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Which lefty will be Mr. Right?

By JOHN ROMANO, MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 1999


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays arrived in spring training looking for a dependable left-handed reliever. As far as manager Larry Rothschild is concerned, the search is still on.

The Rays already have dispatched a half-dozen candidates to the minors and none of the five remaining contenders has nailed down a roster spot.

"Somebody has to go out and take that job, that's all there is to it," Rothschild said. "Nobody has done that."

The Rays were hoping to carry two left-handers in the bullpen after surviving most of last season with one. If he is not impressed with his choices in the next two weeks, Rothschild could decide to go back to one. Another possibility is dropping Terrell Wade from the rotation hunt and into the bullpen.

Among the contenders, only Erik Plantenberg has put up strong numbers. Signed to a minor league contract, Plantenberg had a similar experience two years ago when he arrived in Philadelphia as a non-roster player and won a job.

"I definitely feel like I have shown them I can get lefties out," said Plantenberg, who gave up his first run of the spring Friday. "I don't know exactly what they're looking for, whether they want a long or a short guy, but I think I can get big league hitters out."

Rookie Mike Duvall was impressive early but has struggled his past two appearances.

"My velocity has been down the last two times, but that's not my problem. I just have been getting behind too many hitters," Duvall said. "When I get ahead in the count, I get them out. When I fall behind, I have a harder time."

Q TIPS: The Rays have passed the halfway point of the Grapefruit League season and Quinton McCracken has yet to appear in a game. McCracken still has time to get ready for Opening Day, but Rothschild said that window of opportunity is closing.

McCracken has been out since mid-February with a sprained right knee.

"I'd like to get him at least a week to 10 days of games to test him injury-wise and also to get ready to play. It's almost pushing it at that point," Rothschild said. McCracken recently began batting practice and said he is not yet concerned about being ready by the April 5 opener in Baltimore.

"The knee feels great. I haven't had any setbacks," McCracken said. "It's just a matter of getting the muscles stronger around it to help stabilize the ligament."

TOUGH GOING: Albie Lopez, who missed two weeks with a pinched nerve in his neck, had his third straight rough outing. Lopez has given up 12 hits in three-plus innings.

"I'm not concerned. I've got two more weeks to get ready," Lopez said. "My fastball is not up to par and I'm not locating it well. That's costing me right now."

Rothschild wants to see more from Lopez.

"You get to three appearances and it's time to get things going," Rothschild said. "I still feel he'll get it going and throw the ball the way we saw last year."

GAME RECAP: Bobby Witt, a leading contender for a rotation job, had his roughest outing in an 11-4 loss to the Yankees on Friday. Witt gave up four runs, including a second-inning homer to Tino Martinez. ... Miguel Cairo, the team's leading hitter, had two more hits to raise his average to .458. ... More than 1,000 tickets remain for today's game against the Phillies. Berm seats go on sale at 10 a.m.

OPENING CURTAIN: Actor Bill Murray will be part of the festivities for the home opener at Tropicana Field on April 9. Murray is a friend of Rays marketing chief Mike Veeck and may be part of an ownership group that is negotiating to buy a share of the team.

NAIMOLI SERVICES TODAY: Rothschild flew to Arlington, Va., Friday night to attend today's funeral for Rays chief financial officer Ray Naimoli. GM Chuck LaMar, assistant GM Scott Proefrock and senior vice president John Higgins also are attending. Bench coach Frank Howard will be the interim manager today.

INJURY UPDATE: Rolando Arrojo (sore back) came away from Thursday's spring debut in good shape and should have no problem being ready for his next appearance, Rothschild said. ... Paul Sorrento will skip today's game but should be ready to test his sore calf Sunday in Bradenton against the Pirates. Sorrento has missed five games. ... Randy Winn was kept out of Friday's game for precautionary reasons. Winn felt a twinge in his tender quadriceps on Thursday and left that game early.

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