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Blue Jays 6, Rays 3

Blue Jays 6, Rays 3
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Jason Hammel is determined to make the most of an opportunity to pitch his way back into the Tampa Bay Rays' rotation.

The 26-year-old right-hander worked four scoreless innings during Sunday's 6-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays and has yet to allow a run in two spring training appearances for the defending AL champions.

"I wanted to pitch a lot more last year. The role didn't call for it, but I knew I could do it," said Hammel, who spent most of 2008 in the bullpen after beginning the season as the No. 5 starter. "I've got this opportunity, I'm going to run with it."

Hammel made five starts last April before moving to the bullpen when All-Star Scott Kazmir returned to the rotation after opening the season on the disabled list. Hammel made 35 relief appearances, but is confident he's better suited to be a starter.

David Price, Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot are the other candidates for the fifth spot, which opened when Edwin Jackson was traded to the Detroit Tigers.

Hammel pitched two scoreless innings against Cincinnati in his spring debut. He allowed three hits, walked one and struck out three against the Blue Jays, who scored two runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings to overcome a 3-0 deficit.

"He's pitching with a lot of purpose right now," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Last year he did some really good work for us, some very important work for us out of the bullpen. He's always been a starter and he's trying to show that."

Right-hander Jesse Litsch, a 13-game winner in 2008, allowed one hit in two scoreless innings in his first start this spring for Toronto.

Left-hander Ken Takahashi, who finalized a minor league contract this month after a 14-year career in Japan, left his debut with a right calf strain.

The 39-year-old Takahashi, 8-5 with a 3.50 ERA in 21 games for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp last season, yielded two runs and four hits in 1 2-3 innings before he was injured fielding a fourth-inning bunt.

"It's the first time out. ... I guess I've got to wait and see him again," manager Cito Gaston said about his impression of Takahashi.

The Blue Jays said they would know more about the injury on Monday.

Sean Shoffitt had a two-run single and Brian Dopirak, Brad Emaus, J.P. Arencibia and Angel Sanchez drove in one run apiece for Toronto.

Carl Crawford had two triples, Evan Longoria hit an RBI double and Pat Burrell drove in a run with a sacrifice fly for Tampa Bay.

"Carl looks really good," Maddon said.

Crawford, bothered most of last season by sore hamstrings, said his legs are as strong as they've been since the 2007 season.

"I feel a big difference. I feel explosive again," the two-time All-Star said. "Last year I didn't. I just hope I maintain it."

Hammel's hoping to stay sharp, too.

"It's a cliche, but I'm happy. I'm trying to stay healthy," the right-hander said. "They brought me up as a starter, and I've been in the 'pen. I'm ready to show them I can be a starter, I will win the ballgame for you if you give me the ball."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: March 2, 2009

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