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LAA@TB: Upton crushes a solo home run in the fifth

ST. PETERSBURG -- Fans got a taste of what Jeremy Hellickson had to offer late last season, and that's why for much of Tuesday and all of Wednesday, the hype grew around the right-hander's debut.

He had big shoes to fill, having stepped into the hole vacated by Matt Garza's offseason trade to the Cubs.

He had a tall order, to try and deliver the Rays their first win of the season.

He had big expectations to live up to, after the flawless record he posted in his short time with the big club in 2010.

In the end, there was no win to show for it, but praise was still heaped upon the 23-year-old following the Rays' 5-1 loss to the Angels.

There was a lot to like about Hellickson's season opener: He had a career-high 10 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings, walked two and limited the Angels to single runs in three separate frames.

"Typical really good stuff again," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Of course, they jumped on him early. Overall, Jeremy was really good. If you look at his line, you would think that that guy would have gotten the win today."

Heading into Wednesday's game, the only concern surrounding Hellickson was whether he would be adequately stretched out for the season after missing a chunk of Spring Training with an ailing hamstring. He quashed the doubt with a 99-pitch performance and only appeared to falter once, when the Angels touched him for a home run, a single and a double, consecutively, with two outs in the fourth inning.

But as has been the storyline lately, the Rays' offense couldn't do much to support its pitcher, and Tampa Bay fell to 0-5 on the season.

"We're not swinging the bats bad at all, just nothing's going our way right now," center fielder B.J. Upton said. "We all want that first win. I think we might be going out there and pressing a bit to get it, but we're fine. I think we've got some guys in here who have dealt with this before.

"We won't let this get out of hand, and we'll go out there tomorrow and try to win another ballgame."

The Rays managed just four hits off the Angels' staff. Two of those went for extra bases -- Upton's solo homer to lead off the fifth and Sam Fuld's double to right to open the sixth -- but none but Upton's were run-producing.

Some credit was due to Angels starter Dan Haren, who allowed four hits over 7 2/3 innings and struck out six in his first win. Much of the Rays' problems surfaced in their four prior games, though: Tampa Bay has scored just seven runs this season, third fewest through the first five games among American League teams since 1980.

"We expect to win," left fielder Johnny Damon said. "We came out of Spring Training ready to go, but things haven't happened. We're all craving that first win, and we're going to keep pushing and trying, and hopefully it happens tomorrow."

Upton and Fuld were the bright spots in an otherwise dark day that ended with the Rays' fifth consecutive loss. Upton's homer was his second of the season and stretched the center fielder's hit streak to five games, while Fuld singled in the third to earn two of the team's four hits.

The Angels, meanwhile, got three of their five runs off Hellickson: One each in the first, fourth and sixth innings, using two doubles and a home run. They added a run in the eighth off reliever Joel Peralta and capped the scoring in the ninth with a Torii Hunter RBI single that came off of Andy Sonnanstine.

"For the most part, I think it went pretty well," Hellickson said. "I made a few mistakes and they made me pay for them. I'm happy with the strikeouts, but I'm not happy with the 5 2/3 [innings] and three runs."

Perhaps a change of scenery will do the Rays good. They're now headed to Chicago for four days to take on the White Sox, and then to Boston for a trio of games. Damon joked that maybe playing in the cold weather would make the Rays appreciate the friendly (indoor) confines of Tropicana Field, where the team is currently winless in nine consecutive tries dating back to Sept. 29.

Whatever the cure, Maddon warned that the season is so young, and that panic -- or even concern -- isn't even on the list of available emotions. Nonetheless, some disturbing facts floated in the air Wednesday:

• The 1985 St. Louis Cardinals are the only team in Major League history to reach the World Series after starting the season 0-5.

• The Rays are the first defending division champion to start 0-5 since the Red Sox did so in 1996.

• Tampa Bay's .136 batting average (21-for-154) is the lowest in the Majors.

• Wednesday marked just the Rays' third winless homestand of two or more opponents, and the first since the 2000 season.

Maddon, who refused to be swayed by early statistics, countered with the story of Hall of Famer Willie Mays, whose 0-for-12 career start at the plate ended with a home run off Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn.

"If you start looking at ominous situations -- five games in a row, the storm clouds are building, lightning is cracking all over the Tampa Bay area -- then of course it's going to bother you," Maddon said. "But if you reduce it to one game at a time, just do your job today. Eventually you'll work your way out of it, and that's how I choose to look at it." Comments