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Lou has a plan for Brazelton

Dewon Brazelton was pretty good Saturday.

He worked impressively into the eighth, holding the Jays to three hits and keeping his pitch count down by throwing a high percentage of strikes.

Manager Lou Piniella hopes he can get better.

"He needs to work hard over the winter and he needs to work hard improving his slider for next season," he said. "Those should be his two goals."

Brazelton also needs to resolve whatever issues are keeping him from pitching well on the road. With one start remaining Thursday, he is 6-7 with a 4.54 ERA, despite an 0-5, 9.62 mark away from home.

"And I think next spring we'll pitch him away all the time," Piniella said. "Get him a few wins on the road and that will set the tone for the season."

Brazelton said the key Saturday was following pitching coach Chuck Hernandez's game plan and catcher Toby Hall's signals.

"I try to go out there every game and do this, some games I get bombed and some games I don't," Brazelton said. "I wanted to go out there and throw strikes early and often."

PITCHING IN: Today's cancellation caused further changes in the Rays' ever-changing pitching plans. Rob Bell, who was scheduled to start today, won't pitch until Friday. The Rays will use left-handers Scott Kazmir and John Halama in the first two games against the Red Sox, but haven't decided on a starter for Wednesday. Mark Hendrickson and Brazelton are scheduled to work Thursday's doubleheader against Detroit, and Bell, Kazmir and Halama are in line for the final weekend series in Detroit. Rookie John Webb is expected to rejoin the team Tuesday or Wednesday. His younger brother, James, died on Wednesday from brain cancer. The funeral is Monday in Pensacola.

ROOKIE MISTAKE: B.J. Upton and Kazmir got a talking-to from Piniella and some abuse from their teammates after showing up late (around 4:30 p.m.) Saturday and missing their scheduled autograph sessions as part of season-ticket holder appreciation day. Kazmir also missed am autograph session at Walker Ford.

Their excuse?

"They didn't have any," Piniella said.

They weren't fined, Piniella said, but will sign pictures for season-ticket holders and are scheduled to be in the group signing autographs for Wednesday's rescheduled Fan Appreciation Day.

DOME RULE: Today's game is the fourth postponed or canceled at the Rays' domed home for weather-related reasons, the third this season. The other was Sept. 17, 2000, when Hurricane Gordon was approaching.

Only two other dome games had been affected by weather: a June 15, 1976, game at Houston's Astrodome was postponed when the city was hit with 10 inches of rain and officials deemed travel unsafe, and an April 14, 1983, game at Minneapolis' Metrodome was postponed when the stadium roof partially collapsed under the weight of heavy snow.

Saturday's game was believed to be the first played under a curfew since April 6, 1998, when a Cleveland-Oakland game was stopped at 1:22 a.m. under an old AL rule that was abolished after the 2000 season that no inning could start after 1 a.m.

SAVING GRACE: Danys Baez's streak of consecutive saves ended at 18 when he failed to hold a 5-3 lead in the ninth. It was Baez's third blown save in 32 chances, and all three times he won.

MISCELLANY: With 66 wins, the Rays have to go 4-4 over the final eight games to reach a team-record 70. Their 38 wins at Tropicana Field are a record. Rocco Baldelli turned 23 on Saturday. The Rays have collected more than $2,000 to aid hurricane relief efforts and will continue to collect donations through Tuesday. The Children's Dream Fund arranged for Tampa's Jordan Hancock, a 13-year-old who had a heart transplant, to attend Thursday's game at Yankee Stadium.

_ MARC TOPKIN, Times staff writer