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03/05/07 7:00 PM ET

Notes: Rays impressed by McClung

Right-hander looking to clinch closer's role in Spring Training

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jim Hickey likes what he's seen of closer candidate Seth McClung.

"I kind of pictured this big guy who has some pretty high walk totals and probably not the most mechanically sound pitcher," the Rays pitching coach said. "But [he has a] pretty good delivery. So really, I've been impressed. He's a lot more together and probably a better pitcher than I had anticipated."

But becoming a closer involves more than a quality arm.

"It's tough, you never ever know until you're battle tested," Hickey said. "We kind of joke about it, but the biggest asset a closer can have is a short-term memory, whether it was a good memory or a bad memory -- the ability to let those bad games go and the ability not to hang on to those good games too long."

Hickey said the closer's role is such an important one that "you just kind of have to grow into it," but added that McClung's exposure to the role in 2006 "really whetted his appetite."

"And you know, performance-wise, it probably wasn't what he would have liked, but he did save [six] ballgames," Hickey said. "So that gives you the idea he's capable of doing it."

McClung doesn't like to engage in speculation about his winning the Rays' closer's job.

"I'm just trying to make sure I've got a spot on this team," McClung said. "I'm just working real hard to make sure I'm throwing strikes and getting ready to go."

McClung, who entered last season as a starter, believes he's better equipped this season for whatever role the Rays choose for him.

"I have more experience this year," McClung said. "I was so gung-ho about trying to be a starter last year, and wanting to be the No. 1 starter and working so hard toward that, I lost focus on really just trying to get myself better. So this year, I didn't want to lose focus of that. I just want to maintain it so if I work myself and get myself into position to play, everything will fall right for me."

Fossum looking good: Casey Fossum pitched batting practice Monday morning and impressed Rays manager Joe Maddon.

"Wow, he's much further along than I anticipated," said Maddon about Fossum's comeback from shoulder surgery. "Really, he looks like he's going to be ready. The ball's really coming out of his hand well. Not only his fastball, his breaking ball, too. He's right around the plate, repeated his delivery well. He's pretty good. It's very encouraging."

Maddon believes Fossum is close to being able to pitch in a game right now.

"I'm looking at the repetition of his delivery," Maddon said. "He's really finishing well. I always look for that. But there's no hesitation in his finish. He's got great extension up front."

Maddon said a lot of pitchers coming back from surgery find their velocity before command and control.

"But what I'm seeing with Fossum right now is command and control, also," Maddon said. "It's all good right now."

Fossum, who has hit 40 batters over the past three seasons, said, "I felt I threw the ball pretty well and didn't hit anybody."

The left-hander plans to throw another batting practice, and if everything goes well, he'll likely pitch in a game after that.

This and that: The Rays will help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the National Education Association's Read Across America on Tuesday. Rays pitchers Shawn Camp and Ruddy Lugo will read to approximately 300 first and second graders from Campbell Park Elementary School prior to the Rays-Reds Spring Training game at 1:05 p.m. ET at Progress Energy Park. ... The first full-squad Minor League workout is Friday at the Raymond A. Naimoli Complex. Approximately 150 players will be in camp. Exhibition games for the Minor Leaguers begin March 16.

Up next: Right-hander James Shields will start Tuesday's game for the Rays and will be followed by right-handers Gary Glover, Brian Stokes, Al Reyes, Andy Sonnanstine and Juan Salas. Left-hander Eric Milton will start for the Reds.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.