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Rothschild looking for team's spirit

Manager Larry Rothschild didn't necessarily dispute Greg Vaughn's Saturday assessment that some players seem to have given up on the season.

He's more puzzled about why it's happening.

"I think it's easy this time of year for players to look at just getting to the end of the season, and I think we all feel that's not the right thing to do," Rothschild said. "It's when you get behind in a game when you see it the most."

But, he was asked, shouldn't major-leaguers know better?

"They do know better, but they're human beings," he said. "You get out of the pennant race and we battled for three months trying to get back to some semblance of respectability and we did a pretty good job of it, and then we get to this point.

"I don't know what happens when you flip the calendar page from August to September. I just don't know. We played hard all year. What I don't know is why it changes. We're playing a tougher schedule, but you turn it up when you play a tougher schedule. You don't turn it back and roll over."

DURHAM DONE: Triple-A Durham's season ended Sunday with a 6-4 loss to Indianapolis in the fifth game of the International League semifinal playoffs.

Travis Phelps gave up six runs in the first innings and the Bulls never caught up. Jared Sandberg hit a three-run homer in the eighth.

Rothschild said hadn't heard anything about plans for additional players to be called up.

VAUGHN FRUSTRATED: Vaughn said he doesn't know why second-base umpire Doug Eddings called him out for interference in the fourth inning. Vaughn slid a little wide of the base and may have come in a little high, disrupting Randy Velarde's try at a double play. "I've been sliding that way for 12 years," he said. "I guess I've been sliding wrong, according to that umpire."

MEDIA SPECULATION: ESPN's Peter Gammons continues to push the idea that Lou Piniella will replace Rothschild next season, In his weekend ESPN.com column, Gammons wrote: "Piniella's coaches are convinced he's going to manage Tampa Bay next season." Also, Gammons wrote: "If Piniella is available, Tampa Bay owner Vince Naimoli may not be able to resist going after him."

FREE SWINGERS: Rays hitters have been a bit on the aggressive side lately _ they haven't drawn a walk since the middle of Thursday's game, a stretch of 31 innings.

NO HARPING: Rookie Travis Harper rejoins the rotation tonight, making a pitch for his first big-league victory as well as the opportunity to be back with the team next season.

"Like any young pitcher, he can establish himself that he's reached the point of at least competing for a major-league job," Rothschild said. "He needs to establish all his pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup). He's not going to be overpowering people. He had good command in the minor leagues so you look for that here."

Ideally, Harper, 24, would use the final three weeks to build a foundation for next year. Realistically, he won't be thinking that way at all. "Obviously that would be a good thing, but I'm trying to keep it a little more simple than that," Harper said. "I'm going to approach it like any other start and use my game plan and just try to go out there and have some fun."

RAYS BITS: Pitcher Dave Eiland left the game with a hyperextended right knee. He has swelling behind the knee but no structural damage. Immersed in a 6-for-44 slump and homerless in more than two weeks, Fred McGriff got the day off, the second game he missed since the All-Star break. "He knew he needed a day," Rothschild said. Paul Wilson was the No. 1 pick in the 1994 draft; Oakland's Ben Grieve was second.

_ MARC TOPKIN

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