BALTIMORE — LHP Erik Bedard's spot in the Rays' rotation would seem to be in jeopardy whenever Jeremy Hellickson returns from the disabled list. But the veteran showed Saturday he is still capable of impressive work.
Bedard was dominant through a season-high seven-plus innings in a 5-4 win over the Orioles, relying heavily on his slow — in the 60s — curve, allowing only five hits (though two homers), striking out seven and throwing just 19 balls in his 87 pitches.
"Fabulous," manager Joe Maddon said.
After allowing a double in the first and a single in the second, Bedard retired 16 of 17, his streak broken only by Nick Markakis' solo homer in the sixth. His only regret was the ending of his day, when he allowed a single to J.J. Hardy, then a two-run homer off the leftfield foul pole to Manny Machado before being replaced in the eighth.
"The biggest thing was get ahead with strikes, and after that (it) was continuing to throw strikes," Bedard said.
But 68 in 87 pitches?
"I didn't think I had that good command," Bedard said. "I didn't focus on that. I threw strikes, and it came out like that. That's probably the best strike-ball ratio I ever threw in my life."
Bedard had one win in his previous eight starts, and the Rays had concerns about declining velocity. Maddon has urged Bedard to throw his curveball more frequently, but Bedard said he prefers to go by feel in each start. Saturday, the curve felt pretty good.
"He was channeling his inner Jamie Moyer there, and what better ballpark to do that in than this one," Maddon said. "He can be very effective. It's about the usage of the stuff that you have. I thought the packaging was really good (Saturday), and I think that's a big part of the success."
ESCOBAR UPDATE: SS Yunel Escobar remained out of the lineup and unavailable due to the sore/tight shoulder that forced him from Tuesday's game. The Rays have seemed willing to wait for him to say when he's ready to return, but Maddon said they may make a decision today — either on a timetable or a stint on the disabled list — after he tests the shoulder by throwing. Escobar told Maddon on Saturday he was feeling a little better, but after taking some swings, he was still not available to pinch-hit.
HELLICKSON UPDATE: Hellickson returned to St. Petersburg from Triple-A Durham and will throw a bullpen session Monday, with the Rays saying there was little concern over his leaving Friday's rehab start after three innings as a precaution because of "minor discomfort" in his elbow. RHP Alex Cobb said he exchanged text messages with Hellickson and he, too, did not seem concerned.
GAME WITHIN THE GAME: Maddon said the Rays may have gotten Orioles LHP Wei-Yin Chen off his game Saturday: "He got a little bit nonplussed over a couple things there, and all of a sudden there were certain things that he did that he didn't like that we did, like checking baseballs and stuff, so I think he got out of his game a little bit because he's really good."
STARRY-EYED: The Rays have their first All-Star. Tropicana Field in-stadium host Rusty Kath, a Minnesota native, will work the July 16 game at Target Field in Minneapolis.
DRAFT BREEZE: Eleventh-round pick Spencer Moran, a 6-foot-6 right-hander from Mountain View (Ariz.) High, signed for a reported $390,000. With 23rd-round OF Zacrey Law also inked, the Rays have signed their top 12 picks and 34 of 41.
MISCELLANY: Maddon used Evan Longoria as DH to get him off his feet. … CF Desmond Jennings had the Rays' first leadoff homer of the season and seventh of his career. … ESPN today airs a feature on one-time Rays prospect Toe Nash, whose career ended due to legal issues (Outside the Lines, 9 a.m.; SportsCenter, 10 a.m. and later).