Nomo thinks he can help Devil Rays

Friday, February 18th 2005, 6:41 pm
By: News On 6

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ The Tampa Bay Devil Rays hope they have to get used to the Hideo Nomo show.

The former NL Rookie of the Year reported to spring training with his new team Friday, attracting a large contingent of Japanese reporters and photographers eager to chronicle his first day on the job.

``This is good publicity for us,'' said manager Lou Piniella, who became accustomed to even larger hordes in Seattle, where he once managed Ichiro Suzuki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Kaz Sasaki. ``The Japanese media is very persistent.''

The Devil Rays are looking for more than increased exposure, though.

Nomo is trying to jump-start his career after spending two stints on the disabled list and going 4-11 with an 8.25 ERA with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He had shoulder surgery after the 2003 season, but thinks his problems with injuries are behind him.

``I don't know what the results are going to be. But I'm in good condition and just hope to be on the roster at the start of the season,'' the 36-year-old right-hander said through an interpreter.

One of just four pitchers to throw no-hitters in both the National and American leagues, Nomo won 16 games for Los Angeles in 2002 and again in 2003. He was the Dodgers' opening day starter last season, but lost 10 of 11 decisions after getting off to a 3-1 start.

The losing season was just his third since 1995, when he joined the Dodgers to become the first Japanese-born player to leave that country's Central of Pacific Leagues for the majors. He missed two months with an inflamed right shoulder and spent another stretch on the disabled list after splitting a nail on his right index finger.

The Devil Rays are confident he can help them if he's healthy.

``He's a year or more removed from surgery, and it takes a while to get that arm strength built up,'' Piniella said. ``Probably what was lacking last year more than anything else was the arm strength. When you throw that split-finger the way he does you need a good variance of speed between the fastball and the split-finger.''

Nomo and left-hander Denny Neagle, another 36-year-old trying to rekindle his career, were among 38 pitchers reporting Friday. Both will get an opportunity to earn a spot in what figures to be a young, largely inexperienced rotation.

Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez is anxious to see what they have left.

``They're seasoned pros. They know what they need to do,'' Hernandez said. ``For the most part we're going to stay out of their way, let them get some good work under their belts. And, when the games come, we're going to let them go out and compete and see what they have to offer.''

If Nomo makes the team, he would earn $800,000 with a chance for $700,000 more in incentives. After with the Dodgers, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox, he's hardly fazed by the attention he drawing in Tampa Bay.

``It doesn't make that much difference to me,'' he said of the media interest. ``When the season starts, if I win a lot of games, I'll get the fans' attention.''

Notes: RHP Jose Diaz was the only no-show among 39 pitchers and catchers invited to camp. The team did not give a reason for his absence, but said he's expected to report from the Dominican Republic on Saturday. ... OF Matt Diaz was released. ... Six position players, including injured OF Rocco Baldelli, reported and worked out. The first full-squad workout is Wednesday.