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Tampa Bay Rays reliever Adam Russell struggles again

Finishing the rally: Joe Inglett congratulates Justin Ruggiano after his three-run homer caps the Rays’ six-run seventh that gives them an 8-7 lead against the Orioles.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Finishing the rally: Joe Inglett congratulates Justin Ruggiano after his three-run homer caps the Rays’ six-run seventh that gives them an 8-7 lead against the Orioles.

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays have been relatively pleased with the candidates for the three open spots in their bullpen, most impressively RHP Juan Cruz and LHPs Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos.

But one of the relievers they had penciled in for a spot has been something of a concern.

Adam Russell, the 6-foot-8 right-hander acquired from San Diego in the Jason Bartlett trade, struggled again in Sunday's 9-8 loss to the Orioles, allowing hits to four of the five batters he faced. In eight innings, Russell has allowed 19 hits and four walks and has a 7.88 ERA.

"We've got to get him straightened out," manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't have any good answers right now."

Maddon said several areas need to be addressed as Russell's velocity isn't consistently in the mid 90s as expected.

"When a guy struggles a bit, normally your confidence takes a hit a little bit," he said. "With that, mechanically, I think he's off."

RHP Mike Ekstrom, another candidate, also had another rough outing, failing to hold an 8-7 ninth-inning lead. Ekstrom allowed two singles, got two outs, walked a batter to load the bases and allowed a two-run single to former Ray Nick Green.

In eight innings over seven games, Ekstrom has allowed 15 hits and three walks and has a 10.12 ERA.

FOUL FAN: Maddon summoned security to remove a fan — wearing an Orioles jersey — who he said was yelling racist comments at CF B.J. Upton in the dugout.

"He can say whatever he wants, but don't go there," Maddon said. "And I didn't want B.J. to go up into the stands or do anything at that point. So I just wanted to make sure he was taken out of there."

A man who said he was the ejected fan went on Twitter later Sunday, claiming Maddon lied and he said nothing racial. Maddon told the Times what was said, and it would be considered racial. Upton also heard it.

The fan also e-mailed the Times, saying Maddon misunderstood the comments.

JASO UPDATE: C John Jaso is expected to be out until at least Wednesday after being struck in the groin by a foul tip Saturday. Jaso, initially taken to a hospital in Fort Myers, said Sunday morning he was "still hurting, still throbbing" and very uncomfortable and was on painkillers.

"It's a sensitive area down there, and I guess things can go wrong really easy," Jaso said. "So they spent a lot of time going over the charts and ultrasounds and stuff. But the doctor said it was fine."

He will have a follow-up exam in about two weeks.

PITCHING IN: No. 4 starter Jeff Niemann started strong (a 13-pitch 1-2-3 first inning) but tired a bit toward the end of his six-inning 83-pitch outing, allowing four runs on eight hits.

"I felt great," he said. "I made some adjustments out there."

GAME DETAILS: Down 7-2, the Rays (9-12-1) rallied with six runs in the seventh — the big blow a three-run homer by Justin Ruggiano — but gave it back in the ninth. … INF/OF Ben Zobrist, looking like he'll lead off, had two hits, including a triple ("kind of a double-and-a-half," he said) and impressed Maddon with the consistency of his form at the plate. "He can be the man of 1,000 stances sometimes, but I liked that (one)," Maddon said. … 1B Casey Kotchman singled to up his average to .410.

MISCELLANY: As of Sunday evening, there were a "very limited" number of $10 berm/boardwalk seats left for tonight and a sellout was expected. … Baseball operations director Dan Feinstein and his wife had a baby boy Sunday, William Cary.

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Adam Russell struggles again 03/20/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 20, 2011 11:08pm]

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