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New grip gives Rupe new hope

Four seams or two.

Ryan Rupe hopes the latter will provide him with a better fastball than the one he has thrown since an arm injury nearly two years ago.

"At my point in my career I've got to get better," the right-hander said after his four-inning start against Montreal on Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium. "I've got to learn that pitch. It's too good of a pitch. It's working too good for me to give up on it."

Rupe suggested adding a two-seamer, which dives down and in to a right-handed batter, this spring because he no longer was getting movement on his four-seam fastball.

Why?

To protect his arm, which developed a blood clot above the right biceps in September 2000, Rupe said he adjusted his throwing motion by not throwing across his body and in turn lost the sinking movement on the four-seamer.

"He just has to trust that (the two-seamer is) working for him," catcher Toby Hall said. "He can't really see the results, but we can."

Rupe allowed four runs on five hits, striking out four and walking two in a 4-3 loss to Montreal. The Expos' runs came on a two-seamer that Vladimir Guerrero hit for a grand slam in the third. Two of the runners reached on a bunt and a bloop single to centerfield.

"I'm happy with the way he's pitched," manager Hal McRae said. "I'm happy with the way he's pitched in the past and more than happy with the way he pitched today."

Rupe, who was the Rays fifth starter last season, retired six of seven after Guerrero's homer.

"I feel better about that spot in the rotation after today than I did before," McRae said. "Because when (Nick) Bierbrodt went down, that was a big blow and I feel better about that spot now."

GETTING CLOSER: Greg Vaughn played his second straight game in leftfield at the request of his manager.

Slowed by leg injuries at the end of last season and the start of spring training, Vaughn hit his first home run since Aug. 5 and tracked down a fly ball deep in the leftfield corner in the fifth inning.

"I'm seeing a lot of pitches," Vaughn said. "I still have a lot of work to do in the outfield, as far as getting jumps, getting balls off the bat."

Vaughn starts at designated hitter against the Orioles today.

EXTRA WORK: Ben Grieve and Jared Sandberg stayed after the game for extra hitting work.

Grieve is hitting .282 through 39 at-bats. Sandberg, whom the Rays would like to see more offense out of at third base, has a .200 average.

Asked what prompted the extra practice, McRae offered few details.

"We'll go over there and work on it," he said.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE: Minor-league pitchers Lance Carter and Cedrick Bowers accompanied the team on its two-game road trip and could get into a game before the end of spring training.

"I think the players need to be reminded that they haven't been forgotten, because we need them all," McRae said. "We're looking for good players. Our record (last season) sort of indicates that."

ODDS AND ENDS: Rupe became the first Rays pitcher to get a hit this spring when he doubled to right off right-hander Masato Yoshii in the third. After several near misses in recent days, Aubrey Huff hit his first homer of the spring in the ninth. Left-hander Wilson Alvarez pitched three innings against Triple-A Syracuse and allowed two earned runs on four hits. He struck out three and walked two in 66 pitches. Against Double-A Tennessee, right-hander Esteban Yan pitched one inning, struck out two and walked one in 19 pitches. Hall played his first full game. John Flaherty will do the same today. The Rays lost their seventh in a row. Right-handerDelvin James pitched four shutout innings, striking out three and walking one.

_ KEVIN KELLY

Keep an eye on . . .

Travis Harper starts his first game of the spring. The right-hander, who's vying for a spot in the rotation or bullpen, has a 1.08 ERA.

QUOTABLE

"Is that a request by Jackie Brown?"

HAL McRAE

manager, when I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow from the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack was played during batting practice Thursday at Roger Dean Stadium

DIKY: Don't I know you?

The Rays have a pitcher named Bobby Seay. Another is on the board of directors of the Dead Pigeon River Council, an environmental group formed in 1985 that has lobbied for the cleaning and restoration of the polluted Big Pigeon River in North Carolina and Tennessee.

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