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After losing game, Hernandez loses role

Roberto Hernandez has temporarily lost his job as the Devil Rays closer.

After watching Hernandez blow an 8-5 ninth-inning lead Sunday, manager Larry Rothschild said he would use the struggling veteran in non-pressure situations for an undetermined period of time in hopes of getting him on track.

Rothschild will use other relievers, perhaps Jim Mecir or Esteban Yan, to close out games, based on the situation.

"I think it's going to be important to back him off a little bit and let him get an inning or two where he can get situated and get comfortable and not be in that situation right away to get him going," Rothschild said.

Hernandez, who signed a four-year, $22.5-million contract with the Rays, did not disagree with the decision.

"He's the boss," Herndez said. "He came over and told me. I just want to get back out there and pitch, regardless of the situation, and try to get back in the groove I was in the last 2 { years."

"It's a crying shame the people in Tampa are not seeing what people are used to seeing with other teams. All I can do is go out and keep trying hard, think of the positives and try to help this team as much as possible. . . . Maybe I do need a couple of stints where the focus is not on the ninth inning."

Hernandez ranks fourth in the majors over the past five seasons with 153 saves and ranks first over the past three-plus seasons with 29 blown saves. This season, he has blown three of five, including in a 7-6 loss Monday to Oakland when he gave up two runs in the ninth. He loaded the bases all five times. Overall, he has faced 70 batters and allowed 34 to reach base, 18 by walks. He has an 0-2 record and 7.62 ERA in 13 appearances.

"He's frustrated right now," current and former teammate Wilson Alvarez said. "I think he wants to do more than what he can. He's trying to throw the ball 100, 105 (mph) instead of just letting it go and making good pitches. He's in a tough situation right now."

Hernandez, 33, was slowed during spring training by tendinitis in his right shoulder, but both he and the Rays say he is healthy and his velocity fine. "It may not be quite what it was, but it's still pretty good," Rothschild said.

General manager Chuck LaMar, who made acquiring a closer one of his top priorities, said he was confident Hernandez would rebound.

"We signed Roberto knowing he could get the job done and would be that guy to help us win those games when we had an opportunity," LaMar said. "I'm sure he would be the first one to admit that so far this season he's been a disappointment in that role.

"There's also no question in our minds as we go on in 1998 and the future that when he does get himself on the right track he will help this ballclub."

Hernandez didn't sound as sure. "That's for (Rothschild) to decide," Hernandez said. "I know I'll get myself situated back to where I was before."

And then he'll have his job back? "Hopefully," he said. "Hopefully."

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