Somehow, Rays are Dice-K's nemesis

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA, Times Staff Writer
Published August 23, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - When the Red Sox spent $103-million on RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka this offseason, they didn't expect that his Achilles' heel would be the Devil Rays.

The Rays said they've far from solved the 26-year-old Japanese phenom, but they'll gladly take three wins in four starts against Matsuzaka.

"You just got to go up there and look for a good pitch to hit off him," said Rays CF B.J. Upton, whose sixth-inning two-run homer was the difference in Wednesday's 2-1 win over Matsuzaka. "A lot of his pitches look the same. He kept us off balance most of the times he's faced us. He just left a pitch up."

All three of the Rays' wins in 12 games against Boston this season have come against Matsuzaka (13-10). He is just the eighth pitcher ever to lose three games to the Rays in one season. This season the Rays haven't beaten any other pitcher more than once.

"I don't feel particularly stressed out that the games haven't turned out in our favor," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "If there's anything I feel frustrated about, it's my own pitching. I think I wasted a lot of pitches and I felt like I got myself into trouble."

In two starts at Tropicana Field, Matsuzaka has allowed just four runs in 121/3 innings, but he lost both. And Wednesday's game, in which Matsuzaka allowed just two hits over six innings, was much different than his last start a week ago, when he allowed six runs in six innings at Fenway.

"I was most impressed with him tonight than all the times I've seen him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He pitched with his fastball. He was very aggressive in the zone."

DAY OFF FOR DELMON: Maddon kept RF Delmon Young out of the starting lineup for just the second time this season hoping it would help Young break out of an 0-for-13 slump.

Young, who entered in the seventh as a defensive substitution and popped out in the eighth (he has now played in all 126 games), had gone hitless in four straight starts for the first time in his major-league career. The 21-year-old rookie had not gone more than two starts without a hit. He is 2-for-18 on this homestand.

"I'm just seeing signs that he might be wearing down just a bit," Maddon said.

Young said he didn't ask for the off day, but he understood it.

"I like playing every day, but not being productive to help out the team, you've got to switch it up every once in a while," Young said.

MR. FLEXIBILITY: Recently recalled INF Joel Guzman received his first start as a Devil Ray Wednesday at first base, where he started 15 games in Durham, but he still figures to receive playing time around the infield. That's fine with Guzman.

"If they told me that would be my role right now, I would bust my (butt) and do whatever it takes to help the team," he said. "Wherever they put me, I will feel comfortable."

MISCELLANY: After a day off Wednesday, Rocco Baldelli will play CF for the first time tonight at Class A Vero Beach, playing three or four innings. ... Tampa Bay's bullpen tossed 101/3 scoreless innings this series. ... The Rays improved to 22-19 in series finales. ... 2B Brendan Harris was awarded the team's Heart and Hustle award, given by the MLB Player Alumni Association. ... Former Rays LHP Casey Fossum signed a minor-league contract with the Padres. ... About a half-dozen Rays players took drug tests before Wednesday's game.