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Goal is to maintain Trachsel's groove

Steve Trachsel has been Tampa Bay's most consistent starter, so manager Larry Rothschild is doing everything he can to keep the right-hander in a groove. Even if it means readjusting the rest of the rotation.

Trachsel is being moved up in the rotation to start Sunday so he has his normal four days of rest. With a day off Thursday and another coming up Monday, Trachsel would have gone six days between starts if the rotation was not adjusted.

"Four days of rest is always best," Trachsel said. "You go five days and you start feeling too strong. Your ball flattens out and you might have more trouble with your control. You go another day after that and it just gets worse."

Dave Eiland is being skipped Sunday, but he may take Bryan Rekar's place in the rotation beginning Tuesday. Rekar has struggled in two of his three starts.

MISSING A SPARKS: Getting yelled at on the mound Wednesday by catcher Mike DiFelice was just the beginning of Jeff Sparks' problems.

The rookie reliever was sent to Triple-A Durham on Friday to make room for veteran Billy Taylor.

At times, Sparks looks dominating, but he was doomed by control problems. Sparks had a team-high 1.1 strikeouts per inning, but also had nearly one walk per inning.

"Had Jeff thrown the ball the way he can, the need would have presented itself for him to be here," Rothschild said. "His last two times out were rough. I know there were some days off in between, but that's life in the bullpen."

The demotion might be a lesson in humility for Sparks. He refused to follow DiFelice's direction in pitch calling against the Rangers and walked three straight hitters.

HELP ON THE WAY: Along with Taylor, Tampa Bay's bullpen could get another boost soon. Jim Mecir threw in an extended spring game Thursday and reported no problems with the tightness in his biceps that landed him on the disabled list three weeks ago.

Mecir is scheduled to throw two innings in an extended spring game today and, if all goes well, could be activated for the start of the homestand Tuesday.

ANY DIVERSION WILL DO: Instead of stretching on the field in foul territory during Seattle's batting practice _ which the Rays normally do before every game _ the players stretched in the clubhouse before the game.

Rothschild said the Reds would often do the same thing when he was a pitching coach there.

"Just looking to change things up," Rothschild said.

One benefit for the players: They watched the Pacers-76ers NBA playoff game on the clubhouse television while stretching.

MINOR TALK: Bobby Seay continues to look impressive at Double-A Orlando. The left-hander won his third game Thursday while lowering his ERA to 2.51 after eight starts. Bobby Smith and Ozzie Timmons are 1-2 in the International League in home runs with 11 and 10, respectively.

PAR FOR THE COURSE: An early June return looks out of the question for Wilson Alvarez. The left-hander, who has been on the disabled list from the start of the season with shoulder woes, is still not on the mound.

Alvarez had begun a minor-league rehab but was shut down after his shoulder began hurting again.

"Wilson is about the same, he's not making a lot of progress," Rothschild said. "He's been tossing (in the outfield) and trying to work back to longer distances."

POWER PATROL: Fans were begging Jose Canseco to hit a ball out of Safeco Field during batting practice, but the Rays designated hitter said they might as well hold their breath.

Even though Canseco hit several balls in the back rows of the upper deck in leftfield, he said it was doubtful anyone could hit a ball beyond the bleachers and out of the stadium. The track for the retractable roof is directly behind the last row and no one has hit a ball past that.

"That's a little too far," Canseco said. "You might come close, but I don't think it could happen."

_ JOHN ROMANO

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