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Harper gets self out of jam

Despite Devil Rays loss, positive outing boosts rookie pitcher's confidence.

Travis Harper did an okay job through the first two innings Monday. But what he did over the next three was the most positive thing to come out of the Devil Rays' 5-1 loss in Oakland.

Harper, a 24-year-old rookie, was in a heck of mess in the third inning. Down 1-0, he had the bases loaded after a single and two walks, he had powerful Ben Grieve at the plate, and he had the real possibility of seeing his third major-league appearance turn coyote ugly.

With the count full on Grieve, manager Larry Rothschild went out to deliver a basic message _ keep it simple.

"He knew what he had to do," Rothschild said. "I told him to make his pitches, don't worry about the situation, just execute the pitches and let the ball come out of your hand."

Sage advice from the former pitching coach. Harper got Grieve out, and the next two batters, to escape a most threatening situation.

"At that point in time I needed to make some pitches," Harper said. "Like Larry said, I needed to keep it simple, do what I could and nothing more. I was able to work out of that inning pretty well."

Even better, Harper, who moved from Double A to Triple A to the majors this season, got on a roll. He retired the next three A's, and three of the next four. Overall, he set down nine of his last 10 before leaving after five innings, having thrown 88 pitches.

"I think any time you work out of a bases-loaded situation, it's going to help your confidence," Harper said. "I felt pretty comfortable out there. The ball was coming out of my hand pretty good. Overall, I felt pretty good out there."

The Rays snapped their 23-inning scoreless streak with a run in the sixth inning, and the game went to the eighth 1-1.

But the A's strung together three singles off reliever Doug Creek for one run and went on from there.

"I don't think he made bad pitches at that point. It's just the way the luck went for him," Rothschild said.

Two wild pitches by Esteban Yan and a double by Matt Stairs led to two more runs, and a single by Eric Chavez made it 5-1.

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