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Opportunity knocks, time and time again

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 1999


LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Consider this the week of opportunity for many of the 75 players in camp.

Starting with this morning's B game in Bradenton, the Rays will play nine games in five days, a stretch designed to get the players on the field and the coaches an opportunity to see them.

"It'll be a pretty fast pace, which is fine," manager Larry Rothschild said. "That's why we put in all the games this week, to get everyone playing. When you have this many players in camp, I don't like players sitting around."

With six A games (including a split-squad doubleheader with Pittsburgh on Thursday) and three B games, there should be plenty of innings to go around. The downside is that by being so spread out, it will be hard for the Rays to have more than a handful of frontline players in any one place.

"If we were concerned with trying to win right now we wouldn't have scheduled all these games," Rothschild said. "We would have just played one a day. But we wouldn't have seen the players play and been able to do what we have to do."

GAME REPORT: RHP Mark Hutton was in the middle of a horrific eight-run third inning that led to a 10-2 loss to the Braves. Hutton, a non-roster invitee making a long-shot bid for a job in rotation, faced 10 batters and got two out. He gave up five hits (including homers on consecutive pitches to Chipper Jones and Brian Jordan), walked three and threw a wild pitch during the 40-pitch outing. What went wrong? "Just about everything, I guess," Rothschild said. "This time of year you suffer through some of those and unfortunately it happened to Mark. He was out of synch from the get-go."

The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the first against Greg Maddux when Randy Winn singled, went to third on Dave Martinez's single and scored on Bobby Smith's double-play grounder. ... C Joe Oliver, playing in front of nearly 50 family members and friends, homered in the seventh for the other run. "I was just hoping to hit the ball hard, and I did a little better than that," he said.

OUCH: Winn suffered a very mild strain of his right quadriceps and could miss a few days. Winn, who is trying to win the starting centerfield job, will be re-evaluated today. ... The other centerfield candidate, Quinton McCracken, is out with strained ligaments in his right knee and is on schedule to begin on-field activities next week. ... RHP Albie Lopez likely won't make his spring debut until early next week. Lopez, one of the team's top relievers, suffered a pinched nerve in his neck while pitching batting practice Friday.

MICKEY'S WORLD: There was no official announcement, but word is the Rays are close to a deal to relocate their Double-A team to the Disney complex for the 2000 season. "We've agreed with Disney that all we're going to say at this point is, "No comment,' " Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli said. The Double-A team will play at Orlando's Tinker Field this season.

BUTLER RETURNS: OF Rich Butler worked out Sunday and is scheduled to play in today's B game at Bradenton, his first action since leaving the team March 1 to attend to undisclosed personal matters. The Rays will try to make a quick assessment on his readiness after the six-day layoff. "It's a shame because he came in and had really worked and you could see it," Rothschild said. "Hopefully this won't set him back too much."

COMING ATTRACTIONS: The battle for the two open spots in the rotation should intensify this week. RHP Bryan Rekar starts today at Port Charlotte; RHP Bobby Witt goes on Tuesday in Lakeland; LHP Terrell Wade, who struggled in his spring debut Saturday, is scheduled to start Wednesday's A game against Toronto; and Roger Bailey is set for the B game against Philadelphia in Clearwater. ... RHP Rolando Arrojo makes his spring debut today in a 10 a.m. B game against Pittsburgh in Bradenton. Closer Roberto Hernandez also will throw.

PURPLE PAIN: Martinez was sporting an ugly purple-colored, orange-sized bruise on his right arm. It was a painful reminder of being hit by Mike Remlinger in Saturday's game, though it did lead to an RBI. "Comes with the job," Martinez said.

TODAY'S SCHEDULED PITCHERS: Rays: Bryan Rekar, Steve Ontiveros, Norm Charlton, Erik Plantenberg, Eddie Gaillard. Rangers: John Burkett, Tim Crabtree, Jeff Zimmerman.

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