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Rays fail to find answers

They've faced some good pitching. Been victimized by flashy defense. Witnessed some clutch hitting.

But the Devil Rays have done their part, too. They've pitched inconsistently and surrendered leads. They've given away at-bats and failed to hit in the clutch. They've thrown away balls and made bad decisions.

"It's been," manager Larry Rothschild said, "a combination of things through this thing."

Saturday the Devil Rays lost again, beaten 5-1 by Cleveland before 42,525 at damp Jacobs Field. It was their 10th defeat in 12 games, and it could have been their most glaring. They were held without a hit for 5 innings by Chad Ogea, and managed only four, matching their season low.

Pitcher Tony Saunders struggled early, allowing three walks and three hits in the first two innings to quickly fall behind. Errors by second baseman Miguel Cairo and catcher John Flaherty led to runs. Even reliever Esteban Yan, who'd been perfect, gave up a two-run home run.

Offensively, the Rays couldn't sustain anything against Ogea in 7 innings, their lone run coming on Paul Sorrento's homer in the eighth.

And when the Rays did hit the ball, the Indians were there to catch it. Third baseman Travis Fryman and shortstop Omar Vizquel robbed them of hits on back-to-back plays in the third, and Kenny Lofton ran down a Dave Martinez drive in the fourth.

"It was," outfielder Mike Kelly said. "just one of those days."

The problem is, the Rays have been having a lot of those days lately.

Actually, they haven't played that badly through this stretch. They're not getting blown out or throwing the ball all over field. They just aren't playing well enough to win.

The biggest inconsistency has been the offense, which started the season strong but hasn't been able to produce runs of late. In the 10 losses, the Rays have averaged 2.2 runs and 6.7 hits.

"I'm not pointing the finger at the hitters by any means," Roths-child said. "It's a combination. Some days it's timely hitting, some days it's not getting a chance to do anything. If we pitch consistently then we'll come out of this thing."

What's a manager to do?

"Got any ideas?" Rothschild responded.

Hitting coach Steve Henderson said the preparation and the approach are good. "I don't see us doing anything different," he said. "We're just going through one of those stretches where we're hitting the ball hard, but we're hitting it at people."

Shortstop Kevin Stocker said the answer may have to come from within.

"When players get into slumps hitting-wise, it's easy to start changing everything, but that's not always the answer," Stocker said. "Sometimes guys just need to look a little deeper and say, "Hey, it's time to start picking it up a little bit.' "

The struggles dot the lineup. Cairo, even with two of the four hits, is in a 2-for-23 slump. Bobby Smith 1-for-21. Stocker 7-for-43. Sorrento 7-for-39. Fred McGriff 1-for-11. Quinton McCracken 5-for-25.

"It's a combination that we've got some guys who aren't swinging the bat like they're capable of and we've run into some pretty good pitching," Sorrento said. "You combine those two and you come up with this outcome a lot."

What seemed to bother Roths-child the most was how quickly the Rays went down swinging.

"We could have had better at-bats. You get to the point in games where you want to make the other pitcher work, and all of a sudden there are four-, five-, six-, seven-pitch innings," he said.

"You've got to stay aggressive, but you don't just go out there and make outs on pitches you're not going to hit hard, at least not early in the count."

To a man, the Rays believe they are close to breaking out. They tick off balls that just missed being hits, and recite opponents' hits that were nearly outs. Their luck, they say, is due to change.

"We haven't been playing great baseball and we haven't been hitting really well the last two weeks, but it's not like we've been hitting the wall every day, not like we're hitting a different problem every day," Stocker said.

"For whatever reason, though, we are in a little funk where it would be good to string a couple together."

Rothschild said it's up to them to make it happen.

"If you wait around for breaks to come, you're not going to get them," he said. "We've got to take care of our own business. There's no excuses. We've run into some good pitching, but we've helped guys. In the past we've played good defense, but today we didn't. You're going to have days like this now and then. But if we take care of our own business, we win some of these games."

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