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Playing musical arms

By next season, manager Lou Piniella would like to see the Devil Rays bring in two established veteran starters who can pitch at the front end of the rotation.

But first he has to get through this season.

With the lack of starting pitching depth becoming increasingly concerning, Piniella decided to give veteran Todd Ritchie a chance, and will start him this afternoon against the Blue Jays in place of John Halama, who was supposed to start in place of Jorge Sosa, who is moving to the bullpen to take the place of injured Jesus Colome.

"We'll see what happens," Piniella said. "He threw the ball good (Thursday) night in Boston, he has experience up here in the big leagues. We brought him up to take a look at him. We'll see. I'm hoping he pitches well, but I can't say for sure. I thought he had good presence on the mound in Boston and (catcher Toby Hall) said his pitches were crisp. We'll see if we can catch lightning in a bottle here for a couple weeks."

Ritchie, 32, won 15 games for the Pirates in 1999 and 11 in 2001 but hasn't started a big-league game since April 24, 2003, for Milwaukee. He went on the disabled list with shoulder problems after that, had rotator cuff surgery in June 2003 and has been recovering since.

He made his first appearance for the Rays on May 21 with Class A Charleston (S.C.) and worked his way up to Triple A, going 4-6 with a 6.29 ERA in 16 starts but improved as he went on. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing two hits, in Game 3 of the International League playoffs Sept. 10. He joined the Rays Tuesday and made his first appearance with a 1-2-3 inning on Thursday.

"It felt good to get in front of a big-league crowd and get acclimated again," Ritchie said. "I'm glad to get the start (today) and we'll see what happens. This is an opportunity."

Ritchie will be a free agent after the season, though the Rays should have the first chance at keeping him. "In my opinion, you're always pitching for the future," he said.

Ritchie will be the 14th starter used by the Rays, tying the team record set last year. Only Texas, with 16, has used more.

The Rays will make another change in the rotation when Rob Bell returns on Tuesday to take the place of Mark Hendrickson, who is moving to the bullpen after losing his seventh straight and 15th overall.

"Believe me, we're not trying to play musical chairs with this," Piniella said.

If Ritchie pitches well, he is likely to start Thursday's makeup game against the Yankees. If not? "We might pitch the thing with three pitchers, three innings apiece," Piniella said. "We're not getting too far from that."

HELPING THE CAUSE: The Rays will collect donations during the upcoming homestand to aid relief efforts for hurricane victims. The Rays collected and contributed about $60,000 for the Hurricane Charley relief fund during their last homestand.

CAMP DEVIL RAY: Forty-five of the top young minor leaguers will open instructional league workouts today at Naimoli complex (7901 30th Ave. N) in St. Petersburg, including pitchers Jason Hammel and Chad Orvella, infielders Wes Bankston and Elliot Johnson and outfielders Elijah Dukes and Jason Pridie.

The Rays will again have a short camp of about three weeks, though they will play games against other teams rather than just intrasquad games as they did last season.

MISCELLANY: Rocco Baldelli set a team record by knocking in a run in his eighth straight game. Three others had done it seven times. Carl Crawfordbettered his 2003 team record by stealing his 56th base. Tino Martinez's fifth-inning triple was his first since June 4, 2003, and 21st overall. "I get one every year," he said. The 11 runs were the Rays' most since July 7. The Rays evened the season series 7-7. Fox Sports Net Florida has added Wednesday's game to its schedule. Toronto's Carlos Delgado became the 14th player in big-league history to hit 30 or more homers in eight consecutive seasons. Barry Bonds has done it 13 straight times. Second baseman Rey Sanchez made his first start since Aug. 29. The Rays continue talks to secure affiliations for their two Class A teams.

_ MARC TOPKIN, Times staff writer


Twenty is not the Rays' lucky number. Boston's Curt Schilling on Thursday was the fourth pitcher to try for his 20th win against the Rays, and the fourth to get it. David Cone, then of the Yankees, did it in 1998, and two pitchers did it nine days apart last season, Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays and Andy Pettitte of the Yankees.

NOTES: Ritchie, 32, makes his first big-league start of 2004 after spending most of the year rehabilitating from shoulder surgery. He is 0-1 with a 6.30 ERA against Toronto in limited relief work. Bush was picked by Tampa Bay in the fourth round of the 2001 draft but chose to go back to Wake Forest and was drafted by the Jays the next year. He beat the Rays July 25 for his first big-league win.

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