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DET@TB: Hellickson fans seven in seven solid innings

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay still can't figure it out.

The Rays have had an inexplainable knack for stringing poor offensive performances together this year, and right now they are in one of those funks.

Despite a strong showing from its starting pitchers, including Thursday's starter Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay dropped three out of four games against Detroit, capped off with a 2-0 loss in front of 14,069 fans at Tropicana Field.

"That's the game we've played way too often this year," manager Joe Maddon said.

Tampa Bay's starting pitchers combined to post a 2.87 ERA against the Tigers during the four-game series, but still ended up with an 0-3 record to show for it. Much of that was due to the Rays' offense scoring a total of six runs in the series.

"[Out starting pitchers] are phenomenal," Matt Joyce said. "They've done their job the whole year. We just have to pick it up."

On Thursday, it was Doug Fister's turn to hold the Rays down. The right-hander turned in seven scoreless innings to earn his sixth win of the season.

Fister was just one of Detroit's pitchers that enjoyed success against Tampa Bay this week. The Tigers' starters went 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in the series to negate the Rays' strong pitching.

"We kind of countered their pitching this series," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm not saying we can do that every series, but we countered their pitching a little bit this series. We held them down and got just enough to win three games, which was huge."

Still, Tampa Bay threatened to tie the game in the ninth Thursday. With runners on first and third against closer Jose Valverde, Maddon called on the hit and run with one out.

Sam Fuld delivered with a hard-hit line drive to right field, but it went straight into Ryan Raburn's glove. Joyce, who was sprinting to second on the pitch, couldn't make it back to first in time and was thrown out to end the game.

"Their right fielder was playing on the line for pretty much the whole day," Maddon said. "So, I think against a more conventional right field positioning, that ball may have fallen in right there and we could have tied the score."

It was the fitting ending to a series that the Rays just couldn't get the big hit in. They went 3-for-29 with runners in scoring position during the four-game set.

"When you look up at the scoreboard, we have the hits, it's just the runs," Joyce said. "Obviously, that has to come with home runs or hitting in clutch situations. We just have to find a way to bunch them together."

Hellickson fell victim to Tampa Bay's struggles at the plate. He pitched seven innings and allowed two runs, but still collected his ninth loss of the season.

At first, it looked like the right-hander wouldn't last too long. He got off to a shaky start in the first, allowing a leadoff homer to Austin Jackson.

"First three pitches of the game, I think I missed by a foot on all of them," Hellickson said. "He took advantage of that one."

The rookie eventually settled down to accomplish a rare feat two innings later.

Hellickson became the first Rays pitcher to record four strikeouts in an inning, when he did it in the third. Jackson reached base on a wild pitch after going down swinging to set Hellickson up for the milestone.

His outing also helped set another record, as Tampa Bay's pitchers have now turned in 10 consecutive starts of at least seven innings -- the longest streak of its kind in club history.

All of that wasn't enough, though, as Tampa Bay was shut out for the 12th time this season.

"We haven't figured it out," Joyce said. "Obviously it's late in the year and it's getting to the point where it's crunch time. We have to figure it out really soon."

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