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Two Canseco homers mark his brief return

By MARC TOPKIN AND JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 1999


ST. PETERSBURG -- It's only spring training, but Jose Canseco provided a powerful glimpse Monday of just what the future could hold.

Returning to the lineup after an eight-day absence due to lower back pain, Canseco ripped two impressive home runs in the Devil Rays' 9-8 win over Toronto. The news wasn't all good, however, since his back later stiffened and he'll miss today's game.

Canseco turned on a 3-2 pitch from Mike Gordon in the fourth inning and sent a searing line drive over the leftfield wall and to the base of the Bayfront Center.

He came to the plate again with the bases loaded in the fifth, and just plain crushed Gordon's first pitch, driving it over the 35-foot high scoreboard that stands 380 feet from home.

It seemed everybody on the field and in chilly Al Lang Field was impressed, except for Canseco.

"It's spring training, guys," he said. "I was a little stiff up there and I was just using my hands, trying to be technically sound, trying not to over-swing or over-do it, just trying to make good solid contact, and it worked out."

PITCHING IN: The battle for the open spots in the rotation is heating up, with Bobby Witt and Jason Johnson each throwing three innings in the day game. Witt gave up a leadoff single and a home run to Jose Cruz Jr., then retired nine of the next 10 batters. Johnson worked two scoreless innings and struck out the first two batters in the sixth, then allowed three runs on four hits and made a costly fielding error. Manager Larry Rothschild said both had good stuff and threw well.

Witt, clocked at 90-91 mph, was pleased with his work: "My arm strength is really coming along, and that was the big question mark."

The rest of the applicants for the rotation were in the nightcap, battling 50-degree weather and a stiff wind.

Nonetheless, Terrell Wade had his best outing of the spring with three shutout innings.

Julio Santana got results, although he didn't look particularly sharp. The right-hander retired only six of 15 batters, but was helped by two double-plays and a pickoff. Santana said he was getting his pitches too high in the strike zone. "I couldn't feel my fingers, or my toes. I couldn't even sweat," Santana said. "But I can't use that as an excuse. It's a game and I have to do what I have to do."

Roger Bailey threw two shutout innings with a pair of strikeouts.

MATINEE DELIGHT: The Rays took a 6-2 lead on Canseco's grand slam, frittered it away, then came back and won 9-8 when John Flaherty singled in pinch-runner Eddy de los Santos in the bottom of the ninth. It was their third straight win. "I came up in that situation looking to be aggressive and hit the first pitch," Flaherty said. ... OF Mike Kelly, after an 0-for-17 start, had two singles. He also scored the tying run by smartly tagging up on a foul pop in the eighth.

SPRING SWEEP: The Rays beat the Tigers 7-1 in the night game to run their winning streak to four. Billy Ashley, who came in hitless in five at-bats with four strikeouts, had three hits, including a first-inning homer.

QUEUED UP: OF Quinton McCracken, out all spring with strained ligaments in his right knee, has been cleared to resume all baseball activities and could be in the lineup sometime next week. "We can turn it up a little bit with him and he can really start getting down more to baseball activities on the field," Rothschild said.

MEDICAL REPORT: Randy Winn, sidelined a week with a strained quad, returned to the lineup Monday night . ... OF Paul Sorrento, bothered by a slight calf strain, was given Monday off. ... RHP Bryan Rekar will test his sore back by throwing off the mound this morning. "I'm basically day-to-day," Rekar said. ... RHP Rolando Arrojo will also throw and if his back is fine he'll make a start on Thursday ... Alex Sanchez could be out up to a week with a bruised left hand.

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