Edwin Jackson’s struggles continued on Saturday night in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 9-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals. Jackson -- 0-7 with a 7.77 ERA -- failed to make it out of the fourth inning for Tampa Bay after surrendering six earned runs. Jackson, who hasn't earned a win at the big league level since he was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2005, scattered six hits, and walked four batters in 3.1 innings. With numerous changes already made to the pitching staff this week, Jackson’s spot in the rotation appears to be safe for now. But if he continues to perform this poorly over his next few outings, another change could be imminent. Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are waiting in the wings in Durham.
The Royals got on the scoreboard first after they touched up for Jackson for four earned runs in the top of the second inning. Jackson walked Shane Costa and Ryan Shealy before giving up a single to John Buck, which loaded the bases. Tony Pena followed with an RBI single that brought in Costa and set the stage for Kansas City centerfielder David DeJesus. DeJesus delivered a two-run double, his eleventh of the season, to give Kansas City a 3-0 lead. Veteran second baseman Mark Grudzielanek then grounded out to Tampa Bay shortstop Brendan Harris that scored Pena from third base for the final run of the inning.
Following the Royals' big inning, things only got worse for Jackson. A single from Pena and a walk to Grudzielanek in the top of the fourth inning chased the struggling right-hander from the game. Both runners, who would eventually score, were charged to Jackson. Mark Teahan doubled in Pena off of Tampa Bay relief pitcher Tim Corcoran. After the double, Emil Brown belted a three-run home run, his second of the season, off of Corcoran to break the game open for the Royals.
The Devil Rays, who have successfully fought back on several occasions this spring, attempted to come back once again off of Royals starter Odalis Perez in the bottom of the sixth inning. Ty Wigginton and Delmon Young led off the inning with back-to-back singles to start a rally for the Devil Rays. Harris, who is among the team leaders with a .303 batting average this season, cut the lead in half with a three-run-home run that led to a pitching change for the Royals. But the home run seemed to take away some of Tampa Bay’s momentum as Joel Peralta retired the next three batters in order to stop the comeback threat.
The Devil Rays scored their first run of the game when Akinori Iwamura, batting leadoff for the first time in his major league career, brought in Josh Wilson with an RBI single. Iwamura finished the night 2-for-4 to raise his batting average to .370, which leads the team. According to Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon, Iwamura could be in the leadoff spot for some time. Maddon told Bill Chastain of devilrays.com that he has great confidence in Iwamura in his new position in the batting order.
"It's obvious he can handle this league," Maddon said, explaining his change of heart. “And even if he were to go into a slump it doesn't matter. We know what he can do here now. So with that, it's easier for me to take a liberty with him here now."
Wilson was the only other Devil Ray with more than one hit. Making a rare start at second base, he finished the night 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored to help lead the offense. He is now hitting .375 with the Devil Rays since being traded from the Washington Nationals. B.J. Upton -- batting second in the order in centerfield -- and Dioner Navarro were the only Tampa Bay starters without a hit.
The Royals scored their final run in the seventh inning off of reliever Chad Orvella. Buck doubled home Costa with two outs to bring the score to its eventual final, 9-4. Orvella’s ERA rose 9.00 after tonight’s game. He has allowed six earned runs in six innings since being promoted from Triple-A Durham in the middle of May. Al Reyes continued his incredible season with another scoreless ninth inning. Reyes, who has emerged as the one of the top closers in the American League, is currently 1-0 with a 2.28 ERA and 13 saves. He also has a WHIP of .096 and opponents are only hitting .205 off of the veteran right-hander.
Perez (3-5) picked up the win, his third of the season, for the Royals. He scattered eight hits and allowed three earned runs in five innings. After Perez was taken out of the game, the Royals' bullpen only allowed one hit the rest of the way. Former first round pick and Gatorade National High School Player of the Year, Zack Greinke, worked a dominant ninth inning to preserve the win. Greinke didn't allow a hit and struck out struck out Wilson and Carlos Pena to lower his ERA to 5.11.
Brown and DeJesus led the offensive charge for Kansas City. Brown finished the night 3-for-5 with a home run and 3 RBIs in the win. DeJesus also contributed two hits and two RBIs to raise his batting average to .261 as the Royals' lead off hitter.
With the discouraging start from Jackson, the Devil Rays dropped to 22-31, 14 ½ games back of the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East. The Devil Rays are now in sole possession of last place in the division after sharing fourth place with the New York Yankees for the past few days. Tampa Bay looks to turn the ship around tomorrow afternoon when J.P. Howell makes his first start of the season. Howell, who had a 3.96 ERA at Triple-A Durham before being called up on Friday, will square off against Scott Elarton for the Royals.