tampabay.com

Seo digs hole too deep to escape

April shower of runs picks up again in his second May outing.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 9, 2007


BALTIMORE -- Joe Maddon didn't expect Jae Seo to turn into Cy Young once the calendar turned from April to May, but the Rays manager relies on history, and Seo's track record says he struggles in April and is a much better pitcher afterward.

In his previous outing -- on May 3 -- he held Minnesota to two runs over six innings, giving Maddon reason to believe Seo was out of his annual first-month funk.

But on Tuesday, the same Seo who has pitched to a 5.50 ERA over his career in April returned against the Orioles at Camden Yards, struggling to pitch down in the strike zone from the beginning. When Seo left the game after three innings, Tampa Bay faced a four-run deficit that led to an eventual 8-3 loss.

It was the Rays' eighth loss in their past 10 in Baltimore, ninth in their past 11 overall against the Orioles.

"I thought the outing a couple of days ago might have turned the tide for him a little bit," Maddon said. "I thought the last outing might have cured all that.

"The ball was elevated the whole time," Maddon added. "We've been working on it. He's been working on it. We thought he had it down. As an observation, I could see he was trying to get it down, but he just couldn't get it down."

Eight of the 17 batters Seo faced reached base. Melvin Mora's two-run single in the first and Nick Markakis' second-inning two-run homer, both of which occurred with two outs, were the most critical blows. Seo left having allowed five runs on six hits.

"My changeup was too high," said Seo, who said four of the six hits came off changeups. "Everything else was okay."

Seo's overall performance this season hasn't been okay. He has given up 56 hits and 37 runs -- both AL highs -- in 32 2/3 innings, allowing a whopping 70 baserunners in that time. The road hasn't been kind to Seo, either. He is 0-3 with a 10.89 ERA away from Tropicana Field.

Two relievers freshly plucked from Triple-A Durham to replace Ruddy Lugo optioned to Durham and Juan Salas (50-game suspension for failing drug test), newcomers Tim Corcoran and Chad Orvella, got their work in with some success. But the lead was too large to make their contributions significant.

Had Carl Crawford's ball in the fifth inning that hit the top of the centerfield wall, bounced off a second wall out of play and back onto the playing field been called a home run, it might have been the shot to put a dent into the armor of Orioles fill-in starter Jeremy Guthrie. Instead, Guthrie limited the Rays to one run -- on Carlos Pena's second-inning run-scoring double -- on six hits.

Run-scoring singles by catcher Dioner Navarro and shortstop Brendan Harris gave Tampa Bay two runs in the seventh. But the Rays (14-18), who have come from behind in 12 of their 14 wins, couldn't produce any more offense.

"We never take it out of our mind the possibility of a comeback," said Pena, who had a four-hit night, his best since a six-hit game May 27, 2004. "Obviously, it's a lot easier when you can get out to a big lead, and when you're behind it's a challenge to actually stay focused."

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes.com.