Blue Jays-Rays Preview

Manager Joe Maddon figured bringing a reptile into his team’s

clubhouse would spark the struggling Tampa Bay Rays in their

pursuit to regain the AL East lead.

What he’ll do to try and prevent Toronto Blue Jays starter R.A.

Dickey from another stellar performance at Tropicana Field remains

to be seen.

Tampa Bay looks to beat visiting Toronto for the fourth straight

time as the clubs begin a three-game set Friday night.

Maddon, whose club had lost six straight prior to beating

Seattle 5-4 on Wednesday, presented his team with a 20-foot python

prior to Thursday’s series finale, with most players avoiding

touching the snake.

“In doing our research, my personal research, 2013 happens to be

the year of the snake on the Chinese calendar,” Maddon said. “We

needed a little bit of motivation within the clubhouse. And then

furthermore, you find out that it’s representative of risk taking

and creative thinking. I thought it fit in perfectly with what

we’re trying to do around here.”

The Rays (68-51) went out and earned a 7-1 victory over the

Mariners behind a two-run homer from Evan Longoria and four RBIs

from rookie Wil Myers. They pulled within two games of the East

lead as Toronto beat first-place Boston 2-1 earlier in the

night.

Maddon may need to pull some more unusual tactics with Dickey

(9-11, 4.46 ERA) pitching on the road, especially at Tropicana

Field.

The last time knuckleballer pitched in St. Petersburg, he tossed

a two-hitter and beat the Rays 3-0 on June 26. He’s 2-1 with a 2.15

ERA in four career starts at Tampa Bay, including a one-hitter with

only one unearned run allowed in the ninth inning of a 9-1 victory

while pitching for the New York Mets on June 13, 2012.

Dickey is 5-5 with a 3.08 ERA on the road compared to a 5.79 ERA

in Toronto. He has a 3.86 ERA during a 10-start streak overall of

pitching at least six innings after allowing three runs in seven

frames before the Blue Jays (56-65) fell 6-4 to Oakland on

Sunday.

“That’s what I always (try) to do,” said Dickey, 1-0 with a 1.74

ERA in his last three outings. “Every time out, I try to throw a

quality start.”

Mark Buehrle did just that in Thursday’s victory as Toronto took

two of three from the Red Sox. Pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa’s sacrifice

fly in the seventh broke a 1-all tie.

The Blue Jays have scored two runs or fewer in three of their

last four, but they’ll look to bust out against Tampa starter

Jeremy Hellickson, who is trying to end a dismal stretch.

Hellickson (10-6, 4.93) has lost three straight starts while

posting a 9.75 ERA after giving up four runs and seven hits in

three innings of Sunday’s 8-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s

pitched fewer than five innings in each outing during his skid

after going 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA over his previous seven starts.

”I’m not pitching well,” Hellickson said. “The last two weeks

have been very frustrating, but I’ll be OK.”

The right-hander has been solid against the Blue Jays this

season, though, going 2-0 with a 2.52 ERA in four starts. He won

the last two, giving up one hit in seven innings of a 4-1 victory

June 24 before allowing two runs in five frames of a 4-3 win July

20.

Hellickson is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in four career home starts

versus Toronto, but Jose Bautista is 8 for 21 (.391) with three

homers lifetime against him.