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Relief corps gaining McRae's confidence

Whether it's the shaved heads or the 17 games spent without closer Esteban Yan, Rays middle relievers continue to gain praise from their manager.

"The guys have pitched themselves into roles," Doug Creek said. "I think everybody's a lot more comfortable down there knowing the type of situations they're going to be pitching in every night, and we're enjoying some success doing it. With success comes a feeling of confidence that we can go out there and get it done on a daily basis."

Though Creek had allowed four earned runs in his past 1 innings entering Wednesday's game, manager Hal McRae likes him because of the situations he can put the lefty in.

"It makes a big difference when he can be used at any time in the ballgame," said McRae, who has used Creek a team-high 39 times. "Especially late, especially to get a few outs or to get an out."

Travis Phelps, Victor Zambrano and Jesus Colome, now at Triple-A Durham, filled in as setup men and closers while Yan recovered from inflammation in his right shoulder. All three earned at least one win in place of Yan, who came off the DL on July 12.

MINOR MATTERS: Josh Hamilton continued his comeback at Class A Charleston by hitting his first home run since July 24 Tuesday night. Class A Bakersfield's Matt Diaz entered Wednesday night leading the minors with 135 hits.

NL TERROR: Furthering the argument that Fred McGriff should have accepted the trade to the Cubs are his numbers against NL teams. McGriff led the AL with a .421 average in interleague play and was second with eight home runs. He tied a club mark with 18 RBI in the six interleague series.

FLEET OF FOOT: Damian Rolls will get his third start in the outfield today and his first indoors at the Trop.

With Rolls in center, Jason Tyner in left and Randy Winn in right, the Rays will have their fastest outfield this season and a look McRae would like to stick with. Whether or not that happens depends on how well Rolls, an infielder for his entire professional career, adapts to the position.

"That's what it needs to look like," McRae said. "There's just one guy we're trying to determine if he can play out there. If I could play three centerfielders in the outfield, I would."

McRae said Rolls performed fine in his first two games, but he wants to see how he handles the Trop's roof with the catwalks and poor background.

"It felt good when I was out there," Rolls said. "I had the time of my life. I loved every minute I was out there. I like to run, and there's room to run out there."

SITTIN' OUT: Two players not expected to be in the lineup today are Ben Grieve and Aubrey Huff. McRae said he would sit the struggling left-handed hitters against Anaheim lefty Jarrod Washburn.

He said that would continue to be his practice until Grieve, who is batting .247, and Huff (.235) break out of their slumps.

FELIX IN: Felix Martinez is scheduled to start at second for the first time since 1999 today.

REHAB UPDATE: Juan Guzman reported no problems with his shoulder after pitching five innings for Durham on Tuesday night. He is scheduled to pitch again Sunday. Wilson Alvarez, who had a setback involving a muscle in his forearm, is set for a bullpen session Friday or Saturday at Tropicana Field.

_ MIKE READLING, KEVIN KELLY

THEY SAID IT

After so many years in the game and having seen some of the things he has seen from his team this season, it takes a lot to surprise Rays manager Hal McRae. But that's exactly what his pitching staff did during the Rays' last road trip. And it had nothing to do with its performance on the mound.

"I was surprised they all swung their bats as well as they did," McRae said. "Nobody looked overmatched up there at home plate. That was kind of surprising."

His pitchers weren't perfect, however. When Tanyon Sturtze and Ryan Rupe recorded their first major-league hits, neither requested the ball for a souvenir.

"They're American League," McRae said. "They don't know to ask."

THE PITCHERS

Bryan Rekar

Rekar, making his team-high 20th start, has the worst run support in the American League. The Rays have averaged 2.8 runs for him, contributing heavily toward his 1-11 record. Lifetime he is 0-2 versus the Angels with a 3.91 ERA.

Jarrod Washburn

Over his past 14 starts, Washburn (7-4) has lowered his ERA from 7.56 to 3.61, pitched into the seventh 11 times and gone 7-1. He has not lost since May 8 and is 6-0 with a 2.99 ERA over his past 12 outings. He is 1-0 with a 5.14 ERA vs. the Rays.

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