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Alvarez close to weekend return

Wilson Alvarez threw well in a two-inning simulated game Tuesday and is on track to return to the rotation Sunday against Cleveland.

Alvarez threw about 30 pitches with no problems from the sore left triceps that forced him to miss a July 22 start and landed him on the disabled list.

"I think he had to show himself that it wasn't going to bother him, and he let some fastballs go without any repercussions," pitching coach Rick Williams said. "He tested it in the first inning and he tested it even harder in the second, and he had good results in both."

Alvarez will rest today and Thursday, then throw one more practice session Friday. About the only concern Tuesday was that he needed extra time to get loose.

"What I need right now is a little more confidence that I can let it go and not feel anything," Alvarez said. "The way I threw (Tuesday) was good."

Catcher Mike DiFelice, one of the hitters in the "game," said Alvarez mixed in some well-placed changeups and curves. "He might have been a little timid, but that's understandable," DiFelice said. "He looked good."

With Dwight Gooden on the disabled list, the Indians named Mark Langston their Sunday starter. Rolando Arrojo faces Dave Burba on Friday, with Bobby Witt scheduled against Charles Nagy on Saturday.

WADING IN: The excitement is building as Wade Boggs gets closer to 3,000 hits, but so are some of the concerns. What hit Boggs on Tuesday was news that Cal Ripken, who is 32 hits shy of 3,000 and one homer short of 400, went on the disabled list with a sore back.

"That's part of the worry and the frustration that you get to when you get to this point," Boggs said. "That's why you want it to hurry up and happen, so nothing can go wrong."

Fears of the unknown aside, Boggs said he is making a point to enjoy the final part of the ride. "It's taken 18 years to get to this point," he said. "You absorb everything and reflect back on how far you've come to get to this point."

Part of that fun has been getting all kinds of congratulations. Tuesday, he got a call from country music star Trisha Yearwood. He also got a call from comedian Jeff Foxworthy and a letter from Bill Cosby.

The touring Boggs' congratulations card will be at Florida Power's downtown St. Petersburg office from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. today.

MINOR MATTERS: RHP Jason Standridge was named the Rays' top minor-league pitcher for the second straight month. He went 5-1 with a 1.99 ERA in six starts for Class A Charleston and St. Petersburg. Durham 1B Steve Cox was named the top player after hitting .391 with six homers and 35 RBI in 29 games.

TWINKLE TOES: Aaron Ledesma says the hardest part of shifting between first base and shortstop is keeping your feet in the right place. "After three days at first and then moving back to shortstop, the biggest problem is the footwork," Ledesma said. "At first base you get a little lazy out there. You've got that big glove and you don't have to cover much ground." But playing first did have its advantages _ such as the chance to chat with some of the opposing players while you're holding them on. "The great part about it was that I got to (chat) with some of the guys and got to meet them," he said.

MEDICAL REPORT: SS Kevin Stocker (on the DL with a sore knee) is making progress and could return during the upcoming homestand. "He's had two good days," manager LarryRothschild said. INF Herbert Perry (out with a strained oblique muscle) has yet to resume swinging a bat.

RAYS BITS: About 1,000 of the $3 discounted seats remain for Friday's game, more for Saturday and Sunday. The Safeco Field roof was closed during afternoon rains, but it was opened just before game time. Rothschild gave Safeco Field favorable reviews: "I think it's one of the nicest parks in the AL. They did a great job here."

_ MARC TOPKIN

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