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Bullpen struggles start to grate

The Rays got through the weekend Fiesta de Primavera series with no injuries, no illnesses and no hassles.

Now they need to get some relief.

The bullpen crew struggled again Sunday, turning a comfortable 9-1 lead into something of a tense 9-6 victory over the Pirates, and manager Larry Rothschild wasn't happy.

"We need to get it going, I know that," Rothschild said. "It's time for some guys to start throwing the ball better. They started out throwing the ball pretty well, and you're going to go through rough times during the course of spring training, but it's time for us to get it going and start getting some people out."

The Rays had the big lead after two-run home runs by Fred McGriff and Greg Vaughn and a three-run sun-aided double by Steve Cox. Starter Albie Lopez made the most of it with a stellar six-inning outing.

But Dan Wheeler gave up a home run to his first batter in the seventh, Doug Creek allowed two runs in the eighth and Tanyon Sturtze gave up two more, bringing the tying run to the plate before getting the final out.

ALBIE A-OKAY: Lopez was so dominant, needing just 34 pitches to retire the first 12 in order, that the Rays let him pitch an extra two innings. "He threw the ball great," Rothschild said. "He threw a lot of pitches for strikes and his changeup was very good." Said Lopez: "I was just trying to go three-up, three-down."

ADIOS, MEXICO: Overall, Rothschild said the three-day trip was a good experience. "Everything went well," he said. "We enjoyed coming here, the people were great, it was a good break for us." Team officials have started talking about some type of trip for next spring.

VINNY'S WORLD: Mexican Vinny Castilla was the center of attention all weekend and, though somewhat drained by the activities, said he had a good time. "I'm happy," said Castilla, who was 4-for-7 in the two games. "The response from the fans was very positive."

While there were plenty of photographs and memories for Castilla, there also was a piece of history. Castilla signed a baseball that is literally being taken around the world and will be used for the first pitch in the All-Star Game in July. The ball started in Venezuela and will make appearances in Puerto Rico, Japan, Korea, London, South Africa and Rotterdam, among other places.

DAY OFF: The Rays have their only scheduled day off of the spring today, and when they come back Tuesday, with two weeks until opening day, there will be some serious issues to be dealt with.

Rothschild said he wants to start playing the regulars together, settle on a batting order, define certain roles and start using the relievers based on game situations, all the while deciding how to get the roster down from 42 to 25. "This is a critical time for us," Rothschild said.

Though some players were looking forward to the day off, McGriff said he wants to get going. "It will be good to start playing every day," he said.

ROUGH SEAY: Location has been Bobby Seay's biggest problem this spring, and it's a prime reason the left-hander may find himself relocated to minor-league camp soon.

Seay had another rough outing Saturday, leaving him with a 14.21 spring ERA. In 6 innings, he has allowed 19 baserunners. "I've got to keep the ball down," Seay said. "I've got to locate my fastball better. Once I do that, I'll be in business."

BATTER UP: Wilson Alvarez, continuing his recovery from shoulder surgery, is scheduled to throw a 75- to 80-pitch batting practice Tuesday as the Rays keep him on a slow but steady program. "We need to see the arm strength come back and we're progressing as the arm allows us to, and that's the proper way to do it," Rothschild said. "It's a rehab and he's right where he should be. If we try to push it, we may have a setback."

_ MARC TOPKIN

QUOTABLE

"Vinny's been swinging the bat very well. Maybe it's the water, I don't know."

_ Larry Rothschild

Rays manager on Vinny Castilla's 4-for-7 weekend performance in Mexico City.

Keep an eye on...

Guzman is pitching in a game for the first since June shoulder surgery. He hopes to return to the rotation sometime in April.

Join our WHO-RAY contest...

DAY 31: Which Rays player stole 43 bases in a season for the University of Miami?

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