Judging from the past two months, the Devil Rays will have a place on their team for Tony Graffanino next year. Now they just need to find a place on the field for him.
Graffanino, signed in April and sent to Triple-A Durham after being released by the Braves, has impressed manager Larry Rothschild with his baseball instincts since being called up at the end of July.
A natural second baseman, Graffanino filled in there for Miguel Cairo when Cairo was hurt and recently has been playing shortstop for the injured Kevin Stocker.
Graffanino had not played shortstop this season before starting some games last month.
"For someone who hasn't worked there all spring or played there much the last few years, he's done okay," Rothschild said. "With a spring training under his belt he could probably play it better. He's a good baseball player. He knows how to position himself. He does a lot of little things."
Graffanino also has hit well during the past two months. Going into Tuesday night's late game, he was hitting .284, and his .461 slugging percentage was third on the team behind Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff.
Rothschild said he would not rule out Graffanino being more than just a utility player next season.
"I'm probably a better second baseman than I'll ever be at shortstop but if I have to play short to win an everyday job, I'll do it. I'll do whatever. I just want to play every day, that's the bottom line," Graffanino said. "I told Larry, "Just let me know where my best chances are next year and I'll work on it.' "
RUPE'S RETURN: Rookie Ryan Rupe, whose turn was skipped in the rotation Tuesday, said he was hoping to be able to start Friday against the Yankees. But Rupe also said he was not taking any chances this late in the season.
Rupe had some stiffness in his shoulder after his last start, so the Rays sent Dave Eiland out for Tuesday's game.
"I could probably pitch without any problem, but why push it right now," Rupe said. "I'd much rather go into the off-season knowing that I'm going to be healthy."
SILENCING THE CANNON: RF Jose Guillen has the best arm on the team _ and one of the best in the American League _ but he occasionally has missed cutoff men.
It happened Monday night when he overthrew McGriff on a play at the plate and a runner advanced from first to second.
Rothschild talked to Guillen about it after the inning.
"He needs to understand that to be able to hit the cutoff man is every bit as important as arm strength," Rothschild said. "And if you noticed, the second throw (Monday) he did that. So he did make an adjustment, which you like to see in a young player.
"He was trying to throw the guy out to help Wilson (Alvarez) out. There's a rollover effect there when you're trying to help a guy get through a couple of innings. You tend to compound mistakes. Younger players will do that. Older players will understand the best thing is doing what you're supposed to."
ANOTHER CALL TO ARMS: The Devil Rays called up right-handed reliever Eddie Gaillard before Tuesday's game, bringing the roster to 35 with 17 pitchers.
The Rays were planning to call Gaillard up when Durham's season ended, but he was nursing a sore groin so he was sent to the instructional league in St. Petersburg to keep sharp.
Gaillard was second in the International League with 26 saves at Durham. He was with the Rays briefly earlier this season.
JOB CANDIDATE: Former Anaheim manager Terry Collins, who resigned this month, was at the ballpark Monday night and said he is looking for a job as a coach or manager next season.
Collins has ties in St. Petersburg, where his girlfriend lives, and he is close friends with Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar.
"Chuck called me the day I resigned and I appreciated that," Collins said. "We've talked a couple of times, but it's never been anything about a job."
_ JOHN ROMANO