Devil Rays may give up view from the bottom

Blue Jays are pained by injuries to 3 starters

AL East notebook

April 14, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays spent the first four years of their existence sitting one notch beneath the Orioles in the American League East basement, and some prognosticators have suggested this will be the year the two teams flip-flop in the standings.

In 1998, the Devil Rays finished 16 games behind the Orioles, and that number has gradually decreased to nine, 4 1/2 and then 1 1/2 last season, even though Tampa Bay lost 100 games.

This past week, Devil Rays manager Hal McRae downplayed the significance of passing the Orioles.

"Both clubs are in a similar position," McRae said. "Our focus is on youth, and our focus is on cutting payroll, developing young players. But we're not in competition with Baltimore. We've got our own situation right here.

"What we're trying to do in Tampa Bay is be a prepared ballclub that can compete."

Tampa Bay began the season with a three-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, then was swept in three games at Yankee Stadium by a combined score of 14-2.

The Devil Rays arrived in Baltimore for their first series against the Orioles unsure what kind of team they really had.

"We had a terrible series in New York," McRae said before Tuesday's rainout at Camden Yards. "And we hope to use the next two or three series to determine where we are."

Psychologically, it was a big series for the Orioles as well, which made Wednesday night's 3-2 loss all the more deflating. Winless since Opening Day, the Orioles trailed 6-3 on Thursday before setting a franchise record for runs in an inning with a 12-run sixth.

In one inning, the Orioles doubled the number of runs from their previous six games. So that made it significant, no matter who it came against.

"When you're not scoring runs, you swear you'll never be able to score runs," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "As much as anything, it restored some confidence in the guys and took a little of the frustration level away."

Toronto's injuries

With three starting pitchers on the disabled list -- Esteban Loaiza, Chris Carpenter and Steve Parris -- the Blue Jays have also struggled out of the gate.

On Monday, the Yankees scorched the Blue Jays for 22 hits in a 16-3 victory at SkyDome.

"That team isn't going to lose too many," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi told the Toronto Star. "It's early, and we just need Carpenter and Loaiza back. Lose two of your starters the first week and you're just patching holes."

In their first eight starts, Blue Jays pitchers combined to post an 8.41 ERA. Take away Roy Halladay, and the others -- Luke Prokopec, Brandon Lyon, Scott Eyre and Brian Cooper -- posted a 12.28 ERA.

"Pitching being in the state it is, nobody can afford to lose two starters," Ricciardi said. "If the Yankees lost [Roger] Clemens and [Andy] Pettitte, they'd be doing some juggling, too."

Around the division

The Boston Red Sox had 14 home runs in their first six games. In that same span, the Orioles had three. ... Yankees pitcher David Wells dropped 30 pounds over the winter after going 5-7 in an injury-shortened season with the Chicago White Sox. When Wells opened the season 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA, White Sox manager Jerry Manuel was asked if his organization tried to get Wells to lose weight. "That's something he decided to do on his own," Manuel told the Chicago Tribune. "When he got here, the thing was to let him pitch. He hadn't [lost weight] in 15 years, and he had some success. That's a decision that needs to be made by the individual."

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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