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Record is bad, but play is what worries Rothschild

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 1999


PORT CHARLOTTE -- The Devil Rays lost their fourth straight exhibition game Monday, making them the only Grapefruit League team without a win. Worse, they again looked bad in losing..

The Rays made three errors, blew a 3-0 lead, hit into a triple play and played a generally sloppy game in losing to Texas 6-4.

With 75 players in camp, the Rays have placed a premium on getting as many of them in games as they can. But that doesn't mean they accept the results. "I don't like it -- that's the easiest way to put it," manager Larry Rothschild said. "I understand it, and I have it in perspective. But I don't care where you're playing, it's more fun to win games."

Making the start tougher to handle is the poor play. In the four A games, the Rays have made eight errors and been outscored 31-12.

"The quality of play is going to get better," Rothschild said. "You saw us play defense last year, and we played well; there's no reason we can't this year. I don't like to see sloppy play at all, and I don't like to see habits form that allow for that."

Several players said it was too early to be concerned with wins and losses but that how the Rays were losing wasn't encouraging.

"What I concern myself with is how we play and how we go about it, and today, in the first couple innings anyway, wasn't the prettiest baseball I've seen," C John Flaherty said.

GAME REPORT: Bryan Rekar and Steve Ontiveros, both competing for starting jobs, each gave up three runs in two innings. Rekar was successful in keeping the ball down but was hurt by sloppy defense. . . . Heads-up baserunning by Miguel Cairo netted the first run. He raced home from second when C John Marzano failed to cover home after fielding Fred McGriff's squibber. . . . Cairo and Kevin Stocker had run-scoring singles in the second. . . . Errors by McGriff and Cairo led to two Texas runs in the second. . . . Roberto Kelly hit a two-run home run off Ontiveros. . . . LHP Norm Charlton made his debut with a hitless inning. . . . The seven-inning B game with Pittsburgh was a 1-1 tie. Aaron Ledesma homered for the Rays. . . . Friday's B game may be canceled.

TRIPLE TROUBLE: Flaherty hit into a triple play in the sixth. Texas 3B Rob Sasser snared his liner, and the Rangers caught McGriff off second and Julio Franco off first. Triple plays are rare, but Flaherty did it in spring training with Boston. "The same play," he said. "As hard as it is, and I've done it a couple times."

SENSE OF URGENCY: With roster reduction about to begin, borderline players had better show their stuff. "Guys who need to open our eyes up better do it quickly," Rothschild said. "They don't have much time left." The Rays have used 23 pitchers in the four A games, but innings soon will be at a premium as the priority shifts to getting the core team ready. "We've looked at a lot of pitchers, and we've let a lot of guys pitch in games," Rothschild said. "Frankly it hasn't worked out real well, which is fine for now because that's what we needed to do. But the time will come when we get down to business and start playing the team on the field we're going to look at."

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: It was four years ago today that the Tampa Bay franchise was awarded at a meeting of owners.

THIN SPOT: The Rays are hopeful CF Randy Winn will miss only a day or two after sustaining a mild right quadriceps strain on Sunday. Winn was scratched Monday and stayed in St. Petersburg to receive extensive treatment. "It doesn't look bad," trainer Jamie Reed said. . . . With Winn hurt and Quinton McCracken weeks from playing, the Rays are a little thin in centerfield. Rich Butler played centerfield in the B game and Class A star Alex Sanchez in the A game. Rothschild tried to look at the bright side. "I don't like going through players," he said. "I would just assume not have to look at other guys if Randy and Quinton are healthy. It gives some young guys like Sanchez a chance to play a little bit. They might not have had as good of an opportunity to play and hopefully learn things."

CLOSING TIME: If the purpose of spring training is to get ready for the regular season, then closer Roberto Hernandez got some good practice during his inning against Pittsburgh. After pitching his way into a bases-loaded jam, Hernandez pitched his way out, getting Brant Brown to ground into a force-out and striking out Steve Bieser. Hernandez, who has been bothered by a sore quadriceps, was pleased with his work. "Perfect," he said. "Couldn't be better."

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