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Cold-hitting Zobrist sent down

Zobrist, who began the season as the starting shortstop, is batting .159 with two hits in his past 27 at-bats.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 11, 2007


BALTIMORE - The Devil Rays made a roster move before Thursday's series finale, acquiring utility infielder Josh Wilson off waivers from the Nationals to shore up infield depth.

To make room, SS Ben Zobrist, who lost his starting job to Brendan Harris, was optioned to Triple-A Durham.

"One of the factors ... was for Zobrist to be able to play every day," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "He's still very much in our plans, and it's important for him to go down and work on things he needs to work on and get back to the major-league level."

Zobrist began the season as the starting shortstop and No. 2 hitter but has started only two of the past 15 games. He entered Thursday's game in the fifth inning after Ty Wigginton was ejected. He struck out in his only at-bat and is batting .159 with two hits in his past 27 at-bats.

Wilson played 15 games with the Nationals, going 1-for-19 with five walks and five errors in 25 chances, tied for most among NL shortstops.

He made the team out of spring training as a nonroster invitee, hitting .333 (18-for-54). He hit .307 with 18 doubles and 10 homers in 80 games last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs while also playing second and third.

"Josh is a utility infielder capable of playing second, shortstop and third," Friedman said. "He plays an above-average shortstop, and he's more offensive-minded than most utility infielders around the league."

KAZMIR COMING ALONG: Even though Rays LHP Scott Kazmir has a 2.56 ERA and allowed three or fewer runs in his past five starts, he said he feels like he's still building up arm strength and his best starts are yet to come.

After the Rays shut Kazmir down in August because of shoulder soreness, he didn't touch a baseball for most of the offseason, a first for the 23-year-old.

"That might have something to do with it," Kazmir said. "I just have to get back in the swing of things."

Said Rays manager Joe Maddon: "The one thing I've noticed is that he's gotten stronger as the game goes along. I've noticed a couple games when his velocity may be a little lower and then it picks up."

NO REGRETS: B.J. Upton entered Thursday as the AL's top hitter with runners in scoring position. But he couldn't produce in the 10th inning with the bases loaded Wednesday in a 1-0 loss.

Upton worked the count to 3-and-1 but swung at the pitch from struggling lefty John Parrish, which looked like ball four, and hit a broken-bat grounder to second for the final out.

"I was just trying to get a pitch to hit," Upton said. "I would not change anything about that at-bat."

Maddon said he told Upton, usually a patient hitter, to expand his strike zone in RBI situations.

"I don't know whether that was a ball or strike," Maddon said. "He put himself in a position to get a pitch he could have driven, and he could have just as easily hit that ball off the scoreboard."

MISCELLANY: Rays 3B Akinori Iwamura hit off a batting tee for the first time Thursday, another step in returning from a right oblique strain. ... Durham RHP Mitch Talbot recovered from his recent struggles, allowing two runs and three hits in six innings to earn the win. He is 2-4 with a 8.71 ERA. ... Greg Norton started at first at Double-A Montgomery.

Fast Facts:

Up next: Blue Jays

What's new: The Blue Jays are 0-9 this month after Thursday's 8-0 loss to the Red Sox. It's their longest skid since 10 in a row in June 1981. Worse, the Jays received word Thursday that closer B.J. Ryan, who signed a five-year, $47-million contract before last season, will miss the rest of this season with Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. They also put right-hander Victor Zambrano, who was scheduled to start the series finale, on the disabled list with a strained right forearm.

Key stat: The Blue Jays allowed seven earned runs Thursday, lowering their ERA in May to 8.06. They also have allowed 20 homers in 77 innings.

Who's hot: Rightfielder Alex Rios went 0-for-4 Thursday but is still on an 8-for-17 streak.

Who's not: Designated hitter Frank Thomas is in a 2-for-22 slump.

Connections: Zambrano and utilityman Jason Smith are former Rays. ... Blue Jays third-base coach Brian Butterfield is a former Eckerd College assistant.

Series history: Blue Jays lead 85-67, 47-29 at Rogers Centre.