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Blue Jays 6, Rays 2

Lifeless bats still waiting on Pena

Rays third baseman Evan Longoria continued to slump at the plate, but his defense hasn’t suffered. Here he throws out the speedy Shannon Stewart for the first out of the third inning after the first two batters singled. Matt Garza worked out of the jam without allowing a run.

Associated Press

Rays third baseman Evan Longoria continued to slump at the plate, but his defense hasn’t suffered. Here he throws out the speedy Shannon Stewart for the first out of the third inning after the first two batters singled. Matt Garza worked out of the jam without allowing a run.

TORONTO — There weren't a lot of answers in the quiet Rays clubhouse after Wednesday's 6-2 loss to Toronto.

Hitters talked about why they weren't able to do much against Jays starter Shaun Marcum. (He's good). Relievers talked about how they failed to keep the score close in the pivotal eighth inning. (They made mistakes.)

And behind the closed blue office door, manager Joe Maddon talked for more than 20 minutes with struggling first baseman Carlos Pena, who struck out three times to run his AL-high total to 42 while his average dropped to .200.

"Joe always has some great things to say," Pena said afterward. "All he wants me to do is go out there and enjoy myself and not put too much pressure on myself and just make sure I come out and have fun. 'Have fun out there,' those are his words.

"He talks about how subconsciously sometimes you might have things in your mind, and he just wants me to go out there and play free. And I think it's awesome."

Pena insists he is under no pressure to follow up last season's team MVP performance or justify the three-year, $24.125-million contract it yielded but admitted that "at times" he might be pressing, trying to do too much.

Maddon publicly has said Pena's struggles were physical, simply a matter of expanding his strike zone too much and swinging at bad pitches, but clearly decided there was more to talk about.

Pena was upbeat and said he felt "liberated" after the discussion, that he felt he had been swinging the bat well the past two weeks and considered the last two games "glitches" and said he will be in the lineup again tonight.

Pena's performance was just part of the Rays' problems in a game that was scoreless until the bottom of the seventh and 6-0 by the bottom of the eighth.

Matt Garza had his best start as a Ray, not allowing a run until his last batter, Marco Scutaro, hit a ground ball single through shortstop.

"Garza pitched well," Maddon said. "Command overall, maybe not as sharp as you'd like to be if you look at the ball and strike ratio (47 of 106 pitches were balls). However, the ball was alive. He was throwing some bowling balls up there. He was getting some ground balls."

But Marcum was better. The Rays couldn't do anything against him in the first eight frames, managing just a third-inning single that Dioner Navarro tried, unsuccessfully, to stretch into a double, then a seventh-inning walk by B.J. Upton.

It wasn't until after a leaky eighth-inning performance from the bullpen, with Scott Doh-mann giving up a leadoff walk and a two-run homer and Trever Miller and Jason Hammel not doing much to help, that they did any more, rapping three straight two-out hits.

"Marcum's good," Maddon said. "I knew that coming in. … He makes good pitches, he keeps the ball down, he changes speeds."

The loss ensured a losing road trip for the Rays, at 3-5 going into tonight's finale, and leaves them at 17-16, needing a win to come home with a winning record as they open a tough stretch against the Angels and Yankees at Tropicana Field then on to St. Louis and Oakland.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Lifeless bats still waiting on Pena 05/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2008 5:35pm]
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