilder injured his right shoulder while working out and had surgery last week to repair a slightly torn labrum. He should be just about recovered for the March 9 opener of minor-league spring training. With a .202 average and 248 strikeouts in 603 at-bats over 173 games, Wilder is likely headed back to Class A Charleston (S.C.).

HOME BOY: One reason C Joe Oliver signed with the Rays was the opportunity to play close to his Orlando home. He also relishes the chance to play for Rothschild, his coach at several stops in the Cincinnati organization. "I have a great rapport with Larry," Oliver said. "And I love hitting off him in batting practice. He can't get me out." Oliver and Jesse Levis will compete with incumbents John Flaherty and Mike DiFelice plus late-season addition Julio Mosquera.

HOO-RAYS: OF Greg Blosser, the Sarasota product who has two solid seasons in the Rays minor-league system, is playing for the Seibu Lions in Japan. ... Activities added for this weekend's Tropicana Field FanFest include the area debut of Yard Ball (the chance to take batting practice with a plastic bat and ball in a miniature version of Fenway Park) and an Extreme Rays zone that includes Velcro wall jumping, sumo wrestling and bungee running. Dozens of players, including Jose Canseco, Wade Boggs and Rolando Arrojo, will be available for autographs. ... Rothschild and some players will make caravan stops on Wednesday in Tampa (Grady Elementary, the Tampa YMCA and the WestShore Plaza team store from 5-6 p.m.), Thursday in Brandon (Winston Park Boys & Girls Club, McLane middle school and the TownCenter team store from 5-6 p.m.) and Friday in St. Petersburg (Police Athletic League).

AROUND THE LEAGUES: The Padres reportedly rejected Arizona's offer of LHP Brian Anderson and OF Bernard Gilkey before sending Greg Vaughn to Cincinnati. ... NL umpire Jerry Layne will visit with hospitalized veterans at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines on Monday. ... Dodgers star and area product Gary Sheffield hosted a fund-raiser Saturday aimed at improving Belmont Heights youth fields. ... A quick recovery from elbow surgery has Seattle's Jay Buhner talking about playing leftfield rather than first base at the start of the season. ... The Cardinals dropped their interest in RHP Orel Hershiser.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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