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Rays' Jackson struggles against Yankees in first loss of season

ST. PETERSBURG — Edwin Jackson was right.

His first two impressive starts were no reason to get too excited. There would be some bad times. And when they happened the questions were going to be about what he did differently.

Jackson wasn't horrible in Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Yankees, but his lack of command, and resulting inability to get ahead of hitters, made for a noticeable difference in performance and results.

Jackson plodded through five innings, allowing five runs on four hits, four walks and a wild pitch. He used 94 pitches, with the 39 called balls a prime problem as he fell behind 14 of his 22 hitters.

"I just got behind," Jackson said. "I put them in pretty good situations to put the ball in play. A few walks, that doesn't help really, either. But for the most part, I just fell behind when I needed to be ahead in the count."

Jackson maintained he didn't do anything differently than in his first two starts, which produced the 2-0 record and third-in-the-majors 0.64 ERA, and the accompanying storyline that he'd put the inconsistencies that pockmarked his career behind him and was headed for the oft-projected success.

But in reality he did, specifically lacking the precise command that made his slider such an effective weapon, putting it in the dirt in front of the plate enough times that it appeared as if he were overthrowing.

Manager Joe Maddon suggested he might have been gripping the ball too tight; Jackson preferred the explanation that he was being over-aggressive.

"That just goes back to letting the game come to you instead of trying to go grab it and snatch it," Jackson said.

He gave up a second-inning homer to Hideki Matsui, who has a .330 average, 18 homers and 74 RBIs in 91 games against Tampa Bay. After loading the bases for naught against Andy Pettitte in the second, the Rays (6-8) went ahead 2-1 in the third, but Jackson couldn't hold it.

He gave up two runs in the fourth, the rally starting with a leadoff walk and the second run scoring on a wild pitch. And he gave up two more in the fifth, this time a two-out walk the key issue. (Centerfielder B.J. Upton didn't help by missing a cutoff man, allowing Derek Jeter to take second after an RBI single and score on an ensuing single.)

"This type of team, you just can't give a lot of free bases," said catcher Mike DiFelice (hitting .429). "That's the bottom line. Strike zones are always tight against them. It's hard to get called strikes on these guys."

The Yankees (who drew nine walks overall) are also famously patient, and that made Jackson's short night even longer. "He was just not as sharp," Maddon said.

Just as Jackson insisted nothing was different, he said he won't change anything for his next start Sunday against the White Sox.

"This game, by far, hasn't deteriorated anything," he said. "No lack of confidence. It hasn't done anything to me. It's just, all right, I know next game you need to get back on the program, what you were doing before."

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

Rays' Jackson struggles against Yankees in first loss of season 04/15/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 16, 2008 2:07pm]

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