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Saunders feeling down about raising strike zone


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 1999

ST. PETERSBURG -- The strike zone is on the rise and so is Tony Saunders' blood pressure.

The Devil Rays left-hander, who threw three shutout innings Friday against the Reds, is concerned about a recent league directive instructing umpires to raise the strike zone.

As a pitcher who relies more on changing speeds than overpowering hitters, Saunders said it will be bad news for him if umpires stop calling low strikes. Generally, fastball pitchers are the only ones who can throw high strikes past hitters.

"It's going to be a long year for me if that's the way they're going to call it," Saunders said. "If I have to live up high, I'm not going to get paid. That's not the type of pitcher I am."

Umpires have been directed to call higher strikes and to stop calling strikes on pitches that are too low or too far outside.

Manager Larry Rothschild said he has seen a difference in calls during spring training but did not think it would adversely affect Saunders.

"Tony has got good enough stuff to adjust to whatever they're doing," Rothschild said. "With his change of speeds, he should be fine."

SLICE AND DICE: The Devil Rays trimmed 18 players from their roster, including five pitchers who made appearances in the majors last season.

Larry Casian, Steve Cooke, Mark Hutton and Bobby Munoz had brief stints with other major-league teams, and Ramon Tatis was with the Devil Rays for a short time.

They were among 10 pitchers who were dispatched to minor-league camp.

"The innings are scarce around here and they're going to get scarcer," Rothschild said. "I don't know if we made the right or wrong decisions in some cases. They're going to get down there and get to pitch, and if they pitch well it's not going to bother me a bit ... to bring one of those guys back."

TRADE SHOW: The Yankees and Reds are in the market for left-handed relief and had scouts at Friday's game when the Devil Rays used lefties Tim Davis, Alan Newman and Norm Charlton.

Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar would not discuss specific trade possibilities but acknowledged that teams are calling.

"We have had discussions with most of the teams over the last week, which is normal spring training procedure, but they probably have more substance than last year because we sincerely have players that people want," LaMar said.

Since the off-season, the Rays have had inquiries about their middle relief and outfielders. Strong spring starts by C Joe Oliver and INF David Lamb also may give the Rays flexibility for trades.

GAME DAY: Aaron Ledesma and Paul Sorrento hit run-scoring singles in the third to give the Devil Rays a 2-0 lead and send them on the way to a 5-2 victory against Cincinnati. Sorrento hit his second homer and Ledesma finished with three RBI. Lamb had three hits to raise his average to .312.

REKAR VU: Bryan Rekar felt stiffness in his lower back Friday morning and was scratched from his scheduled appearance. Rekar had back problems last spring that ended up keeping him out of the first half of the season.

"I learned a lesson from last year about trying to push it. I went out there for a week and tried to keep throwing and I'm not going to try to push it," Rekar said. "So we're just going to shut it down. Hopefully it will just be a couple days."

Rothschild said he hoped the injury wouldn't linger because Rekar is in a fight for a spot in the rotation.

"I would hope it's not going to go on too long. If you want to be on this club, you have to be on the field playing. I don't really want you in the training room," Rothschild said.

ACHES AND PAIN: Daniel Garibay starts today against the Yankees in place of Rolando Arrojo, who is recovering from a sore back. Arrojo is expected to make his next start the middle of next week. ... Jose Canseco's sore right hip is responding to treatment and he'll likely be in the lineup within a few days. Randy Winn, out with a quadriceps pull, may be back as early as today.


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