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The Tampa Bay Devil Rays built their team for this season around the home run. It was a way to sell tickets and a way, they hoped, to respectability.

They did it by obtaining home run hitters like Vinny Castilla and Greg Vaughn in the off-season to add to a lineup that includes Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff. It hasn't worked that way.

The Devil Rays had hit 35 homers as a team entering last night's game against the New York Yankees and that ranked 12th in the American League.

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They also tried to bolster their pitching by acquiring Steve Trachsel and Juan Guzman in the off-season. Even though Trachsel beat Pedro Martinez 1-0 in his start previous to last night's at Yankee Stadium, the Devil Rays pitching has been nearly as bad expected.

Only one AL team had a worse earned-run average than the Devil Rays entering last night -- the Toronto Blue Jays, who open a three-game series tonight against them at Tropicana Field.

The Blue Jays had an ERA of 5.98 -- 14th in the league -- while the Devil Rays were at 5.91 before last night's game.

But the Jays have been hitting home runs, the way some people thought the Devil Rays might.

The Jays lead the American League with 67 homers, 53 of them at the SkyDome, where they have played 21 of their 36 games.

The Blue Jays over the past two years haven't enjoyed playing at Tropicana Field, where they are 4-8. But it, too, should favour home runs hitters. And the Devil Rays have played only 12 games there so far this season.

While home runs have been hit at an average of 3.85 a game at the SkyDome, the comparable figure at Tropicana is 3.25. So it could be another one of those weekends.

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The Devil Rays, who are last in the AL East, haven't been getting many breaks. The Jays were off yesterday, and the Devil Rays were supposed to be off, but their game Wednesday at Yankee Stadium was postponed to last night, which meant a late arrival home. They have had three rainouts on the road already this season.

The Jays, on the other hand, got a bit of a break because of the rainout. It meant Trachsel pitched last night instead of against the Blue Jays tonight.

Trachsel and Esteban Yan, who now will start in the series against the Jays, are the only Devil Rays starters to have gone six innings in a game this season. Each had done it four times before last night.

Injuries have bedevilled Tampa Bay's pitching staff. Guzman has had shoulder problems. Ryan Rupe, who began the season as the No. 2 starter, has been sent to the minors and in his first start with Triple-A Durham had to leave after two innings with stiffness in his shoulder.

Closer Roberto Hernandez took a line drive off his elbow last Sunday but could be available for the series against the Blue Jays.

And left-hander Wilson Alvarez was supposed to be an anchor of the rotation but has had shoulder problems since early spring training.

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He has said he needs surgery on the shoulder but is trying to put it off until after the season. He is progressing on a rehabilitation program and hopes to return the rotation in June.

His problem is wear and tear of the rotator cuff, but it is not torn.

The Blue Jays will start Chris Carpenter (3-3, 3.94 earned-run average), Kelvim Escobar (3-4, 4.87) and David Wells (6-1, 3.08). The Devil Rays will start Bryan Rekar (0-1, 6.35), Dwight Gooden (2-2, 5.68) and Esteban Yan (1-1, 5.95).

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