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Lopez knows days as Ray may be short

Albie Lopez isn't looking too far into the future. He knows he is scheduled to throw in the bullpen before tonight's game, and to start Friday against Texas, and that's about it.

The non-waiver trade deadline is less than two weeks away and Lopez appears to have re-established himself as perhaps the Rays' most tradeable player.

He doesn't make a lot of money ($2.975-million). He doesn't have a contract past this season. And he doesn't have a no-trade clause.

"I think (general manager Chuck LaMar) could move me," Lopez said. "It depends on the asking price. That will be a big factor. Everyone knows I could walk after this year."

With his groin and thumb injuries healed, Lopez has pitched markedly better over the past three weeks, pushing aside remnants of his 10-game losing streak by going 2-1 with a 4.26 ERA in his past four starts.

Lopez, a free agent after the season, said he doesn't pay much attention to the trade rumors, but he is aware of which teams might need starters. Los Angeles or Arizona would put him near his family. Cleveland is where he started his career. New York or Boston would provide unmatched intensity.

He knows it's possible he could stay with the Rays, but thinks it is more likely _ based on "the nature of the business" _ they'll deal him now rather than let him leave at the end of the season.

"It depends on what Chuck is asking for," Lopez said. "I don't think they'll let me walk for free."

FIRST AT SECOND: Backup shortstop Felix Martinez is scheduled for his first start at second base Thursday.

"It's an adjustment, but he should be able to make the transition," manager Hal McRae said. "If he can play both positions, I can get him a couple days a week. He should be the best second baseman we have other than (rookie Brent Abernathy)."

McRae plans to give Fred McGriff tonight off, playing Steve Cox at first, and to start Mike DiFelice behind the plate tonight and Thursday.

HI, HONEY, I'M HOME: Having completed a six-day road trip Tuesday, the Rays were due to get home around 2 this morning. They play five games at the Trop, then leave again Mondayfor a season-high 14-day, four-city trip. McRae's plan? "Don't unpack," he said. "I'll just put more stuff in my suitcase."

REHAB REPORT: Juan Guzman struggled for Triple-A Durham on Tuesday. He allowed three runs and five hits (including two homers) while walking four, needing 89 pitches to get through five innings. Wilson Alvarez threw Monday in St. Petersburg and needs more work before he can make another minor-league start.

GET READY TO RUMMMMMMBLE: There should be plenty of action in centerfield Thursday, and that's just before the 12:15 p.m. game. Raymond is celebrating his fourth birthday by inviting some of his closest mascot friends, such as Billy the Marlin, Slider (Indians), Dinger (Rockies) and others from team sponsors, for a wrestling match called Raymond's Royal Rumble. Plus, there will be at least 7,000 children on hand for Parks and Recreation Day.

RAYS BITS: McGriff on Monday made Steve Karsay the 308th pitcher he has homered against, fifth most in history. Tanyon Sturtze has worked at least six innings in 10 straight starts.

RAYS BITS: Minor-league field coordinator Tom Foley has been named manager of the Maryvale team in the Arizona Fall League. _ MARC TOPKIN

THE PITCHERS

Joe Kennedy

The 22-year-old left-hander should welcome the end of interleague play; he is 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA in four starts against AL teams, 1-3, 6.08 in four against NL clubs. Kennedy has allowed three runs or fewer in six of eight starts since being promoted June 1.

Ismael Valdes

The veteran right-hander is having a typical season with a 5-5 record and 4.28 ERA; his career marks are 68-66, 3.64. He started against the Rays on May 27 at the Trop, allowing three runs in seven innings in an extra-inning Tampa Bay victory.

YOU DON'T SAY

Heard some talk about Fred McGriff maybe going to the Braves? You should hear what they're saying in Atlanta. Under the headline "A crime not to get McGriff back here," Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Terence Moore wrote: "Just in case the Designated Geniuses of the Braves need a little nudge, it's like this: They should get Fred McGriff. Now."

PITCHING WORSTS AND CHASING HISTORY NOT PROVIDED FOR ELECTRONIC LIBRARY, PLEASE SEE MICROFILM

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