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Maddon sees a step backward for Rays pitcher Jackson

Edwin Jackson, competing for the starting rotation, heads off after a sloppy six-run second inning in which he gave up six hits and his first two walks of the spring. The Rays also committed two errors behind him.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Edwin Jackson, competing for the starting rotation, heads off after a sloppy six-run second inning in which he gave up six hits and his first two walks of the spring. The Rays also committed two errors behind him.

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Edwin Jackson has looked, and pitched, all spring like a frontrunner for one of the two open spots in the Rays rotation.

Though he wasn't too troubled by his poor performance in a six-run second inning Sunday, citing the successful way he bounced back in the next two frames, manager Joe Maddon did not necessarily see it that way and made it clear he expects better.

"Edwin Jackson today, really not sharp," Maddon said. "That's the kind of performance he's got to stay away from. Better strike throwing, better quality pitches — we need to get that out of him. More like he did in that six- or seven-game stretch last year during the season. … I just want to see a little bit more direction within the strike zone."

Jackson gave up six hits and his first two walks of the spring in the second, and the Rays made two errors behind him.

"Just pitches in bad spots and bad counts," Maddon said. "The big inning for a young pitcher, for any pitcher, is the bane. That's the one thing that really creates problems for him, and for the team. So we have to avoid those innings by making better pitches."

ROCCO REPORT: OF Rocco Baldelli's return to action remains uncertain as Maddon said there was "nothing new" and he won't play today, making it a full week since his last game.

With Baldelli maintaining there is no "specific diagnosis" for his leg muscle problems, speculation has been swirling about possible causes, some serious. Baldelli did address what isn't wrong in an interview with his home-state newspaper, the Provi­dence Journal, saying rumors of multiple sclerosis, a rare blood disorder and steroid issues were all untrue, then added: "I know it sounds bad when I'm denying specific things."

Baldelli, 26, also told the Journal he hadn't thought of quitting: "That's not my type of personality. I love playing and I love being out here and love being part of a team. It's not something I'm going to be giving up on very easily."

FIRED UP: After a Sunday long-toss session and some flat-ground work that included a few changeups and sliders, ace LHP Scott Kazmir returns to the mound today for his first bullpen session since a Feb. 26 elbow strain. If all goes well, he will make his exhibition debut Saturday, and it's "possible" he could be ready for the March 31 opener.

MISCELLANY: With Maddon saying first cuts will be "relatively soon," the coaching staff and front office met after Sunday's game. … LHP David Price is scheduled for his next outing Tuesday in Fort Myers. … Troy Percival had a second 1-2-3 inning and "felt a little smoother mechanically." … Maddon said LF Carl Crawford has looked so ready he'd "back off" from playing him as much. … The Countdown to Opening Day radio show broadcasts from Tampa's Wild Wing Cafe (9210 Anderson Road) from 6-7 tonight on 620-AM with C Dioner Navarro as guest.

Maddon sees a step backward for Rays pitcher Jackson 03/09/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 9, 2008 10:33pm]
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