The void left by Roberto Hernandez's departure is large. And the Rays may end up using several pitchers to fill it.
The perception has been that Esteban Yan and Tanyon Sturtze are battling for the right to be closer, but manager Larry Rothschild said it is conceivable he could use them and Ken Hill as a committee of closers.
"I've said it all along; we were going to go with whoever gave us the best chance to get the job done," Rothschild said. "Whether it's one guy or three guys doesn't matter to me, I'll do whatever it takes."
The idea of using three closers could be beneficial in several ways. Since none has been a closer in the majors, other alternatives would lessen the pressure. It also would allow Hill's arthritic elbow more time to bounce back between appearances.
"From the point of view of the players, I think it can be a positive because each one of them comes to the park every night knowing he can play a key role in the game," Rothschild said. "And I would include the setup role in that because it's a key job."
If the Rays begin the season with a committee of closers, Rothschild would reserve the right to go to a single closer at any point.
"If one guy is going strong, he could take it over, no question," Rothschild said.
Hill, 35, is attempting a move to the bullpen after 12 seasons as a starter in the majors. He pitched the ninth inning Friday, allowing a hit and a walk before inducing a double play and striking out Butch Huskey to end the game.
"If they think I can save games, I'll give it a shot," Hill said. "After being banged up the last couple of years, all I want is to make it through the season healthy. And the arm feels good so far."
STAYING BACK: Mike DiFelice was excused from the trip to Mexico City because his wife is near the due date of her pregnancy. Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman, who are in rehab programs for their shoulders, also did not make the trip.
ALVAREZ ROLLING: Alvarez threw 60 pitches during live batting practice as he continues to rehab his shoulder after rotator cuff surgery last year.
Alvarez threw about 30 pitches before taking a short break and returning to finish the workout. His next action will be two more batting practice sessions, probably Monday or Tuesday, followed by another Friday. After that he will pitch simulated games to build arm strength. He is on track to return to the rotation at the end of April, barring any setbacks.
NO DAY OFF: The Rays are scheduled to have an off day Monday after returning from Mexico City late Sunday. Other than Paul Wilson and Matt White, that is.
Wilson will pitch in a Triple-A game at the Yankees' minor-league complex in Tampa beginning at 1 p.m. in an effort to keep in his normal rotation. White also will pitch, continuing to work on his mechanics before appearing in regular spring game. They will be joined by Guzman, making his first game appearance.
FRIDAY'S ACTION: The Rays used a Mike DiFelice home run and four strong innings from starter Travis Harper to defeat the Indians 4-3 at Florida Power Park.
Harper, trying to become the No.
5 starter, pitched four innings, allowing one run, three hitsand two walks and striking out three.
RAYS NOTES: A foul ball shattered the window of Rays owner Vince Naimoli's private box in the first inning. Bryan Rekar is scheduled to start against the Pirates in the first game of a two-game series in Mexico City at 7 tonight.
_ MIKE READLING, JOHN ROMANO