Inside Pitch: August 24

Tampa Bay Devil Rays starting pitcher Edwin Jackson's second-half success is a testament to the team's faith in their young pitchers. But Jason Hammel might be testing the Rays' patience -- and failing in a chance to secure a spot in the 2008 opening day starting rotation.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays starting pitcher Edwin Jackson's second-half success is a testament to the team's faith in their young pitchers. But Jason Hammel might be testing the Rays' patience -- and failing in a chance to secure a spot in the 2008 opening day starting rotation.

The 24-year-old has now made 16 major league starts (seven this season) and is still winless -- the longest such streak at the start of a career since Oakland's Mike Mohler had 20 from 1993-97. Even worse, Hammel has never left with a lead.

Of the 18 Oakland batters Hammel faced Thursday, 10 reached base -- five on and five on walks. "You've got to throw strikes," Hammel said. "It's simple."

But actually, it's not. The Rays have been working extensively with Hammel on his mechanics, and Maddon admitted "it might be a little bit of an overload from us to him."

Hammel said as much as well, that he was spending too much time on the mound thinking about what he was supposed to be doing rather than just doing it.

"I've got to do what comes naturally -- just pitch," he said.

A'S 12, DEVIL RAYS 2: Jason Hammel got the Rays off to a bad start, and it went downhill from there as four Rays pitchers allowed 12 runs on 16 hits (six for extra bases). The Rays managed just seven hits.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RF Delmon Young picked up his 14th and 15th outfield assists, tying and then surpassing the Rays' rookie record. Young ranks third among all outfielders in the majors, trailing Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur (18) and Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer (16). But Young's batting struggles continued, as an 0-for-4 night extended his slump to 0-for-18 and dropped his average to .284.

--CF Rocco Baldelli had at least a slight setback in his rehab schedule when he was scratched from a scheduled Thursday start for Class A Vero Beach due to soreness in his legs. The Rays said the move was precautionary and not related to the hamstring problems that have sidelined him since mid-May. Baldelli hopes to rejoin the Rays on or shortly after Sept. 1.

--RHP Jay Witasick, out since mid-July with a right elbow strain, is healthy and pitching well on his rehab assignment at Class AAA Durham, but the Rays may not bring him back until the Sept. 1 roster expansion.

--RHP Edwin Jackson's impressive turnaround -- going 4-4 with a 3.31 ERA in his last 13 starts after 0-8, 8.20 in his first 12 -- is due at least in small part to veteran backup C Josh Paul, manager Joe Maddon said. With Paul, who has been more creative in getting Jackson to use his slider and changeup more, behind the plate, Jackson has a 2.60 ERA; with other catchers, it's 7.15.

--Hitting coach Steve Henderson held an unusual 10-minute postgame meeting with the hitters in the batting cage. The Rays have scored just 31 runs in their last 13 games and have a .198 team average.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Players in the last 75 years to have 60 triples over a four-year span (Lance Johnson, with 61 from 1993-96) and Stan Musial (64, from 1946-49). With one more, LF Carl Crawford will become the third player.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Unacceptable." -- Principal owner Stuart Sternberg, summing up the Rays' major-league worst 46-74 record.

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