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Mild funk continues for Rays' Kazmir

ST. PETERSBURG — Scott Kazmir's midseason doldrums continued to defy his resume on Sunday.

The Rays ace hadn't lost at Tropicana Field since September, had established himself as one of the game's best pitchers in interleague play and said Saturday that he knew why his last outing against the Cubs had not been to his satisfaction.

But two two-strike home runs accounted for all of the Astros' scoring and stuck him with a loss as he remained winless in three starts since amassing six straight wins. Once again, he was good — three runs on four hits with seven strikeouts in 5-2/3 innings — but not quite good enough.

Hunter Pence cut a 2-0 Rays lead to a run with a 382-foot shot to left in the fifth on a 1-and-2 pitch. An inning later, Carlos Lee lined a 2-and-2 pitch 394 feet into the leftfield stands for the last runs of the game. He was to be Kazmir's last batter regardless, manager Joe Maddon said, but even at 106 pitches, Kazmir seemed perturbed, and he bolted the clubhouse without addressing the media after the game.

"Just got it into the barrel," Maddon said of Lee's 17th homer of the season. "I had full confidence that Kaz can get out of that inning. … It just didn't work out."

MOVES: The Rays optioned OF Justin Ruggiano to Triple-A Durham and will recall an infielder as a hedge against a potentially hectic week. SS Jason Bartlett will become a father no later than Wednesday, and 2B Akinori Iwamura should have a verdict on his appeal of a three-game suspension that day or Tuesday.

Utilityman Ben Zobrist is the likely first option if healthy. He was reinstated to Durham's roster Thursday from the seven-day disabled list. Andy Cannizaro and Elliot Johnson are possibilities. 1B Carlos Pena's possible return from the 15-day DL at the end of the week would facilitate their return to the minors.

JUSTICE IS SWERVED: Edwin Jackson dropped his appeal of a five-game suspension, and the starting pitcher began serving Sunday. With an off day today, the Rays won't need to use a spot starter and Jackson is scheduled to start Saturday at Pittsburgh.

RISING PRICE: David Price, the Rays' top draft pick in 2007, has been promoted to Double-A Montgomery after going 4-0 with a 1.82 ERA in six starts at Class A Vero Beach. The 22-year-old left-hander had 37 strikeouts in 342/3 innings. He would have started Thursday in Sarasota but will work for the Biscuits in Mobile, Ala.

"Certainly, David showed by performance he was ready to take on the next level," farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "We want to see much of the same as he is refining his game as a young professional."

BETTER: Pena was cleared by team doctors after an X-ray and examination Sunday to resume as much normal daily routine as soreness in his fractured left index finger will allow. He plans to take normal batting practice Tuesday for the first time since being put on the 15-day DL on June 4. "This thing takes three to six weeks (to heal) and we're not even at the three-week point," Pena said. "The doctor feels the risk is low at this time, but at the same time I understand it's going to be sore, its going to hurt, but I'm feeling pretty good."

MISCELLANY: Rocco Baldelli, attempting to come back from a rare condition that causes extreme leg fatigue, went 1-for-4 Sunday for Vero Beach at Clearwater as he begins an alternating cycling of DHing and pinch-hitting. He will be re-evaluated late this week. … LHP prospect Jake McGee left his start for Montgomery complaining of forearm soreness and expects to miss his next several starts. … CF B.J. Upton, who has appeared in 73 of 75 games this season, almost had a day off but struck out pinch-hitting in the ninth.

Mild funk continues for Rays' Kazmir 06/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 11:23am]

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