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Rays not in a rush to get rid of Rupe

Rookie's sparkling 0.00 ERA in three spring appearances is turning some heads.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 1999


CLEARWATER -- The kid's a long shot, right?

He's just 23. He's pitched in only 13 minor-league games. For crying out loud, before this year he had never even been to minor-league spring training, let alone a major-league camp.

So why has Ryan Rupe survived Tampa Bay's first two cuts of the spring? How in the world does he have an 0.00 earned-run average after three appearances covering nine innings?

And does he have a chance of making this team?

"Realistically? No. I think experience is a vital issue. But I wouldn't argue with them if it happened," Rupe said Tuesday after throwing four innings of two-hit ball at the Phillies.

"It's in their hands. I've never seen quite what it takes, I haven't been around it long enough. So they know more than I do. It's up to them, and I'm sure they'll make the right decision where I'm supposed to report this year."

A month ago, it would have been easy to say Rupe was reporting to the minors. Probably Double-A Orlando, maybe Triple-A Durham.

But that was before he showed up throwing fastballs, sliders and changeups with sharp control. That was before manager Larry Rothschild had seen him on a mound.

Rothschild is not talking about Rupe making the major-league roster, but he is not ruling it out, either.

"We're giving him innings, so, obviously, there's a lot of interest in seeing him," Rothschild said. "Where he fits in, right now we'll play it by ear. As long as we have innings here, we'll keep going and let him dictate where he fits in."

That he has had more success than any pitcher in camp is not the only factor in Rupe's favor. It's also the way he has gone about his business, showing poise uncommon in a rookie.

When the Devil Rays made some fielding miscues behind him last week, Rupe ended up yielding three unearned runs. It happened again Tuesday, but this time he shut down the Phillies.

"He throws so aggressively," pitching coach Rick Williams said. "He throws strikes. He throws strikes to the inside part of the plate to both left- and right-handers. He's not afraid. He's shown some pretty good poise."

Drafted out of Texas A&M in the sixth round last June, Rupe is older than most players in their first full season in the pros. He will turn 24 in two weeks.

Rupe caught the attention of the organization last season, blowing through two Class A levels with a combined 7-1 record and a 2.07 ERA. Now that the major-league coaching staff has seen him up close, Rupe's stock has only risen.

"He's very focused," Williams said. "He has the approach that he's a mean son-of-a-gun. Just because he hasn't pitched above A ball, he still believes he can compete and compete to win against these hitters. Everybody is seeing it on the mound. It's obvious the way he carries himself; it's fun to watch. It's like a breath of fresh air. And it can be contagious, too."

The smart money says Rupe begins the season in the minors. He can be sent down without having to go through waivers, unlike some of Tampa Bay's other pitchers. And a little extra seasoning would not hurt him.

But he has pitched well enough to at least warrant an argument on the matter. And if he has another outing like his past two ...

Rupe said he is not banking on a roster spot. He is just happy to have accomplished his main goal of the spring.

"I wanted them to remember my name," Rupe said. "I wanted them to at least see me pitch and remember who I was."
-- Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

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