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Tampa Bay Rays offense continues to struggle in loss to Oakland Athletics

OAKLAND, Calif. — The offense wasn't supposed to be the problem.

The Rays brought back the core players who excelled last year. They logically counted on more from some who had off years. And they made additions to address the weaknesses they had, specifically against left-handed pitchers.

But three weeks into the season, it hasn't worked. They're not scoring enough runs. They're not beating left-handers. And, after yet another punchless performance in a 5-2 loss to the A's on Saturday, they're not really sure what to do except wait and hope it changes.

"It's just like in the old days when you might need just some points and plugs put into the engine; it's just not firing exactly as it needs to be yet, but it will," manager Joe Maddon said.

"I'm looking at health and effort, and it's all there. Preparation's there. We've just got to get over that little bit of a hump, get a couple going and get that lovin' feeling back, and it will be all good."

The Rays are 7-11 and in last place for good reason. They've won back-to-back games only twice. They're 1-6 in games started by lefties. They're 0-10 when trailing after six innings. They've scored three runs or fewer in 10 of their losses.

"It's tough; not a lot of us are swinging the bat well right now," said .171-hitting B.J. Upton. "We're just not getting results right now. Our luck's got to change. At some point, we've got to put it together, and I don't think it will be long.

"Some guys are getting some better ABs in right now and starting to put the ball in play a little bit more. There's definitely progress, but not the progress that us as hitters want to see. We'd like to see it a little bit faster, so right now we have to be a little more patient and let it happen."

The offense has been an ongoing issue. An additional problem Saturday was a fourth-inning breakdown by starter Matt Garza.

The Fresno native and resident, pitching in Oakland for the first time, came out sharp, retiring the first six and allowing only a solo homer through the first three innings.

But he walked the first batter in the fourth. And the second. And, after a flyout, another, relying — admittedly too much — on a two-seam fastball that he wasn't able to throw for strikes on the outside corner, and the A's weren't chasing.

And then he threw one over the plate that Nomar Garciaparra ripped to left-center to score three runs, a 1-0 lead becoming 4-0, and the way the Rays were going at the plate, the game, essentially, was over.

"That one moment really hurt us," Maddon said.

Maddon thought Garza was "getting a little careful." Garza said it was more stubbornness.

"I tried to make the perfect pitch too many times, and it cost me," Garza said. "I've been kind of just being stubborn and saying my two-seam is better than my four-seam. Today, my four-seam, I was spotting it up, and I paid the price.

"I gave up one hit in that inning, and it cost me three runs. It cost us the game. We lost by three runs, so it cost us the game."

That shouldn't be that big a deal, but it is now. After scoring eight Friday, the Rays thought they might be on to something. "Let's see," Jason Bartlett said to Evan Longoria on their way out Friday, "if we can put two good games together."

Saturday afternoon, he knew the answer. Just not the reason.

"I don't know what it is," Bartlett said. "We need to be more consistent. Not score 10 runs every game but just give our pitchers a chance, score some runs. We know we can do it; it's just a matter of doing it."

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

A's 5

Rays 2

Tampa Bay Rays offense continues to struggle in loss to Oakland Athletics 04/25/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 26, 2009 7:54am]
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