Aside from the race to stay out of last place and their bid to reach 70 wins for the first time, the best things the Devil Rays can get out of these September games against other noncontenders are ideas, thoughts and bits of information to help them next season.
Some of the young hitters, such as Jorge Cantu and B.J. Upton, are making it obvious they will be ready to play in the big leagues. And some of the young relievers, such as Franklin Nunez and Bobby Seay, are making it clear they are not.
Saturday, veteran Todd Ritchie got the chance to show if he deserved to be among the candidates for spots in next year's rotation. His mixed results in a blase 4-2 loss to Toronto made it a topic for further discussion.
"It can get better, I know that," Ritchie said. "It's not what I had planned, what I envisioned. I wanted to go out there and really have a good game. Things didn't go the way I planned, but hopefully they will if I get another (start)."
Manager Lou Piniella, who wants to add at least two starters next season, is willing to take another look, probably in Thursday's makeup game at Yankee Stadium.
Ritchie, 32, won 15 games for the Pirates in 1999 and 11 in 2001, but missed most of last season with shoulder problems that led to rotator cuff surgery, and spent most of this season working his way back through the minors.
Given that Saturday's start was his first in the big leagues since April 24, 2003, and that it came with only one day's notice, he didn't do that poorly.
Ritchie worked 4 innings, allowing a pair of homers among five hits and walking three while throwing 87 pitches. He left after loading the bases in the fifth on two singles and a walk, and Seay, who has allowed 13 baserunners in his last seven appearances, immediately gave up a double that allowed two more runs to score.
"(Ritchie) went out and competed," Piniella said. "To me the best quality was the fact that he kept the ball down and he gave us a chance."
Just getting back to make a big-league start was an accomplishment. But Ritchie was more disappointed in some of the details, specifically that he gave up a leadoff homer in the fourth that allowed the Jays to tie the score right after the Rays took a 2-1 lead, and that he walked three.
"Maybe I'll think of some later but right now I don't see too many bright spots in it," Ritchie said. "I really wanted to show them they can have a good pitcher in me. I wanted to go out there and do well and I don't feel that I proved it this start. The walks just compounded it. It will get better."
His teammates didn't give him much help. They managed only three singles _ losing for the second time to rookie David Bush, who they drafted in 2001 but didn't sign _ and went down 1-2-3 in four of the nine innings.
"You can't go out like that _ it just looks bad," Carl Crawford said. "I probably should give their pitchers a little credit, but it just didn't feel like a game where we should get only three hits total."
With the loss, the Rays are three games ahead of the Blue Jays in battle to avoid last place with 16 to play. To get to 70 wins, they'll need to go 7-9 the rest of the way.