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07/28/07 12:45 AM ET

Hammel deserves better in loss

Righty tosses 5 1/3 one-hit innings in return to Rays' rotation

ST. PETERSBURG -- Jason Hammel pitched beautifully in his return to the Devil Rays' starting rotation, but he didn't get a helping hand when he needed it most. The right-hander took the loss in a 7-1 defeat to the Red Sox on Friday night in front of a crowd of 33,144.

Hammel left the bullpen to make a spot start on Saturday against the Yankees and pitched well, allowing two runs in four innings before leaving once he reached his allotted pitch count.

Going into Friday night's game, Hammel knew he would be limited to 90 pitches as he continues to adjust to being a starter again. So when he walked Julio Lugo with his 88th pitch, Hammel had reached his limit physically and the time was ripe for him to hand the ball over to the bullpen.

"I felt good mentally, I was locked in," Hammel said. "But sometimes the body can't catch up."

Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to bring in Juan Salas to pitch to Kevin Youkilis with one out, runners on first and second and the Rays leading, 1-0.

Given the Rays' fortunes of late, the results were predictable. Youkilis, who had not hit a home run since June 30, deposited a 2-1 Salas offering into the left-field stands to put the Red Sox up, 3-1, thereby erasing Hammel's good work and sending the Rays to their seventh consecutive loss.

"[Salas] had been throwing well," Maddon said. "Youkilis kind of just reached out and hooked that thing to [left center] there. And obviously, that was the big blow of the game. If we get by that inning and we can start utilizing different components of our bullpen, it may have had a chance to turn out differently. But, hey, they're good."

Hammel was perfect through 3 2/3 innings before David Ortiz threaded a single between first and second for the Red Sox's first and only hit off the Rays right-hander.

"[My plan] was just to attack the hitters, obviously, and I did a good job of getting ahead early," Hammel said.

He also explained that he has found consistency with his windup, which has helped him with his control.

"It's been a big help throwing strikes and it helps me extend myself in the games now," Hammel said. "I was doing it at Durham and I'll continue to do that here."

Maddon sounded pleased with Hammel's performance.

"He just ran out of juice, and that was unfortunate," Maddon said. "He was throwing strikes and mixing in all of his pitches well. He pitched to very good hitters very well. I'm really impressed with his attitude, his preparation. He pretty much set up a game plan going into that thing. He pitched it perfectly. That was a great effort on his part. ... Jason Hammel really took a pretty big step forward tonight pitching that well against the Red Sox."

Boston starter Tim Wakefield continued to find the surroundings at Tropicana Field to his liking, as he held Rays hitters to one run on six hits and two walks while striking out six to earn his 12th win of the season. Wakefield's career record at the Rays' home ballpark is now 8-0 with a 2.33 ERA.

"I like pitching here," Wakefield said. "I like pitching inside."

The Rays have lost all four games they have played against the Red Sox this season, and their 1-0 lead was their only lead against the Sox this season. Since the All-Star break, the Rays are 4-11 and they are just 5-24 since June 25.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.